Posts Tagged ‘University of Texas at Brownsville’

Brownsville in Washington

November 7, 2008

Despite legislation like the 2006 Secure Fence Act, the Rio Grande Valley might now have a voice in Washington.  Dr. Juliet Garcia, the first Latino president of a four-year university, was just tapped as one of the key members in Obama’s Presidential transition team. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/garcia_91496___article.html/obama_president.html)

Prior to November 5, University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) President Garcia had been in the headlines for resisting the federal government. For months, Juliet Garcia had refused to compromise with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who wanted to survey and conduct pre-construction practices for a border wall on UTB property.  Reports from the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stated that the wall could be 18-feet high and consist of two thick concrete barriers. Unlike public institutions like Hidalgo County, which compromised with a levee-wall arrangement with DHS this past spring, (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/border_85925___article.html/fence_security.html) Garcia refused even to allow government agents entrance to the university property.  By July 31, 2008, Garcia and DHS agreed to a compromise, wherein UTB would repair a chain-link fence on its property while DHS would bypass UTB property along the Rio Grande.  Garcia envisioned the fence with, “bougainvillea and vine growing all over it” (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/utb_88804___article.html/fence_tsc.html). Either way, it was a partial victory for the entire border region in that at least one party successfully resisted the U.S. government’s efforts to forcefully acquire land and construct a border wall along the Rio Grande.

Obama’s choice of Garcia could suggest a host of possible reasonings. It could have been his successful visit to Brownsville February 29, when he participated in the annual Sombrero Fest during the international twin-sister celebration of Charro Days. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/articles/obama_84848___article.html/president_festival.html) Perhaps he got a good taste of the Rio Grande Valley, of this borderland he and McCain and Clinton all voted to build a wall through in 2006.  Perhaps he saw the community, the people, the Tejano music, rancheros, corridos, tamales, elotes, the friendly smiles across the transnational bridges, the grapefruit hanging heavy in the orchards, the happiness and the peaceful coexistence of two countries in a place traditionally framed as a point of friction but in reality is a land of cohesion.  Perhaps he plans to cease the Secure Fence Act of 2006 when he takes office in January, in exchange for true immigration reform which can yield lasting results.  The Valley, the US, and the entire world watching the construction of a border wall between two countries at peace can celebrate Garcia’s appointment to Obama’s transistion team.

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Homeland Security

July 11, 2008

When we speak of homeland security, it is vital we define our terms. “Homeland security” must not mean defending the buildings and properties of the United States, or else the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be busy repairing bridges, condemning buildings, and fireproofing houses. It is impossible for “homeland security” to mean protecting the American people, because what we mean by the “American people” will have grown and changed by the time you finish reading this article. “Homeland security” cannot even mean preserving our nation’s heritage and culture, or else its name would be homeland taxidermy instead.

No, “homeland security” rightly understood must mean the protection of our nation’s laws. If society is a social contract, then people come to the United States and remain in the U.S. because they agree to live by the law in a land where others do the same, thus gaining civil rights while submitting to the authority elected to enforce those laws. Defined as such, the biggest threat to homeland security today could very well be the Department of Homeland Security.

Since the 1990s, and more aggressively since 2006, DHS has been militarizing the border. Having lived in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, I can personally attest to the effects this militarization has had on local residents from California and Arizona to Texas. I have had a gun pulled on me by a Border Patrol agent as I ran on a dirt trail along the border, not unlike so many cross-country trails here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Countless friends of mine have faced aggravation and humiliation as they crossed the secure border checkpoint more than 30 miles north of the Rio Grande. Third and fourth-generation Americans have been followed and questioned by police in every one of these border towns, simply because of the color of their skin or their fluency in Spanish.

With the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the law which mandates nearly 700 miles of border wall for our nation’s southern border, these dehumanizing factors were magnified in border communities. The Department of Homeland Security has used the REAL-ID Act to waive 11 laws in Arizona and more than 30 environmental and local laws in the Rio Grande Valley in order to expedite the construction of an eighteen-foot wall between the U.S. and Latin America. With the REAL ID Act, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, an unelected official, has been granted the unconditional power to waive any and all laws “necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section;” in effect, this gives Chertoff the power to undo countless laws voted on by elected officials in our nation’s Legislative Branch, thereby undermining the very “homeland security” it purports to protect, not to mention our system of checks and balances.

Despite the dour state of affairs in our nation’s handling of the border region and immigration, we have all seen real homeland security take place in our communities. Leaders like Father Paul Oderkirk in towns like Pottsville, Iowa, have offered support and banded together with immigrants after the terror of an ICE raid on their Agriprocessors Inc. kosher slaughterhouse in May. Organizations like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the Texas Border Coalition of mayors have all sought to defend homeland security by opposing the Secure Fence Act which divides rather than cooperates with our neighbors and the REAL ID Act which negates our nation’s checks and balances. We have seen homeland security in the integration of our community sports teams, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, hospitals, and churches. Every time a recent immigrant is welcomed, each instant someone takes the time to help another get involved, there is homeland security. Please show your solidarity by supporting immigrant resource centers like Rochester’s Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement and the Advocates for Human Rights, as well as writing your encouragement to beleaguered Americans on our southern border. Additionally, a letter to our senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar could go a long way to encouraging real “homeland security” instead of distracting and costly excuses for real immigration reform.

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: