A Moral Imperative

Looking at this article, about vacationers rescuing 88 African migrants in the Canary Islands, we should remind ourselves that immigration problems do not exist in the USA alone. And we need to take this as a sign, not that "those people" are invading all over, that civilization is under attack from the pagan hordes. Rather, we need to recognize that maybe these mass movements of people tell us something about our world that we need to fix. Perhaps the disparity between the rich nations and the poor has grown so great that it's reaching a breaking point. And maybe we need to work together to do something more about it.

Those anti-immigration folks – at least in this country – who propound a humanitarian concern for those attempting to come here never-the-less shirk their responsibilities. They might claim, as Ira Mehlman of FAIR did to me, that the USA does what it can to improve the situations in other countries that drive people to our shores but that no ethical system in the world would demand us to impoverish ourselves to help other people. But it doesn't seem to be enough – at least not enough to counterbalance the enforcement movement, which has the direct effect of causing a humanitarian crisis. (By making both legal and illegal entry more difficult, enforcement forces people to their deaths in remote regions of the desert.)

Can we really justify killing migrants just because we spend some money on foreign aid? The issue gets even more complicated when we recognize that the USA has caused or at least exacerbated so many of the drivers for immigration to this country without a serious attempt to take responsibility for those actions.

Again, this is not an all-or-nothing issue in which we must choose between shutting our doors to those in need or ending up on the streets. We can take political steps that are morally responsible. Again, we need to push deeper, towards the heart of the problem, rather than obsessing over battling only the symptoms that affect us. We're not supposed to be that selfish of a people.

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House of Ill Repute

The House continues its attempt to backpedal on immigration reform with its plan for 21 hearings around the country in August, according to this article by Rachel L. Swarns in The New York Times. Even Senate Republican Arlen Specter (Penn.) derides the hearings as useless; while Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) accuses House Republicans of attempting to stall progress and political posturing to boost their chances in the November elections.

Consider this from the article:

"Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, said the hearings, which will take place in 13 states, would expose what he described as “troubling provisions” in the Senate’s immigration bill."

So even Rep. Boehner implies that these are less hearings than stumping stops for House Republicans to promote themselves and their immigration "solution". These hearings will be declamatory rather than exploratory. They will serve to tell the American people what to think, rather than finding out what the people want.

Earlier this week, Rep. Pence (R-Ind.) and Sen. Hutchinson (R-Tex.) put forth a new proposal that includes a temporary worker program that could begin only after the President certified the borders were secure, which he could do only after two years. That would mean two more years of chaos and no solution. Perhaps the most ludicrous part of the plan would require all who wished to apply for the program to leave the USA and apply for the visa. Guess how many would actually do that and risk denial of reentry? You got it. The chance of compliance looks even smaller when one considers the rest of the provisions: The temporary visa would last only two years, though it could be renewed. Only after 12 years could the applicant achieve eligibility for permanent residence -- and after five more years could he apply for citizenship. Seems like it would be easier to just hide beneath the radar.

But some of the Republican House leadership likes this plan. Again, from Swarns's article:

"'Before we can look at other immigration issues, we must first secure the borders,' Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, said at a news conference. 'I’m not endorsing any one plan, but that does start to look at a pathway, that type of a solution, possibly to get this job done.'”

On the first point, as The Dude would say, "That's just, like, your opinion, man." And it sounds nice and tidy, as reductionist statements often do, but it's not necessarily correct. Frankly, in my opinion, man, the border will become more secure when we reform the immigration system -- and when we stop scape-goating immigrants for all of our other fears. And ignoring all other facets of immigration reform in favor of focusing solely on securing the borders seems pretty ignorant -- but a nice set up to play on voters' fears of the "invasion" and the terrorist threat through our southern border of which our law enforcement has no evidence, according to at least one Border Patrol spokesman.

Hastert's second point seems to reinforce his purely political aspirations here. He won't endorse a plan, but he likes that the Pence-Hutchinson plan will "start to look at a pathway...possibly to get this job done." What ringing support for actually reforming things. Kinda. Sorta. Maybe. At least until November.


New York Invaded!

