Posts Tagged ‘wall’

Children caught up in an Unresponsive Laws

January 12, 2009

Stepping through the door of this nondescript building which houses young immigrant children awaiting their court dates, I am struck by its diametrically different feel. Whereas the purpose of adult detention centers (euphemistically called “processing centers”) is to keep those inside from getting out, the intent of these children’s homes is to protect children and keep people from getting in. Some of these children are government informants against human traffickers, and others owe thousands of dollars to smugglers who exploited them and their families. Additionally, these children are the most vulnerable people within our borders today – it is good to see the government realize that and do their best to ensure their safety.

Only 5 children were present at the Lutheran Social Services (LSS) children’s home when we arrived at 10:00. These children were going through picture dictionaries, the staff offering them one-on-one assistance as they try to teach some basic literacy during their short stays (averaging 36 days). The other children were on a tour of the Immigration Court in the El Paso Federal Building downtown. LSS makes it a point to introduce the kids to the court room and Judge Hough, so they’re not terrified when they are called to respond to the government’s pleadings against them.

Most of these 5-12 year-old kids leave LSS after 36 days, usually because they are reunified with some family or sponsor. Some are deported prior to that, however. All these kids are placed in temporary foster homes, where they are welcomed into loving Spanish-speaking homes. The foster parents even go so far as to stop serving the traditional Chihuahua fare of tortillas de harina for corn tortillas.

Even after kids are reunified, however, they can still be deported. It is hard to think of children like this being sent back to Guatemala or El Salvador. It is even harder to think of them coming up by themselves, with an aunt, with a younger brother.

LSS does a good job by these kids, and they are excitedly awaiting the time in a few weeks when they can finally move into a bigger facility. There are no signs on the outside of this small building, but they do manage to evaluate children’s academic levels and send progress reports home. The children don’t seem to mind the cramped quarters at all. When we say Adios to the children at LSS, all of us wish them this in its truest sense.

Since children were banned from being detained with adults and their care was transferred from DHS (which contains ICE, the department which has enthusiastically raided workplaces, patrolled streets, and hunted immigrants down the last few years) to human services, these children’s care has improved tremendously. Rather than the drab walls of a prison cell, they are allowed to decorate the walls with their schoolwork and drawings. Instead of waiting impatiently, educational services have been provided to these children so that their detainment time isn’t totally wasted.

After visiting LSS on Friday, Sister Phyllis then took us to Canutillo to visit the Southwest Key children’s home there. This facility got its name because it attempts to be a key in the Southwest to a better life for immigrant children. The Canutillo establishment is much bigger, with capacity for 94, and their children are from 13-17. One of the saddest days in the home is an 18th birthday; on that day, the child is transferred from this warm welcoming environment to the adult detention center down the road.

Since Reno v. Flores established some basic guidelines for the detainment of children (such as their right not just to liberty but also custody), facilities like Southwest Keys have risen to the challenge to nurture the lives of these children for as long as they’re in the United States. The site offers English literacy and math classes, but it also offers some highly-popular vocational classes. I have never seen a cake decorated as nice as the penguin cake the kids decorated just last month, and the murals on every wall in the building showcase that these kids have true talent.

Additionally, this facility has on-site counselors and social workers, to ensure that all their needs are met. Some children come in with chemical dependency, or horror stories from their home country or their long journey north. The staff was incredible at welcoming the children and helping them begin to heal. Looking at them, I am reminded of my own high-school students. Only a paper distinguishes these kids from any others.

Louie, the executive director, finished our tour by reminding us that with the increased militarization of the US border policy, along with the violence of the escalating drug wars in Latin America, more and more kids are stranded in Juarez without access to such facilities as LSS and Southwest Keys. My heart goes out, realizing that a half-mile away kids are wandering the streets wondering about their family back home (if they have any) and hoping for a new life just on the other side of the river. I pray they may find a home somewhere.

