Posts Tagged ‘Secure Fence Act of 2006’

Students Experience Flawed Immigration System

January 25, 2009

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

U students experience flawed immigration system


BY Alex Robinson
PUBLISHED: 01/22/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems in border town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Border fence controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.


Something there is that doesn’t love a Wall, Part 6

July 22, 2008

           Belfast once vied with Dublin for the heart of Ireland.  It was there the Titanic was constructed; it was here C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist and novelist of the Chronicles of Narnia came into the world. 

            After the Troubles started in the 1960s, however, this important port in Northern Ireland took a drastic turn.  The already tense situation of British control of a predominantly Irish city burst into violence by terrorist groups of both sides, the IRA and the UVF.  Beginning in the early 1970s, the first “peace lines” or intra-city barriers were erected in Belfast.

            These walls have increased to more than 40 today, covering over 13 miles and segregating much of this once-thriving city.  Alternately built of steel, iron, and brick, these walls stretch up to 25-feet high and prohibit the movement of people from the Irish-Catholic parts of town to the British-Protestant sections.  Some are open during the day and closed at night; some are manned by police; all were intended to bring “peace” by segregating sectarian groups.  The most famous of these walls runs parallel to Shankill Road, a site of several terrorist attacks.  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Peace_Lines)

            Today, some of the tension has lessened since the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.  The walls still stand, though, and they draw thousands of tourists a year.  The “peace lines” are still eerie and haunting, stark in the way they divvy up houses and roads, slicing their way through what must have once been a beautiful city.  Unlike the walls of houses, and even unlike the colorful propagandist murals peppering the city, these walls stand ominous and dark against the city skyline.

 

            While some may argue the walls saved a few lives over the years by separating the citizenry of Belfast and Northern Ireland, in reality it was always the cooperation of the people that staved off violence and determined such compromises and peace accords such as the Good Friday Agreement.  The walls had nothing to do with peace, serving instead to segregate people further, reinforce rifts between families, and replace real negotiations and co-habitation talks with solid, uncompromising walls.  It was only when the Irish and the British met without walls and were able to dialogue that any real progress was made in the line of peace.

 

            We in the United States have much to learn from the island of Eire across the Atlantic.  For as much as we hope to bring about “peace” and homeland security by erecting a 700-mile border wall on our southern border as per the Secure Fence Act of 2006, it will never be more than a negative peace. This negative peace, defined by Dr. King as an “absence of tension,” is also an absence of progress, a stultifying of cooperative relationships.  If we further open up the lines of communication with Canada and Mexico rather than erecting walls and militarizing our borders, perhaps the symptoms of extralegal immigration and terrorism will be able to be mutually solved in the Americas rather than in a bubble between Ottawa and Oaxaca.  God forbid that tourists should one day board Black Taxis in Texas, listening as the tour guide speaks about the failed “peace line” of yet another border wall of segregation.  

           

May 6- Eloisa Tamez Addresses the Cameron County Commissioners

May 12, 2008

In the Castellano Province of northern Spain, I have been overwhelmed with awe at a new land, language, and people every single day of this month-long Rotary trip to Spain.  All of this traveling, though, is tinged with a hint of regret that I am reduced to a peripheral role in the organized opposition to the border wall or levee-wall compromise on the Texas & Mexico border.  The Spaniards are very sympathetic to border residents’ resentment towards the Secure Fence Act of 2006, but I still feel somewhat removed from events such as Eloisa Tamez’s address to the Cameroun County Commisioners on May 6.  Her address was as follows:

Presentation to Cameron County Commissioner’s Court
Presented by Eloisa G. Taméz, RN, PhD, FAAN

Judge Cascos, Commissioners, Fellow Citizens
We the citizens of Cameron County are facing many challenges in relation to the Border Wall construction.
1.        Through the Declaration of Taking (DTA), many of us landowners are in peril of losing our ancestral lands.
2.       The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has violated constitutional laws to take our lands (Persisitently used 2006 Secure Fence Act and ignored 2008 Appropriations Bill).
3.       Members of Congress and Senate passed the Real ID Act of 2005, giving Secretary Chertoff, an appointed Executive Branch official, absolute power.
4.       The human rights of the citizens of South Texas are being violated as evidenced by the absence of the proposed Border Wall construction in properties owned by corporations (River Bend Resort) and the connected (Hunt Enterprises).
5.       The citizens of South Texas are being denied equal protection in accordance with the 5th Amendment.
6.       The affected citizens lack representation by elected officials: local, state, national.
7.       Citizens are being accosted in their own land by Border Patrol Agents (BPA).  Example:  Those of us, whose land is divided by the levee, are being confronted by the BPA when we are on the levee.  We hold title and pay taxes on that easement that only the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is authorized to access.
8.       The BPA, while trespassing on private property, have turned the levee into a highway and DHS is now requiring Cameron County citizens to bear the cost of repairs to damage they produced.  This movement is unacceptable to the citizens of Cameron County.
We are indigenous to these lands and citizens of the United States.  Yet, we are under siege by our own government and subject to disparaging remarks by those elected officials in Washington DC who authored bills like the 2006 Secure Fence Act and the Real ID Act of 2005 that are based on political survival rather than the greater good for America.  Fear has been purposely created on less than valid and justified conclusions.  At a recent Congressional Hearing in Brownsville, DHS representatives were unable to provide qualified and scientific information regarding those areas in the proposed Wall’s path that are excluded.
America is headed towards a Unitarian Government rather than a democracy.  Is this the legacy that we want for our children and their children?  To heal this decay in American democracy, we must unite as a people and raise consciousness to local and state elected officials, the President of the United States and Congress that the opening words in the constitution read “We the people……. not “We the corporations” or  “I Michael Chertoff”.
I urge you to vote responsibly for your constituents to approve the proposition presented here today, May 6, 2008, by Commissioner John Wood, who honors all Cameron County with diligence.
Name of lawsuit:  Affirmative Lawsuit of Taméz, García, et al VS Michael Chertoff & Robert F. Janson of the Department of Homeland Security.

I look forward to rejoining the solid efforts already organized against the construction of any border barrier on any frontera of the United States when I return to Brownsville, Texas, on May 26.

A Jaguarundi Sighting…

March 30, 2008

Jaguarundi

    Running along Border Patrol trails in a wildlife refuge area near the Rio Grande, I came upon it. It was a blur at first, but as it scuffled through the cane and underbrush, I am sure of it. I saw the ever elusive jaguarundi.

    Elusive enough that researchers have no official estimate of their wild population in South Texas, these weasel-like cats once roamed the Sabal Palm jungle of the Rio Grande Valley. Now, however, the jaguarundi is fighting for its life. Along with the ocelot, of which there are only 100 left in the South Texas wild, the jaguarundi is one of the endangered animals which a border wall would irrevocably drive out of South Texas and into Mexico. The wall itself would cut off these cats of prey from their source of water and food, while the major disturbance and deforestation associated with a border wall would harm their fragile ecosystem. Animal rights groups, winter Texans, local residents, and Federal agencies have spent millions of dollars procuring wildlife refuge land near the river in hopes of saving numerous endangered species like the jaguarundi I saw darting away into the underbrush yesterday.

 

    The fate of the jaguarundi and other native flora and fauna has inspired many wildlife activist groups to oppose the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Recently, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club published a public statement stating their opposition to the REAL ID Act which waives important environmental laws (like the 19 waived in the Arizona portion of the border wall). Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case.

By granting one government official the absolute power to pick and choose which laws apply to border wall construction, the REAL ID Act proves itself to be both inherently dangerous and profoundly un-American. The issue here is not security vs. wildlife, but whether wildlife, sensitive environmental values and communities along the border will be given fair consideration in the decisions the government makes…We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will take up this case in order to protect the fundamental separation of powers principles enshrined in the United States Constitution. (http://www.notexasborderwall.blogspot.com/)

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope echoed the stance of Defenders of Wildlife, stating,

Laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act are part of America’s enduring legal framework, and no agency or public official should be allowed to ignore them…Our laws have provided Americans a voice in the decision-making process that affects their lives, their human rights and the protection of wildlife; our government must not exempt itself from obeying those laws. (http://www.notexasborderwall.blogspot.com/)

The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife are just a couple of the many groups advocating for the fragile frontera region and campaigning against a border wall.

    It is vital that we oppose this wall on all levels – social, political, economic, financial, and environmental. The national outpouring of disbelief and justified indignation at an environmentally-destructive border wall must continue. I was incredibly fortunate to come across a jaguarundi on one of my many border runs, and I would like my children and my children’s children to be able to run these same gorgeous trails and see what I saw, a sleek jaguarundi scampering off through Sabal Palm trees and towards a beautiful Rio Bravo.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 9 or Triumphant Entry

March 17, 2008

End of March at Hope Park

    2,000 years ago, a young man came into a Middle-Eastern city astride a donkey. He came bringing a message of peace, of unity, of nonviolence, and la gente responded by laying palm branches in his path and crying “Hosanna! Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on Earth!” His death and suffering five days later, and his resurrection a week later, spurred a nonviolent campaign of peace and social justice which continues to shape the world.

    The timing of this No Border Wall Walk, then, concluded on the perfect day. Its timing had been fortuitous thus far, overlapping the groundbreaking Selma to Montgomery March that was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But no amount of planning could have made it possible to march into downtown Brownsville on Palm Sunday, holding palm branches along with signs of “No Wall Between Amigos,” singing hymns and songs like “Don’t gimme no walls, no walls, just gimme that peace, ah, that frontera Peace.” Since the Bible speaks out so clearly on the side of the immigrant, and because Jesus’ own family was forced to be refugees for several years, this miraculous “coincidence” must have been more than that – we felt a pervading love for all humanity as we marched and sang down Central Boulevard and Elizabeth Street.

 

    Many people were confused as we marched down main street, as they must have been in Jesus’ day as well. Our joy might have seem misplaced amidst all the tension and frustration and indignation generated by a wall which would be built but a few blocks south of our route. The abundant optimism of the 50 marchers might have seemed naïve to people resigned to cynicism regarding the United State government’s willingness to hear its people on its borderlands. And just as in Jesus’ time, perhaps some didn’t join us because they had lost faith in the power of nonviolence to create change for the good for good.

Palm Sunday- John Moore and Matthew Webster ending No Border Wall Walk

    But that didn’t stop our march as it concluded in Brownsville, nor did it stop any of the more than 300 people who joined their feet and their hearts with our march over the past nine days. Marching slowly through town, past the ropas usadas and the thousands of Mexican shoppers visiting on Laser visas which are being threatened by the restrictive immigration laws on the coattails of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we stopped periodically to dance and encourage those people to raise their voices with our own. Waving palm branches and our hoarse voices to the historic downtown facades, we were jubilant, because an idea whose time has come is the most powerful force known to man, and we were all raising our voices in a cause for which we had sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice.

 

    After marching some 126 miles over nine days, and after meeting thousands of people and broadcasting the message of this beautiful borderland and this Valley’s families, we arrived only 15 minutes….early. We were strengthened by churches like Church of the Advent Episcopal Church in Brownsville, who provided lunch for our cause. We were also strengthened by all three Methodist congregations in town, who gave us water for our weary voices and a seat to rest our feet before the final push into town. Yes, as we came into this city on the border by the sea, with a police escort of 5-6 cars at any given time, the overwhelming support for this march and its cause was made plainly evident. Every person of faith, every congregation, every politician, and virtually every organization in this border region is united against the invasion of a border wall and the backwards thinking it embodies. The message of this march can be summed up in two phrases – We are not alone, and Si se puede! (Yes we can!). Milling around in Hope Park, waiting our triumphant entry into the No Border Wall Rally in front of Jacob Brown Auditorium at of UT-Brownsville, I was overwhelmed with the divine Providence which had protected each and every marcher AND had made every phrase coming out of our mouths one of nonviolence not bitterness, one of hope and not cynicism, one of positive change and not discouraging negativity.

 

    Yes, standing on a truck trailer “rostrum” in front of hundreds of like-minded individuals, I was a proud man. One of my freshman students had walked 4 of the nine days, and four of my other students had helped organize the rally and man the food booth. I was overwhelmed to have been part of a statement of faith and purpose coming out of this Valley, one which is now echoing throughout the United States into Mexico, Canada, and hopefully throughout the world. The speech I gave was an attempt to encapsulate that hope for harmony and our need to continue campaigning for immigrant justice.

 

Our walk began at the birding bluffs of Roma, a national treasure that would be severed by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As we walked this historic downtown, we began to see all the history that would be “history” if an 18-foot border wall were to cut a wide swathe through southern Texas. And our moral indignation was aroused, but we didn’t stop there…

And after being refreshed at Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, we set off once more with a full police escort. It is not often that a political protest enjoys the support of police officers and poets, faith leaders and public officials, mayors and manual laborers, Republicans and Democrats, but we began to see in the hundreds of honks and thousands of thankful smiles that the entire border region is unified agaisnt the invasion of a border wall. But we didn’t stop in Rio Grande City either…

And we stopped at Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla, a tiny town the border wall might not affect immediately. We were reminded that the entire border region is interconnected. As our mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of this “inescapable network of mutuality,” La Grulla residents must speak out if their neighbors are threatened with a border wall. We must not fall into the trap of dividing ourselves on this crucial issue. I have heard some cynically suggest a wall in Canada, but how can we hold the moral high ground if we would wish this blight, this evil upon any other community near or far? Despite the fact that La Grulla has no planned wall as of yet, six little girls aged 10.5 to 16 marched 14 miles with us to let other little boys and other little girls know they cared and would not be silent. And we were all empowered by their youthful audacity, but we wouldn’t halt there…

No, we kept on marching past Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, where we were joined by members of the Lipan Apache tribe and by a Brownsville high-school student of mine. Yes, we stood in awe of the only man-powered ferry on our international borders, and we realized that all America – South, Central, and North – must use our hands to connect humanity and reach across barriers, rather than thicken divisions and entrench misunderstanding. Yes, we marched right on to Father Roy and the historic La Lomita Chapel, and we swam, swam in that river that brings nations together instead of dividing them. But we would stop there…

No, we kept on marching through the tiny community of Granjeno, which has agreed to face bulldozers and prison in nonviolent civil disobedience, should it come to that. Yes, we marched and our voice was strengthened by 75 other college students from all across the United States. Their youth invigorated us, and we had a powerful rally in Pharr, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, our pilgrimage continued through “the valley of the shadow of the wall,” past rows of onions and undocumented workers, past pristine palm groves and flocks of fascinating birds on wing. We were reminded of the men and women for whom we march and the place we hope to preserve. We were reminded that God did not create this world with walls or divisions. We walked along Highway 83 and 281 to nonviolently protest the border wall and encourage this law’s many victims. In return, we were given hope and happiness from the beauty of the Valley. But even after those 17 miles of blacktop, we still wouldn’t stop…

No, we kept right on walking from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso to Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias. We were welcomed by women of faith, who followed the command from Leviticus 19:34 to treat the immigrant the same as a resident. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Yes, in the loving eyes of women like Nenna and Alma, you could tell they recognized the very image of God in every single one of us. Surely they would see the face of God in any immigrant who came to their door as well. Yes, they welcomed us with songs like “Junto Como Hermanos,” and we were treated just like brothers and sisters by this border town. If it’s one thing we’ve learned about these border town in way of the wall, it is that they are welcoming and warm. And even though it may be as hot as a human heart out here, that is precisely the organ we are aiming at as we highlight the homes and humanity of la frontera. But no matter how welcome we felt, we would not be stopped there…