Today, Jim Gilchrist and company brought the Minuteman Project to New York City, to the World Trade Center site. A crowd of fewer than 40 people mixed with almost as many members of the media in a fenced-in little corner at Liberty and Church, right next to Ground Zero. It was the first stop for the book tour of MINUTEMEN: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders, written by Gilchrist and Dr. Jerome Corsi. And the Minutemen used the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 as the central rallying point for clamping down on immigration, utilizing heavily bellicose rhetoric and dubious statistics.

Much of the talk was nasty. "This is not the first time I have faced Satan," said Gilchrist. "Yes, we have names for them, too....Satan will once again back down under the rule of law."

"Monsters" was a word used frequently. Gilchrist claimed that 28,000 people have been murdered by undocumented immigrants in the USA since 9/11 -- and 95 percent of the killers have been Mexican. Speakers consistently said that immigrants killed the thousands of people who died on 9/11.

(While some of the known 9/11 terrorists had violated immigration laws, that does not a cause-and-effect link make. Timothy McVeigh could not have bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building if he didn't have the rental truck. So let's close all the rental businesses.)

One man, holding one end of a sign that read "STOP THE INVASION" barked at a Telemundo reporter: "You gonna broadcast this in English, so my family can hear it?" To which one of his comrades replied something about subtitling and Spanish-language TV causing his high cable bill.

Added another man, wearing a Border Patrol hat: "My mother came here legally.... She didn't bring any disease like half of these people."

All the while, a group of immigrants' rights protesters that surely outnumbered the Minutemen chanted and waved signs -- "MinuteKlan", etc. -- and chanted from their corral across Liberty Street.

Frankly, I didn't expect such harsh, violent, and paranoid language from a group that claims to be "not a call to arms, but a call to voices seeking a peaceful and respectable resolve", according their website. But they see this as a war against murderous hordes.

Minuteman speakers -- including a representative from a 9/11 families group who lost his son in the WTC -- constantly and fervently evoked the ghosts of the USA's founding fathers, all soldiers who have ever died for this country, and the victims of 9/11 to demand that politicians start "honoring their oaths of office" and enforce immigration laws -- or leave their posts. (That includes Pres. Bush.) And they bellowed often about law and order. (See my previous post.)

That ignores the facts that the Boston Tea Party was technically a terrorist act, but it was breaking of laws that served the interests of justice; many non-citizen immigrants have died in service to the USA; "Mexican" workers -- as MM supporters view all undocumented immigrants -- did not murder thousands on 9/11; and that many of those who died that day were foreign-born. Gilchrist also remarked that people in San Diego know that the USA is being colonized. That's an historically ignorant and hypocritical argument since the USA colonized that very same territory when it belonged to Mexico.

The Minutemen eventually hustled Gilchrist -- a former Marine -- out of the event when protesters left their corner and marched across the street towards (and past) the Minutemen. NYPD seemed to do a good job keeping the groups from clashing -- although at one point it looked like a small-in-stature Latino protester was about to go at it with a tall, muscular, union-brother Minuteman. The exchange went like this:

"Go back to Mexico!"
"I'm not from Mexico. I'm from [unintelligible]."
"Well go back there, then!"

Then they lunged towards each other from opposite sides of the metal barricade, and NYPD intervened.

Both sides called each other Nazis. And at least several aggressive, white men circled the MM group chanting things like "Racists go home" and "The Nazis lost in '45".

The small MM crowd had a variety of images, from button-up conservatives, to tourist-dressed middle-aged women, to biker-looking guys with do-rags and big mustaches, to a perky young woman in short shorts and a US-flag bandana (who cheerily referred to the protesters as "idiots and babies".)

As the crowds lessened somewhat and the microphone opened up to random MM speakers, the protesters chanted "Welcome to New York. Now learn Spanish."

Frankly, today revealed a culture of fear, scapegoating, and hatemongering that really disappointed me. (And a good bit of that goes for the protesters. How best to disprove the idea that immigrants are a wild, combative mob than to show up as a wild, combative mob?)

More on this later.