Advertisements

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, Part 5

July 21, 2008

Westbank barrier.png

It would one day stretch 436 miles, and is over halfway completed already.  Supporters of this eight-meter-high barrier state that this is the only way to protect civilians from terroism, that it is a matter of national security and homeland security.  Opponents, however, argue that the wall is really a ploy to annex Palestinian lands in the name of the “war on terror,” that it violates international law, preempts status negotiations, and severely limits the lives of those Palestinians living on the border of the barrier. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_West_Bank_wall#cite_note-humanitarianinfo_Rprt05-37)

While The Jerusalem Post recently stated that the wall might not be finished until 2010, seven years behind schedule, thousands of Jordanians and Israelis are currently living behind the West Bank Barrier.  This wall has already gathered many names around its base, names which are all true and signify its different meanings on both sides.  Israelis alternatively refer to the wall as the “separation wall,” “security fence,” or “anti-terror fence,” intimating their trust and hope that the wall will provide all three of these ends.  Palestinians living just on the other side of this sixty-meter-wide seclusion area have dubbed the barrier the “racial segregation wall” or the “Apartheid Wall.”  A good friend of mine told me stories of those living on both sides of the wall and the daily hardships they faced trying to get to the other side for bread, milk, cheese, education. 

 

The Israeli government has stated that, “An absolute halt in terrorist activities has been noticed in the West Bank areas where the fence has been constructed,” though many experts claim that the increased number of Israeli intelligence operations against terrorist groups has actually precipitated the decrease in attacks.  The U.N.’s 2005 report states,

it is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In addition, plans for the Barrier’s exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences. This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future lives will be impacted…The land between the Barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently the home for 49,400 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns. (http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/opt/docs/UN/OCHA/OCHABarRprt05_Full.pdf, emphasis added)

Palestinians who have lived on this land for generations now must re-register if they are to remain in their homes and continue with life as they know it.  By May 2004, the fence construction had already destroyed over 100,000 Palestinian olive and citrus trees, 75 acres of greenhouses and more than 20 miles of irrigation. Many physicians and human rights groups such as Médecins du Monde, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, have all highlighted that the wall makes healthcare much harder for individuals living on the wrong side.  Upwards of 130,000 Palestinian children will be prevented from receiving immunizations, and more than 100,000 high-risk pregnancies will be re-routed away from nearby medical facilities in Israel.  Groups such as the Red Cross decry the wall as in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch take offense at the way the land was obtained and the routing of the wall through important population centers.  

 

In 2004, the World Council of Churches released a statement calling for Israel to halt and reverse construction of the wall and to begin to right their numerable human rights violations against Palestinians.  President Bush in 2003 said, ““I think the wall is a problem…It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank.”  Bush reiterated this in 2005, months before the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed in his own country.

 

Residents on the North and South Banks of the Rio Grande are thinking the same thing on this July 21, 2008.  As the wall approaches its supposed ground-breaking this week, the men and women on both sides of the border tremble at its assured repercussions.  They must be looking at their patch of the river with renewed love for its water, its mesquite tree banks, its children diving from the mud-caked walls on either side, its fish, its serenity.  Residents on the North Bank are being offered paltry cheques form the federal government in the realm of $10-20,000, and although this may be the face value of these homes in some of the poorest parts of our nation, none of these people will be able to replace their home and their lives with a check the size of a used F-150.  Mexicans must be looking north where the wall is intended and then looking out to sea, where a hurricane is developing right now in the Gulf of Mexico; they must surely be wondering what a wall and levee in violation of international accords will do to their flood-level during the upcoming hurricane seasons.  The thousands of winter Texans, eco-tourists, struggling grapefruit farmers, AMFEL mechanics, maquilladora factory workers, migrant laborers, Border Patrol agents, coyotes, Americalmosts, English-as-a-Second-Language students, first-generation immigrants, multi-generational land grand families – all of them must be wondering now, as we all should, whether so-called preventitive measures in the name of national security can ever be justified in the light of so many certain drawbacks.  Should the wall go up in Hidalgo County this week, and should it spread its concrete tendrils up and down the Rio Grande, our entire nation will mourn the loss of land, Nature, livelihood and life that this 700-mile border wall already has come to represent in California and Arizona.   May the people of the West Bank pray five times a day for the Mexican-Americans on the North Bank, and may we Americans also work towards a wall without walls in Palestine and Israel as well as in our own land. 

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.

Something there is that Doesn’t Love a Wall, Part 1

April 14, 2008

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….

It currently extends some 4,500 miles. Though never a continuous wall, it was guarded at times by as many as a million men. These fortifications of earth and brick were built and rebuilt from the 5th century B.C. until the 16th century A.D. Some of the most famous sections of wall were built by the Qin and Ming Dynasties. The Great Wall of China, while a popular tourist attraction now, claimed the lives of 2-3 million people during its centuries-long construction.

The current plans for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, while only 700 miles for a border half the length of the Great Wall of China, do follow in the tradition of walls of all shapes and sizes. The border wall proposed for America’s southern border, locally referred to as la frontera, will not be a continuous wall. Instead, it will highlight “high-traffic zones” like wildlife sanctuaries, schools, churches, and depressed downtowns, and conspicuously passover places like River Bend Resort and Hunt family’s Sharyland Estates. With all the grace and diplomacy of a Chinese Emperor, Homeland Security has waived 39 laws for the wall in Texas and 19 different laws for the Arizona portion. And, just like the Great Wall of China, people will surely die as a result of this costly edifice. Close to 400 people die annually with our current militarized borders, a sad statistic which has doubled in the last decade. As Professor Wayne Cornelius of University of California – San Diego, stated, To put this death toll in perspective, the fortified US border with Mexico has been more than 10 times deadlier to migrants from Mexico during the past nine years than the Berlin Wall was to East Germans throughout its 28-year existence. If a border wall is erected through la frontera, that number could easily double or triple.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?

In China, the intent of the Great Wall was to keep the marauding Mongolian and Manchurian tribes out of their land. This isolationism mentality lasted for millenia, only beginning to change in the last portion of the 20th century. The wall successfully repulsed successive Manchurian invasions for almost 40 years until finally a Ming general named Wu Sangui who disagreed with his commanders simply let them in through a gate.

Walls have never proven effective for long periods of time. The border wall intended for 1/5 of the southern U.S. has already created some opportunistic evasions of the Secure Fence Act. An unjust law breeds injustice and creates criminals, and this 2005 legislation has done that. Far from discouraging border-crossers, it merely drives the prices and lethality of such dangerous ventures. Coyotes have been making news in the Rio Grande Valley after several car-crashes which have sadly left immigrants dead or wounded and without rights; the coyotes, however, have lived to try another day. And since almost ½ of extralegal residents in the U.S. have come here legally, immigration reform seems to be a more practical way of beginning to assimilate these individuals who have come by air or by sea over or around the trajectory of the proposed border wall.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

(Robert Frost, “Mending Walls“)

While not visible from the moon and only able to be seen by a trained eye at low orbit, the Great Wall of China is certainly an imposing feature. While architects may debate its construction and the merits of its foundations, people from all walks of life can readily agree that it was not a success and actually sapped China of resources, labor, and interchange of ideas. Materially, it is a lasting structure; economically, politically, socially, and morally, it was a failure from the moment it was made.

The very idea of a wall went against the progressive thinking of the Chinese people. A border wall would seriously call into question the democracy and moral high ground our nation has claimed and attempted to impart to dozens of other nations. When Chinese students protested in 1989 at the Tiananman Square, they did not build a replica of their nation’s giant man-made monument. Instead, they fashioned a model of America’s symbol of freedom and hope, of opportunity for all peoples, immigrant and resident. May we not betray the legacy of Lady Liberty for the infamy of a divisive border wall.

Hanen’s New Decision, Our New Resolution

April 12, 2008

In addition to waiving 39 laws through its use of the REAL ID Act, the federal branch of the U.S. government notched another victory in its continuing lawsuits against homeowners on the border. UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez, who has been refusing the government access to her land since January, was just ordered by Judge Hanen on Thursday to allow the government to survey her land for six months.

73-year-old Eloisa Tamez wanted to know the government’s intentions in detail, but the government stated that it wouldn’t know those intentions or the scope of its construction until it surveyed her Spanish land-grant acreage. This deliberate murkiness has permeated every phase of the U.S. government’s efforts to raise a wall on la frontera. From the Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) report, which gave two different proposed trajectories of the wall so that no one is quite sure where it will be built, to the indiscriminate waiving of laws to expedite a process which is either top-secret or undecided or both – every interaction of the government with the people of this Rio Grande Valley has been evasive and less than honest.

