Coming up: More Rallies for Immigrants' Rights

Check out this information on an immigrant-rights rally in D.C. for next Thursday, September 7.

The Washington Post reports on the planning of this new wave of rallies here. I understand the plan is to energise the movement, show the powers that be that "we" won't go away. And I think it's very important for pro-comprehensive-reform advocates to step up their presence in the public sphere, particularly now: It seems the enforcement-only folks have been dominating the forum in print, on the airwaves, and in government. So a re-energizing should help: It's essential. Without the firepower in official venues -- rather than just on the street level -- real reform seems very unlikely.

But I think those who raise concerns about new marches hurting the cause have a valid point. (Although I think those comments tend to come from anti-immigration sources.) One of the major fears and sources of rhetoric for the anti-immigration camp stems from this image of a foreign invasion overrunning the streets of "our" nation. So won't a show of thousands of foreigners overrunning the streets of our nation just bolster those fears? I don't know. We shall see.

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La cara de El inmigrante (The Face of The Immigrant)

Out of the muck of simplistic analyses and black-and-white reactionism over immigration, a small jewel of a documentary has grown that lets various sides voice themselves and still drills down to the catalysts underlying the actions of various players. El inmigrante, a film by John Sheedy and brothers John and David Eckenrode, centers on the murder of undocumented Mexican migrant Eusebio de Haro by Bracketville, Texas, resident Sam Blackwood in 2000. It illuminates this case of injustice well, but it also uses the incident as a launching pad for an investigation of broader issues, simply by letting people of varying opinions speak.

El inmigrante opens with an absolutely beautiful shot of ranchera musicians, playing, silhouetted against an evening sky. Then the camera pans to a few white-painted wooden crosses that commemorate Mexican migrants who have died during their sojourns.

The film hops from interview to interview with figures on various sides of the debate, slowly building from general commentary on illegal-immigration issues into the story of the 23-year-old, murdered Mexican. Viewers hear from people like Neil Slozar and Joe Segura of the El Paso Border Patrol, Kinney County Sheriff Buddy Burgess, Bracketville Councilwoman Mary Flores, Bracketville News editor Jewel Robinson, Cindy Kolb of Civil Homeland Defense, and Chris Simcox, President of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, the last two of whom have stationed themselves in the Arizona borderlands.

The film crew also traveled to San Felipe de Torres Mochas, a town deep into Mexico and the home of the de Haro family. There, viewers meet Eusebio’s parents, Paciano and Mercedes, and his seemingly endless stream of brothers and sisters, eventually focusing on Diego, apparently the next-eldest son of the family, who tells great stories about the boys’ adolescent mischief.

El inmigrante then jumps the border back to Bracketville to hear friends and acquaintances of Sam Blackwood and his wife, Brenda, speak about them. Back in San Felipe, we hear that Eusebio had set off in search of “el típico sueño americano”, and arrived in Terro, Texas, where he found counstruction work. But he ended up deported to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in May of 2000, his young daughter and her mother still in Texas. He then tried to re-enter the country in the company of a young man named Javier Javier Sanchez. The details of the re-entry and the murder come from Javier’s video-taped testimony and related details from local Sheriff Burgess, the first to arrive on the scene, and Diego. (It’s not clear where Diego got his information.)

The story comes out as follows: Eusebio and Javier swam the Rio Grande to cross into Texas, subsisting on soda and chips. After some time walking and finding themselves out of supplies, with no town in sight, the young men came across the Blackwoods’ home and knocked on the door. When they asked Mrs. Blackwood -- in English -- for water, she turned them down, telling them she was sure they would rob her. They then heard her tell someone inside to call the Border Patrol. The young men left and continued on their way. A few minutes down the road, a car approached them. Sam, 74, emerged from the vehicle and started shooting at Eusebio and Javier with a pistol. The young men turned and tried to run, but Sam hit Eusebio in the back of the leg, the bullet, a particular type of practice ammunition, tearing an even larger exit wound in the front of his leg. Javier hesitated and then kept running. Brenda approached Eusebio and told him to use his fingers to stop up the wound. Sam stayed where he was -- about 100 feet from the bleeding Eusebio, who asked Sam, “What did you do that for?” Blackwood lit his pipe and had a smoke.

Sheriff Burgess arrived in time to see Eusebio take his last breaths, as the Blackwoods stood, watching. Blackwood later claimed self defense, but the medical examiner said that Eusebio’s having been shot from behind from such a distance made that impossible. Sam faced a grand jury for an indictment of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Burgess, but the “deadly weapon” part somehow got dropped. That moved the trial from the federal level to a local county courthouse where Blackwood was found guilty and sentenced to two years probation. For murder.

“Lastimadamente,” said Eusebio’s uncle, Jorge de Haro, “la historia de los inmigrantes es así.” (Unfortunately, this what the history of immigrants is like.)

The call about the murder hit Eusebio’s family hard, but the verdict made things worse. “Son racistas,” said Paciano; they’re racist for not applying the law fairly.

Diego was so devastated that he fled to the USA “para distraerme”, to distract himself. He endured days waiting on the banks of the river for his transport across and, once on the other side, walked 38 hours non-stop to reach safety -- in a tiny room and a construction job where he has but one friend.

But Paciano and Mercedes seem sadly devastated rather than enraged.

“No le deseamos mal,” Paciano said of Blackwood. (We don’t wish him harm.)

“No lo juzgamos,” added Mercedes. (We don’t condemn him.)