Law and Order: DTN (Defending the Nation)

We're going to play a little quiz game. Which famous world leaders made which of the following statements? (I have omitted some specific words that would give away the speakers' idendities.) Read the answers in the comments to this post.

A. "The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. [ ]s are seeking to destroy our country. [ ] is threatening us with her might. And the republic is in danger. Yes! danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without law and order our nation cannot survive."

B. "On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied.... At our [ ] border, others have organized to stop [ ]s from coming in.... We're a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws."

The detached and misunderstood worship of The Law has served as a central rallying point for the anti-illegal-immigration camps. "We are a nation of laws" is a great tag line for the anti-immigration horror film propagandized by those who want to shut the borders before the swarming locusts have covered us from head to toe and decimated our civilization, devouring us from within and without. And it has trickled down into the mouths of many:

"'It's turned into a problem now that's almost unmanageable,'" said Fred Swafford, 65, a retired plant manager, over breakfast at Andy's, a restaurant just off Interstate 30. "'We are a nation of laws, and you cannot ignore those basic laws.'"

Swafford speaks in an article in The LA Times about the support undocumented workers have received from their new neighbors in Arkadelphia, Ark.

And Swafford's is an argument I've heard time and again: Anyone who breaks a law is a criminal by nature and does not deserve consideration. It's a shame that all those people waste all that time, effort, and money studying law when the whole thing is so simple. (And, in response to Swafford, I doubt many legal experts would really include overstaying a visa or crossing without documents as a violation of our "basic" laws.)

Howard Zinn makes these points much better than I in this excerpt from Declarations of Independence:

"But the dominant ideology leaves no room for making intelligent and humane distinctions about the obligation to obey the law. It is stern and absolute. It is the unbending rule of every government, whether Fascist, Communist, or liberal capitalist. Gertrude Scholtz-Klink, chief of the Women's Bureau under Hitler, explained to an interviewer after the war the Jewish policy of the Nazis, 'We always obeyed the law. Isn't that what you do in America? Even if you don't agree with a law personally, you still obey it. Otherwise life would be chaos.'

"'Life would be chaos.' If we allow disobedience to law we will have anarchy. That idea is inculcated in the population of every country. The accepted phrase is "law and order." ....

"It is a phrase that has appeal for most citizens, who, unless they themselves have a powerful grievance against authority, are afraid of disorder."

And that fear causes a willful blindness to the complicated nature of the law and its relationship with our complicated and ever-changing society. It's easier and much more comforting to draw one line in the sand and stand rigidly on your chosen side, sticking to your guns while keeping it simple. But that's not our world: Answering Swafford in the LAT article -- and dominating the piece's focus -- are people like Arkadelphia resident Debbie Kluck:

"'To me, the raid [on undocumented workers at the Petit Jean Poultry plant] was foolish,'" Debbie Kluck said. "'What was the purpose of the raid? It appears to be more of a political ploy to make people look like they're doing a great job. For us, it kind of backfired.'"

It seems that many native born USians in Arkansas -- including the state's Republican Governor, a Democratic Senator, the county sheriff, and the county prosecutor -- have voiced their unhappiness with the recent raid which resulted in the deportations of 112 people. And many have gone out of their ways to help those arrested -- even going so far, in one case, as to assist in financing their coyote for the return trip. (The article claims 60 percent of those deported after the raid have already returned. Those are our tax dollars at work.)

One of the seven people detained but not arrested -- a woman who came to the USA fleeing a violent husband and who has lived here and raised her children here for 13 years -- now relies on food assistance, Medicaid, and the generosity of neighbors to support herself and her three U.S.-citizen children because she's not allowed to work while her case is pending. So, because she's in the legal system now, this woman is on federal aid, which she wasn't before. But her living outside the law created disorder, right? Complicated.

The LAT adds:

"'Our first priority should be to secure our borders,' [Gov.] Huckabee said in an e-mail to The Times. 'I'm less threatened by people who cross the line to make beds, pick tomatoes or pluck chickens' than by potential terrorists crossing the border."