For a $50 billion project, the American public deserves the right to know exactly what it is going to look like. The EIS report shows metal fencing, plexi-glass, concrete walls, and double-thick walls, all of which are “possibilities,” yet none of which are decided upon. The government report shows tiny paths of entry for small lizards and rodents, but government officials have also promised people like Jimmy Paz, the manager of Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, that they will have a gate and a key for such a wall. Even the intended purpose of the wall, which began as a piece of immigration legislation, has been touted as a solution to terrorism, drug-smuggling, Social Security, and borderland trash. No one is quite sure how the wall will look, how it will impact the communities, and what effects it will have. Yet still, it has managed to pass through our legislature and dozens of local courts on its way to presumably land in the Rio Grande Valley by the beginning of next month.

Although members of the Smart Borders group will continue visiting local communities along the RGV corridor in order to alert them to their rights and register them to vote, we must also begin training and preparing for a nonviolent campaign of direct action. Should bulldozers come to our peaceful Valley, we must be prepared to engage in the civil disobedience which transformed India and Jim Crow. These apparent defeats for the rights of border residents must not discourage and enervate but encourage and inspire us to bring this issue to national attention. Please join us as we oppose an unjust law in a morally ascendant manner.

Satyagraha in Manhattan and the Americas

April 11, 2008

The MET is staging Satyagraha in New York City. Philip Glass‘s 1979 opera about Gandhi’s life and philosophy of “holding on to truth” is a spectacle which makes me wish I were in Manhattan for a matinee. Julian Crouch, one of the artistic directors of Improbable Theater Company of London, stated that the giant puppets of this opera were chosen because “…we wanted to use very humble materials in the making of the opera…We wanted similarly to take these materials, maybe associated with poverty, and see if we could do a kind of alchemy with that, turn them into something beautiful” (NYT). This opera shows Mohandis Gandhi meeting with his philosophical mentor Leo Tolstoy and with his inspired follower Martin Luther King, Jr. In the meantime, newspapers are transformed into puppets, wadded pages represent rocks, and other texts are molded to resemble Hindu goddesses in a transformation of the mundane into the sacred, the profane into the divine.

I wish the Improbable Theater Company could travel to Brownsville, Texas, bringing with it the ideas of nonviolence and civil disobedience to a border region currently preparing to oppose an unjust border wall through its homes and backyards. If Satyagraha could be staged in Dean Porter Park, perhaps the poorest city in the United States would see that it does not need money or political power in order to stand for the Truth. The Truth is compelling, and when men and women refuse to resort to violence but instead seek reconciliation in the face of injustice, we have to believe that the spark of the divine will be ignited in our fellow Man when he is confronted with the morality of our plea. A border wall, above and beyond beyond environmentally unsound, politically backwards, and environmentally devastating, is morally reprehensible.

On April 1, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the REAL ID Act to waive 39 laws in an effort to speed up the construction of the border wall. All 100 Senators voted for this act, a piece of legislation predominantly concerned with driver’s licenses but with a rider granting unprecedented powers to waive all laws in constructing border barriers. In traditional Jewish law, a law which was passed unanimously was thrown out – something must have been amiss. In Gandhi’s book, Satyagraha, he writes, ““It is a superstition and ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority…all reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities” (18). The overwhelming vote for the REAL ID Act must not dissuade us from speaking truth and campaigning for the overturning of these waivers.

Valley residents are not alone, however. The minority in opposition to a wall is growing, and we have the moral power of knowing we are right. Thank you, Rep. Thompson, for your courageous stand along with 14 other Congressman. We pray your Amicus Curiae brief will persuade the Supreme Court to take case with Homeland Security’s ability to waive unlimited legislation to expedite the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It is encouraging to know that the unanimous vote in the Senate is not the entire story.

It is also encouraging to note that the European Union is currently considering the introduction of a decade of nonviolence, a year after dissolving the last of its countries’ borders. It is heartening to know that the E.U. recognizes, “Gandhian non-violence to be the most appropriate means of ensuring that fundamental human rights are enjoyed, upheld, promoted and respected” (http://www.unpo.org/content/view/7980/83/). It is encouraging to know that the spirit of nonviolence was not killed along with Gandhi and King, that it survives even though the United States has already started clearing brush from its levees in South Texas, fully intending to build a border wall between itself and its neighbors to the South. Nonviolence, that soul-force which King preached and which is parading in New York’s MET right now, still walks the streets and marches on, despite the fact that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 still stands as a blight upon our nation, culture, and all immigrants, a symbol of division in a time when we need unity.