No, His Truth is Marching on, and so we followed Jesus’ call to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It led us along the levee to Ranchito and El Calaboz, the home of 72-year old Professor Eloisa Tamez who is resisting the federal government’s attempts to take her land. We stood with her in solidarity at San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, and we all supported her justified opposition to a government which would allocate her lands and erase her way of life. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of this border town, too, with its Beloved Community and its emphasis on faith and family, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, we walked right on in to Brownsville, down Military Highway to end the militarization of our nation’s borders. We were fed by Church of the Advent Episcopal Church here in Brownsville, as well as the Methodist Churches, just some of the dozens of congregations and organizations who physically supported our weary bodies on this March Against the Wall this March. It felt good to dance in the streets singing songs like, “No Al Muro, La Frontera Cuenta” and “We don’t need no border wall, we love people one and all,” as we approached this city on the border by the sea. We were overjoyed to be bound for this rall tonight where so many people are united together around a common purpose on this Palm Sunday of peace. But we won’t stop here…

No, so long as my students lack hope-giving legislation like the Dream Act, we will not stop marching.

So long as students getting A’s in my English classes and A’s in their Spanish classes are denied the right to attend our nation’s universities, universities they deserve to attend because of their academics, we will not be stopped.

As long as our immigration laws continue to separate families and discriminate based on quotas of national origin, we will not be silent.

So long as extralegal residents in these United States are not treated with dignity and not given a means to earned citizenship, we will not have arrived.

No, as long as more than 12 million people are criminalized by unresponsive immigration laws and the only piece of immigration law we can come up with in the last two years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we will not be stopped.

And so long as our government plans to build a border wall not through barren wasteland but through backyards and not through desert but downtowns, we weill march on…

We mustn’t stop because we believe that people are innately good and that this nation has a conscience. It is this conscience which Jesus pricked on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago and which Dr. King touched 43 years ago on his famous Selma to Montgomery March. Yes, we believe all people are created good, and so if unjust laws are supported by the people, it must be because of misinformation or miseducation. The purpose of this nine-day, 126-mile sacrifice is to educate the nation about the issues of all borders and all immigrants.

We urge politicians to vote for bills like the Grijalva Bill and against bills like the Finish the Fence by Date Certain Bill. We beseech the people of these United States to appeal for a moratorium on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, so we can begin discussing the need and consequences of such a negative symbol as a wall.

People of faith, Border Patrol officers, government officials, students, teachers, moms, dads, sons, and daughters – we urge you to join us on this march against the wall and for our immigrants and borders. We will not be stopped.

And yes, “Soon we’ll reach the shining river,

Soon our pilgrimage will cease,

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of Peace…

And yes we’ll gather at the river,

the beautiful the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at this river,

that flows by the throne of God…”

Speech at UTB

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/walk_85224___article.html/ground_protesters.html

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=615257032897

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.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

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

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

Hope is always almost gone.

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

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

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

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

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

Singing on the Rio Grande

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

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

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here:


No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 or Overcoming Fear

March 10, 2008

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 Ebanos Entry
The motto of this march, of all nonviolent demonstrations in fact, can be summed up with my favorite Bible verse: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..” (1 John 4:18 KJV)

The third day of the No Border Wall Walk, March 10, it became very clear that we are in a struggle with fear. As people who have decided to sacrifice spring break to walk 120 miles, all of us have had to overcome the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of not being strong enough or of giving up 9 days of relaxation at nearby South Padre Island, the fear of sacrificing and having no impact, the fear of being ignored. We have had to overcome the fear of sacrificing time, but we have all come to agree with Cesar Chavez that, “the rich may have money, but the poor have time.” We are fighting fear with our sacrifice of time.

As we walk, we hear thousands of honks a day. Those honks are truly uplifting as we trek along Highway 83, but if each of those families in their cars would get out and walk with us for merely a mile, there would be a moratorium on the border wall in weeks. If everyone on every border would raise their voice and put feet to street, we would get real immigration reform and not destructive distractions like the Secure Fence Act of 2006. We are in direct opposition to fear.

Flyering the community of Los Ebanos trying to give them information about free legal aid, we saw the fear on their faces and in their eyes. So many people are afraid because they have no idea of their rights, no concept of their ability to nonviolently demonstrate and change reality. The fear could be seen from the dogs to the tired houses along el rio. We are fighting fear. We are fighting fear at this, the only hand-pulled ferry on any international border, this Los Ebanos ferry which stands as a monument to mankind’s “We can” and a testament to the human capacity to use our hands in creating community and reaching across divides.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3

And the purveyors of this legislation, legislation which avoids the real issue of comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform, are also acting out of fear. The wall would be violence, in its very nature of division and disrespect, and all violence is based out of primal fear. How interesting it is that society today posits violence as the strong, the powerful, the courageous, the path to victory. On the tragic death of JFK, King wrote we are all guilty,

By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the techniques of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 237).

All officials involved in the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, including both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who voted for it, were acting out of fear – fear of being labeled “weak” on immigration or national security, despite the fact that the wall would admittedly, at best, merely deter such issues. We are fighting fear in ourselves and others; enemies are only friends who don’t know it yet, who aren’t yet acting out of love rather than fear. We are at war with fear.

And so we walk en contra miedo, against fear. On our walk from the gracious hospitality of Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla to our warm reception at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, we were joined by 8 primary and secondary school students from local schools. These girls, ranging from 7-16, walked with a courage that inspired all our tired feet to keep on truckin’. We sang classic and original marching songs and these girls, all in ROTC, amended some of their marching tunes to fit the cause. Their fearlessness in the face of speeding semi-trucks, a strong headwind, and 14 miles of black-top walking was a victory over fear. Kids in vans stuck their heads and hands to the windows, wishing they could join us. If only we can continue to show each passerby the efficacy and power of nonviolent resistance, everyone in this Valley will be able to face fears in ourselves and others.

Today also saw the media arrive in droves. The first two days saw just a few media press conferences, but today we had the opportunity to voice this all-important message to Valley television stations like Channel 4, Spanish-speaking television stations like Univision, and papers like the Rio Grande Guardian and The Dallas Morning News. Seeing our younger walkers handle themselves with the maturity of time-hardened nonviolent activists was astounding. They voiced the human element with grace, stating, “This whole Valley is interconnected” and “I don’t want to see kids separated from their moms.”

Between this invigorating youthful energy and the excitement of this media frenzy, we made great time and finished the 14 miles in about six hours. Our lunch was provided by a Lucio Middle School teacher Rosie Perez and her daughter. Home-cooked dinner was graciously provided by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County, while a lavish spread of snacks was donated by Our Lady Queen of Angels. We had a police escort from La Joya, and they delivered us right to City Hall. We passed white cranes in the fields, horses which heartily whinnied “Nay” to the wall. We floated on the only hand-pulled ferry on a U.S. boundary at Los Ebanos, where we saw a man back-stroke back to Mexico on an inner tube. What place does fear have among such acts of love and positive support?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said

“In Connor’s Birmingham, the silent password was fear. It was a fear not only on the part of the black oppressed, but also in the hearts of the white oppressors. Certainly Birmingham had its white moderates who disapproved of Bull Connor’s tactics. Certainly Birmingham had its decent white citizens who privately deplored the maltreatment of Negroes. But they remained publicly silent. It was a silence born of fear – fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people” (Martin Luther King Jr. Autobiography 172-3 emphasis added).

Dr. King also said that we never need a negative peace, which is simply an absence of violence, but a positive peace. Through this No Border Wall Walk, all people and organizations involved are striving for a positive peace, which is the presence of love in both the means and the ends. Walking through these communities it is impossible not to love the people, the small ranch towns, the scrub-brush fields of los ebanos and mesquite trees, the hand-pulled ferries which scoot across a shifting, tenuous border. We are nonviolently advocating for this place, trying to vocalize the humanity of these communities which will be directly impacted by a border wall and would immediately benefit from the real immigration reform it has so far displaced.