What a novel point. Zinn continues:

"Surely, peace, stability, and order are desirable. Chaos and violence are not. But stability and order are not the only desirable conditions of social life. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to freedom and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, those treated unjustly may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the eighteenth century, as antislavery people did in the nineteenth century, as Chinese students did in this century, and as working people going on strike have done in every country, across the centuries."

So, to those who deride the mass demonstrations for immigrant rights as the anarchic rioting of criminals, maybe it's okay that allies of the undocumented take to the streets -- in an orderly fashion as they have -- to demand their rights. More than okay, it may even be American.


Life and Death In the Desert: Some Coyotes Are Wild

More information on the massive pickup of deserted border crossers comes from today's New York Times. Authorities were searching for at least 200 people after finding a large group who'd been abandoned by the guides or smugglers -- coyotes -- who had apparently left them in a dry riverbed to wait in 110-degree heat.

"The immigrants told the authorities that three people in their group had died and that hundreds more remained hidden in the desert. The authorities have been unable to verify those claims.

"The discoveries were surprising because so many people were left with such little protection from the midsummer heat."

Only seven people were taken to the hospital, which, frankly, surprises me. Out of groups that large, in those conditions, "without water or shelter", as NYT says, I'm sure more than seven were suffering from dehydration if not displaying at least some symptoms of heat exhaustion, which can cause strokes and prove fatal.

Coyotes often run a kind of relay with the people in their charge, passing them to other folks after a certain point in the journey. Sometimes migrants wait for contacts that never show, which may have happened in this case. Sometimes, the migrants get stolen from their coyotes by bandits who wait in the desert to rob them and often try to extort money from any relatives the migrants may have in the USA.

Coyotes also have been known to try to, shall we say, chemically motivate the migrants. They have a pace to keep: They run a business after all. Cans of Red Bull litter migrant trails throughout the desert, and smugglers have been known to give amphetamines to those in their charge. These stimulants may work in the short term but can worsen the effects of dehydration and sometimes, particularly when the straggler's energy crashes after using the drugs, can cause the person to lag behind anyway. And the general rule out there -- at least for the coyotes -- is if you fall behind, you stay behind. Most don't have the water to survive the trek at a slower pace (which means over a longer time period). The extended trek also increases the risk of serious blisters which can slow a migrant or stop him or her altogether. In the scorching heat of the desert. To die. Alone.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it is dramatic. The No More Deaths folks told me about a 14-year-old boy someone found crawling alone in the desert. His feet where white from blistering, and he was almost delirious from the effects of the heat. At the hospital, he referred to his feet as having been "de-gloved". He had worn all of the layers of skin from his feet. He would probably need a skin graft.

Deportation arrangements for those picked up this week are under way, and the search continues. The politics of this issue take on a different level of importance for me -- both more remote and more dire -- when considering the actual human risk of having to cross in the desert, out of the eyes of the law and far from help.


100 Picked up in the Desert Near Phoenix

The AP reports that Border Patrol picked up a group of 100 migrants in the Arizona desert yesterday after an exhaustive search. Seven of the migrants, along with three sheriff's deputies, were taken to the hospital, seemingly for heat-related illnesses.

This looks like a display of humanitarian care on the part of immigration authorities, a streak that I certainly observed in at least the public face of the BP while I was in Arizona. As in any organization, it seems the members of the BP follow the rules in their individual ways.

The volunteers at No More Deaths told me that it's a crapshoot as to their reception by the BP agents they ecounter every day in the border region. NMD has made it their practice to approach any BP vehicles or agents they come across to offer assistance in the form of water, food, and medical care both to the BP -- who have been instructed to refuse aid -- and to anyone the BP might have in custody. Some agents welcome the volunteers, allowing them to distribute supplies or tend to anyone in need of medical care. Others refuse.

NMD and the Border Patrol have agreed -- unofficially -- to a form of cooperative coexistence. In theory at least, BP agents will allow volunteers to help anyone in need if the agents deem the situation safe enough and the aid necessary. NMD agree to not transport any migrants, even those in need emergency medical care, without receiving permission from Border Patrol. That should only happen when neither BP nor emergency services is able to respond to the situaiton, for whatever reason.