We, the people of the Valley, call for the prayers and support of all concerned citizens at this crucial time in American history. The people of the Valley are already fighting the legal battle and will continue to campaign for Justice through the courts. In addition, we are readying for civil disobedience, should it come to that. Groups such as Fellowship of Reconciliation and Christian Peacemakers, as well as individuals like the American Gandhi, have already expressed interest in training a group of concerned citizens in proper, positive civil disobedience.  We welcome any and all support in our efforts of reconciliation as opposed to division. We join with Christian thought in recognizing that we inevitably reap what we sow, and we seek to keep the United States from sowing a seed of dissension and division rather than working on communication and mutually beneficial relations with brothers and sisters of the world.

Central Park to Sabal Palms

April 8, 2008

Nailing down Homeland Security’s plans is like trying to spot the elusive ocelot. When asked whether the agency intends to build the Fence north of the sanctuary, its chief spokesman, Russ Knocke, said: “I can’t rule that out, but I cannot also definitely tell you that that will be the case.”

It is quotes like this which make Dan Barry’s New York Times article about Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary important in framing our national conflict over the Secure Fence Act. The wall has millions of detractors with very valid reasons, from my students whose heritage and extended family would be affronted by such a wall to outspoken advocates for the endangered species huddling in these last remaining stands of a lost ecosystem. The federal government and a few outspoken, if misinformed, syndicated talk-show hosts keep lauding the wall as an answer to everything from immigration to terrorism and drug smuggling. They do not let the facts get in the way, nor their own statements about the wall being a $50 billion deterrent rather than a panacea.

New York Central Park, 2006

The indefiniteness of the Secure Fence Act could be attributed to either indecision or misdirection, and since the United States government seems more determined than ever to build a wall, one must assume the latter. Last week, heavy equipment cleared brush from the levee in Brownsville’s Southmost community, presumably in anticipation of wall construction through this tight-knit community. Some residents hadn’t ever caught wind of a wall, perhaps because the proposed plans were 600+ pages in English and only 30 pages in Spanish. Other people we talked to in the Amigoland Mall community this week doubted that the wall would bisect their houses. They had heard that the plans for the wall circumvented their community; what they didn’t know was that this was only Plan B, and the government has still not specified which plan they will follow or how faithfully they will follow these plans. The only clarification they keep reiterating is this: it is coming, and it is coming fast.

Jimmy Paz, the director of Audobon’s Sabal Palms Sanctuary, is equally at home with noisy chachalacas and my students he also refers to as “Chachalacas” because their incessant teenage chit-chat sounds like the birds nesting in his refuge. At 62, he has walked these paths more than 50 years, observed Border Patrol and new immigrants come and go, seen some birds make a comeback and other species fade into shadows. He realizes the importance of the ground he stands upon, the grounds he invites my students to walk and clean sometimes. Paz, whose Spanish surname means “peace,” realizes the tranquility his stand of virgin Sabal Palm forest can offer city dwellers and native Brownsvillers. He understands that wildlife is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s greatest assets, with eco-tourism being the 3rd largest industry in Brownsville. It is with the full weight of this knowledge, then, that he says building a wall to cut of his wildlife sanctuary is akin to “…putting a fence around Central Park.”

Having lived in both Manhattan and Brownsville, I can recognize the collective pride both communities share for their parks. What the Brownsville sanctuary lacks in park benches and ice-skating and dog-walkers it more than makes up for in endangered species, migrating butterflies, and bird-watchers. Central Park is the pride of New York, and to see my students’ eyes light up as birders told them the distances they’d traveled to come for Brownsville’s beauty, it was clear that refuges like Sabal Palms are the pride of la frontera.

Dan Barry’s article in the New York Times is noteworthy most because it connects these two distant communities. If New Yorkers could understand the peaceful coexistence here on the border, they would most assuredly stand in opposition to a wall’s disruption. If the refugees with whom I waitered could see the harmony of new immigrants and old residents, Spanish-speakers and English-only citizens in the Valley, they would be outspoken against this symbol of division. If the NYPD could see the way the Border Patrol lends its watchtowers for hawk-sightings sometimes or the way Sabal Palms has sensors to monitor illegal activity, they would surely campaign for more of this cooperation and less rigid and costly barriers. If Times Square were made aware of Jimmy Paz and his birds in Brownsville, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would seem the unconscionable, ill-planned, destructive and distracting suggestion that it truly is.