The Border Ambassadors and I invite you to fight fear wherever you may be today. Whether that may be reminding people that the border wall will go through irreplaceable wildlife refuges not deserts, or whether that is writing your senators or calling Presidential candidates, please overcome the fears you may have or the fears you may recognize in those around you. Whether you choose to overcome the fear of walking in the sun for 7 hours a day or if you openly oppose the xenophobic fears of nativists at your school or workplace, please step out and create a positive peace wherever you are. Love is casting out fear down here in the Valley – join us with your prayers, support, donations, or your presence.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 1 or A Lesson in Solidarity

March 8, 2008

    No Border Wall Walk- Day 1

The pins were white with red sequins. A junior high-school student at Rivera High School made them to show the unity between the United States, Canada, and Mexico throughout the common colors of their flags. The pins were worn today by everyone walking the 14 miles from Roma to Rio Grande City, Texas. Overalls and cowboy shirts looked great with these ribbons sparkling on them. Button-downs and floppy fishermen hats looked unified with these ribbons flapping solidarity in the westerly wind.

The response from communities along the Rio Grande was phenomenal. With nary a permit, police forces from Roma and Rio Grande City escorted us as we left the scenic birding bluffs by the international bridge (a section of historic downtown and environmental treasure which would be cut off by the Secure Fence Act of 2006). The Rio Grande City police force crossed town lines in order to tell us they would be waiting just inside the city limits. For much of the march in their city, we had 3 police cars. Shutting down an entire lane of traffic through the gorgeous downtown district, cars were honking as the entire group chanted “We don’t need no border wall, we are people one and all” and “No al muro!” Every honk, every hand wave was interpreted as a positive gesture because we were intent on conveying a thoroughly nonviolent message in opposition to the border wall. As Titus 1:5 states, “To the pure all things are pure.”

After a long day of sunburn, calloused feet, tired eyes, and bloated bellies thanks to Father Amador and his wonderful welcome at Immaculate Conception Church, we sat down to discuss the purpose of our walk in terms of opposing the border wall and advocating for immigration. We came to realize that we are looking at a Rubik’s Cube, a single facet of a much larger immigration issue with global repercussions. We in the Rio Grande Valley are a pivot point for real immigration reform. This border wall, while it can be defeating and discouraging, is our golden opportunity to show the golden rule to those seeking the land with streets “paved with gold.” Esther 4:14 states, “…who knows but that you were have come to [this] position for such a time as this.” U.S. Congressman and former SNCC chairman John Lewis put it this way.

“…I began believing in what I call the Spirit of History. OtSmart Borders › Edit — WordPresshers might call it Fate. Or Destiny. Or a Guiding Hand. Whatever it is called, I came to believe that this force is on the side of what is good, of what is right and just. It is the essence of the moral force of the universe, and at certain points in life, in the flow of human existence and circumstances, this force, this spirit, finds you or selects you, it chases you down, and you have no choice; you must allow yourself to be used, to be guided by this force and to carry out what must be done. To me, that concept of surrender, of giving yourself over to something inexorable, something so much larger than yourself, is the basis of what we call faith” (Walking with the Wind 64).

Few people raised concerns when parts of the wall were constructed in Arizona and California. That is our fault, and we are guilty for our complicit acceptance of this immoral action. We must raise our voices now, because this is on our watch. Victor Hugo wrote, “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Our backs are against a wall – the time is here, and we have a united community with which to nonviolently oppose the Secure Fence Act and all it symbolizes.

This is our chance to show solidarity on all fronts, to show the image of God and the spark of the divine in all peoples, both these residents with lands and lives on la frontera endangered by physical walls and also in the lives of displaced peoples and refugees the world over who are being denied a fair chance at citizenship. Perhaps the ribbons that high-school student made for us to wear should be rainbow-colored, to reflect the wide array of immigrants in every nation queued in quotas and waiting refugee status. Come join the walk tomorrow as we walk to Holy Family Catholic Church and have a rally as we arrive at 5:00. We have a ribbon for you as well.