This agreement grew out of last year's arrest of two 23-year-old volunteers, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, who are currently awaiting trial for charges stemming from their attempting to drive three extremely ill migrants to a hospital. The case has drawn attention from human rights groups and spawned the "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" branch of NMD's mission. It's even inspired at least one rousing folk song.

On the March Again

Several thousand people marching in support of the undocumented took to the streets in Chicago today in numbers much smaller than the marches in the spring, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune. The huge dropoff in numbers is credited to the heat, different organizational structure of the rally, and, according to one marcher quoted in this article, a fear of reprisals like the mass firings of people who marched in May from businesses around the country.

Here's another quick take on it, from the AP via The Washington Post. Not much more than a few quick mentions on this march in the major media outlets, it seems.


Jailing Immigrants Makes Business Boom

This fascinating article by Meredith Kolodner in The New York Times looks at the huge economic boom the increase in immigration enforcement and detention is having and will continue to have for private companies that run prisons on taxpayer dollars. Kolodner calls out The Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group as running 8 of the 16 current federal detention centers for immigrants -- as well as some county jails -- and as standing to gain most from increased business. The companies' shares have already been climbing impressively on Wall Street.

The article makes clear that the increase in detained immigrants does not owe its cause to an increase in undocumented immigration but rather to an increase in enforcement and a decline in releasing captured undocumented immigrants on their own recognizance.

The point is that many of those detained have yet to have their cases decided -- remember innocent until proven guilty? -- and yet can be held indefinitely -- without such basic rights as habeas corpus or access to counsel that we afford even the most violent alleged criminals -- as authorities mire through cases. Kolodner raises other serious concerns with this policy:

"Immigrant advocates say health care at some centers has fallen short. They contend that some centers have treated immigrants as if they are criminals — restricting their movements unnecessarily, for instance — even though many are still awaiting a ruling on their legal status.

"Because those who cross the border illegally are not considered criminals, they are not automatically assigned a lawyer. But, the advocates say, there have been repeated instances when immigrants have not had access to working phones to call for legal assistance."

The companies of course deny these claims. But beyond questions of human rights abuses and prison profiteering, there lies the simple question of the burden on the ordinary USian, one of the top reasons anti-immigration folks cite as a detriment of undocumented immigration. Treating the undocumented as criminals means not only kicking them out but includes the logistics of locking them up and processing them before deporting them. And look at this:

"The detention market is projected to increase by $200 million to $250 million over the next 12 to 18 months, according to Patrick Swindle, a managing director at Avondale L.L.C., an investment banking firm that has done business with both Geo and Corrections Corp."

We'll ignore the hopefully ironic surname of the source here and focus instead on those numbers. $200 million to $250 million in less than a year and a half? And some of those detained might even win their cases, making the money spent on them doubly wasted. Granted "catch and release" -- a rather disgusting fishing term to use on people -- might give some the opportunities to slip out of the law's grasp, but how many allegedly serious criminals do we release into freedom to await trial? (And by "serious criminals" I mean those who have allegedly done more than stand on the wrong side of an invisible line or use someone else's ID. Can you imagine the uproar if rich teens caught with fake IDs trying to enter bars and clubs were detained to await trial?)

So, those who decry more-accepting immigration policies as serving the interests of big business and burdening the American tax payers now see that stronger enforcement does not eliminate their concerns. Things get muddier.

Citizen Marchers and More Raids

The University of Illinois at Chicago study in this article from the Chicago Sun-Times undercuts the assumption that only the undocumented marched in pro-immigrants'-rights protests in the spring and therefore marched only in self-interest as invading foreign hordes.

The article reports:

"Most participants [in May's march] were male U.S. citizens of Mexican descent -- age 30 or younger -- who spoke English....Nearly 75 percent of those marchers were U.S. citizens, and 66 percent of those citizens said they vote, according to the survey by UIC's Immigrant Mobilization Project."

The study anticipates Wednesday's planned demonstration in Chicago in response to the "raids, immigration-related arrests, deportations and employer sanctions that have led to fear and a perceived backlash in immigrant communities."