Sabal Palms Spanish Moss, November 2007

40 years ago Today…

April 4, 2008

40 years ago last night, Martin Luther King predicted his death. He had been to the mountaintop, and he had seen the Promised Land.

40 years ago today, Martin Luther King left a world he had changed forever, a world integrated from bus stops to ice cream parlors.

40 years ago, Dr. King left us a legacy of nonviolence, taught us the skill of redeeming hate with love and staying positive through violence. He taught us how to make change in such a way that it changes us.

40 years ago and 15 years before I would be born in that same Memphis, Tennessee, King’s message of redemptive suffering and Love-force became immortal

40 years ago, Martin Luther King could see the other side. While we can yet see the other side of El Rio, let us not surrender to unjust laws. While we can yet see our fellow man in Mexico, let us not permit a border wall to rise up between us. While we can yet see that a river brings people and life together, let us not allow a divisive wall of hate to come between us and our brothers, our sisters.

UTB’s Esperanza or the Immediate Effects of a Nonviolent Campaign

March 19, 2008

    When in the course of human events, it sometimes seems that one’s voice is so small, one’s life only a seashell, one’s impact little more than a leaf here and gone. Some may have shouted the same about the No Border Wall Walk which occurred last week from March 8-16, decrying it little more than a symbolic demonstration. Many people we spoke to in communities like Granjeno, El Calaboz, and Los Indios had lost hope that the government would listen to la gente, the regular people.

    But the participants in the No Border Wall Walk persisted in both the symbolic and the pragmatic aspects of this nonviolent demonstration. One of our aims was most certainly to get national media attention to humanize the southern Texas which would be affected and highlight the beautiful river and wildlife which would be devastated by a border wall. However, we also came with a pragmatic aim to familiarize border residents with their rights and encourage them to avail themselves of the many law firms which would take their cases for free. We recognized that if we needed more than merely media attention; like Cesar Chavez said, “not recognition, but signed contracts; not recognition, but good wages; not recognition, bu a strong union.” We were seeking more than just a media blitz and recognition; we sought to unify and encourage the Valley residents.

    Because of the efforts of those nine individuals who walked the entire 126 miles, because of the more than 300 people who walked a portion of the walk, and because of 400-500 people who participate in the final rally at UTB’s campus on Sunday the 16th, we must claim some responsibility for the fact that today the U.S. government finally admitted the need to explore alternatives to a border wall. This admission came as a result of the settlement of a land condemnation suit between UTB President Juliet Garcia and the United States government. Garcia said, “They’re not allowed to mow a single blade of grass without our permission” (http://www.valleymorningstar.com/articles/university_21816___article.html/brownsville_federal.html)

    While President Garcia was unable to officially endorse the No Border Wall Walk or its final rally on the UTB campus because of her involvement in the lawsuit, she did seem to intimate that she hoped UTB students like Crystal Canales would participate in the walk and its mission. The main reason the nine-day march ended at UTB instead of the bridge or Immaculate Conception Cathedral was that we wished to show solidarity with the university’s efforts to curb the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Joining us in that walk and that show of unity was a UTB professor who was involved in a similar lawsuit of the government surveys and who actually filed a counter-suit. Eloisa Tamez spoke her encouragement for any and all affected parties, galvanizing them to take heart and take case with a government which has overstepped its legal bounds and forsaken its morality in proposing a border wall anywhere.

    Hillary Clinton’s visit to UTB, and her subsequent televised statement of the absurdity of a border wall amputating part of the campus, surely helped bring this case to a favorable conclusion for President Garcia and the rest of Brownsville. Garcia said she hoped this victory served “to test the outer edges of the rights landowners have.” Hopefully, the outcome of this case and Professor Tamez’s lawsuit will encourage the hundreds of residents on the fence right now. Over the coming weeks, concerned citizens will continue to speak with local residents in these border communities, clearly relaying their rights and telling them about free legal aid. If protests and media coverage like that of last week can be coupled with hundreds or thousands of lawsuits, perhaps those parties concerned will finally be made to admit the shame of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and we can all begin to explore more sustainable, positive, lasting, and nonviolent solutions to problems which primarily stem from a lack of communication – precisely the communication which a wall would end altogether, precisely the sort of nonpartisan dialogue that was happening two years ago despite the Secure Fence Act legislation.