Thousands have been at least detained since the marches in April and May, the sudden rush in sweeps perhaps due to a combination of the undocumented exposing themselves by marching and the heating up of the debate increasing pressure on ICE to crack down on the undocumented, in programs with names like "Operation Return to Sender". Authorities took 58 people into custody this morning at Fort Bragg, N.C. It remains to be seen whether these operations actually serve as the deterrent to new entrants that they purport to be.


GOP: Gulf of Policy

This column by Charles Babington from The Washington Post brings up a lot of interesting issues in its examination of GOP behavior on the politics surrounding immigration. Perhaps the most significant point that emerges from this piece is that GOP members of our national legislature may be choosing such different tacks on immigration at least partly because of concerns over their own re-elections. I know that's not surprising usually, but it should be, especially in a case like this where emotions and stakes in terms of real, human lives run so high.

Babington breaks it down like this: Because members of the House run for re-election every two years, their concern for the Party -- and their own careers -- has a short-term focus. They think they can better mobilize the electorate with nationalist rhetoric that fires people up for election time. Pres. Bush (who can't run for re-election) and the Senate (who get elected every six years), meanwhile, may have a long-term focus in this matter. Since Latinos are the fastest growing sector of the electorate and make up the majority of immigrants, Bush, Karl Rove, and others see a more tolerant approach to immigration as a way to secure solid footing in the growing Latino population for elections down the road. Neither of these motives has anything to do with immigration itself.

At least twice in the article the question arises as to who aligns better with what "the American people" want. House GOP leaders come back to this repeatedly and use it to champion the field hearings, currently occurring in a few places across the country. Babington writes:

"A New York Times/CBS poll in May found that 61 percent of Americans think illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status; 35 percent agreed with the House's position that they should be deported....

"Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) says such surveys miss the point.'I think the Senate probably is reading the polls,' he said, 'but I think the House members are listening to real people in real situations. . . . People keep saying: border security, biometric cards [to prove legal status] and no amnesty.'"

I'd say Kingston misses the point. Whether or not one trusts the results of polling or claims to talk to constituents to read the lay of the land, do the gut feelings of "the American people" hold much legitimacy when we refuse them in-depth knowledge of the situation that not even our legislators know?

Consider the field "hearings". Columnist Ruben Navarrette elucidates some of the dubious elements I've worried would characterize House efforts to poll the people directly -- and delay voting on the bill the Senate has passed it. The hearings seem to serve more as soap boxes for the Congressmen and a few invited guests rather than forums through which ordinary citizens can ask questions and voice opinions, according to Navarrette.

He writes, of the hearing he attended in San Diego:

"The hearing was led by Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, who chairs the House International Relations subcommittee on international terrorism and nonproliferation. Royce told me before the hearings that he intended to focus on border security and whether the United States is at greater risk to another terrorist attack because the U.S.-Mexico border is so incredibly porous."

The House GOP and anti-immigration groups continually return to War-on-Terror rhetoric and images of an invading army pouring across our southern border. But, as Border Patrol Supervising Agent Sam Lucio told me recently, not a hint of terrorism-related activity has occurred in the Tucson sector, the busiest area for border crossing in the country. But by continually raising the specter of terrorism and tying it so securely to immigration, House GOP leaders can drum up their constituents' ire and ride the flames to re-election in November.


The Return

Immigration issues seem a lot more in flux on the Arizona border than they do from here. After spending five days in the campsite of No More Deaths, about ten miles north of the border, I can report a constant shifting of forces -- changing migration patterns due to and causing changes in Border Patrol activity and humanitarian aid work.

Once out there, experiencing a watered-down version of the border-crossing experience, politics takes on a feel both more urgent and more removed. Adding Border Patrol means forcing people out into more remote areas of the desert where blisters can kill, and people end up so desperate for water that they drink from cattle tanks where they contract things like amoebic dysentery. (Cattle tanks are small man-made puddles used by ranchers' cattle for drinking and, of course, defecating.) Prosecuting people for "harboring" or "transporting" undocumented migrants means arresting two 23-year-olds for attempting to drive two dying men and a 14-year-old boy to the hospital.

More details to come. Also, check this out; it's something worth tracking.