Mostly they talked about the sadness of losing their son and how it has changed their lives.

“Hay un vacío, y nadie lo llena,” said Paciano. (There’s a void, and no one fills it.)

Paciano appears a sensitive and philosophical soul, as he gently and sometimes tearfully expounds on the unending cycle of violence between Mexicans and residents of the USA, and he highlights the injustice of the situation.

“¿Qué pasaría si los mexicanos tuvieron esa fuerza que tiene los Estados Unidos? ¿Qué pasaría si los que emigraron fueron de alla para acá y les hicerian daño? ¿Que se sentía? Se siente mal. Se siente feo.”

(What would happen if the Mexicans had the power that the USA has? What would happen if those who emigrated went from there to here and people hurt them? How would it feel? It feels bad. It feels ugly.)

Diego echoes these sentiments from the USA: “Un americano pasa por México como en su casa. ¿Y los mexicanos no pueden pasar así [en los EEUU]?” (A person from the USA goes around Mexico like he’s in his own house. And Mexicans can’t do that in the USA?)

Mary Flores makes a similar point, putting words into the mouths of anti-immigration folks: “You come onto my land; I kill you. But I can come into yours.” The filmmakers lay these words over footage of a couple of preppie blonde guys leaving the famed, tourist bar Señor Frog’s, presumably in Tijuana.

We see a de Haro family picnic in a field and hear about Eusebio, the joy he brought his parents, “las buenas memorias”, which are all they have left of him.

Then back to Simcox and company who make rather militant and aggressive remarks, especially when juxtaposed with the words of the de Haros. And this distinction, made by the participants themselves by the words they speak, forms the pinnacle benefit of El inmigrante. Seeing the chasm between respect for the dignity of life by some -- including among the members of the Border Patrol and Sheriff Burgess -- and the fearful if not hateful aggression on the part of the vigilantes and some of the Bracketville residents, illuminates the most dire, life-and-death facets of the political debate over immigration to the USA, the faces of those living the effects of politics. For instance:

Simcox, interviewed while on patrol with an AK-47, uses the catch-phrase “rule of law” and demands that the President deploy “the National Guard and the military under Homeland Security and...line that border with a civilian-type, military, police force.”

Sheriff Burgess: “Putting the army on the border would just cause problems.”
Roger Burnett, rancher: “The white race is gonna be gone” if immigration keeps up like this.

Diego de Haro: “Todos somos humanos. Todos somos iguales.” (We’re all human beings. We’re all equal.)
Kolb, who also goes armed: “We don’t know what’s coming across this border. Could be weapons of mass destruction, disease, poverty.”

Segura, Border Patrol: “Ninety percent of border crossers are just regular people, looking for work.”
Kolb: “If people from other countries know that they’re gonna be shot if they cross that fence, then they’re not gonna cross that fence.... [T]hey’re all illegals, and they’re all equally guilty.”

Slozar, BP: “Just because you’re not an American citizen doesn’t mean you don’t have the same rights someone else has.”
Burnett: “We should send [each immigrant] back [to Mexico] with an AK-47 and a box of shells. And that way they can take over their government and make it better.”

Paciano: “Nunca vamos a parar. ¿Qué hay de hacer? Pues pensarle un poquito y acabar con la agresión, acabar con todo y mirarlos como gente, gente humana, gente que sabemos pensar.”
(Our cycle of violence won’t stop. What can we do? Well, we have to think a little and stop the aggression, stop everything and see each other as people, human beings, people who know how to think.)

And the film leaves us here, with pleasant scenes of the de Haros' family life, a picnic, the handmade fireworks that are the family business sparkling in the evening sky, life struggling to move forward, scarred by the past and prepared to hope for the future, human, while militant forces mass on the other side of the border. Justice may stumble, but El inmigrante does not.

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Buchanan Blusters On

I had planned simply to ignore the publication of Pat Buchanan's latest ouvre, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, because of its many counterproductive and ludicrous claims. But it seems like the USA has taken some notice. The book debuted as the #1 bestseller on Amazon.com (-- its subsidiary Borders uses the same list); Barnes and Noble has it at #10; Powell's doesn't offer the book (but they have Things Fall Apart at #14, so that may tell us nothing); and Wal-Mart has the book in the eighth spot on its top-50 list -- frightening, perhaps, even ignoring the correspondence between the political leanings of those companies and the book's rank on their lists. (Amazon and Wal-Mart donate to Republicans, Barnes and Noble and Powell’s to Democrats.)

But this article on the blog ThinkProgress does a good job dismantling Buchanan's myopic analysis of immigration to the USA. (The blog comes from The American Progress Action Fund, "a nonpartisan organization.... that advances progressive ideas and policies.")

The article matches quotations from Buchanan's book with similar nativist sentiments by sources from various points in American history when fears of immigrants and immigration have flared -- including some surprising words from Benjamin Franklin. Here are a few examples:

Immigrants will not be able to assimilate:

Where the Italians wanted to be part of our family, millions of Mexicans are determined to retain their language and loyalty to Mexico. They prefer to remain outsiders. They do not wish to assimilate and the nation no longer demands that they do so. [Buchanan, p. 28, 2006]


Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Languages or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. [Benjamin Franklin, 1751]

Immigrants are responsible for crime:

Many Hispanics, as a matter of fact, you know what culture they are assimilating to? — the rap culture, the crime culture, anti-cops, all the rest of it. [Buchanan, 8/22/06]


“The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses. … Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.” [Chicago Post, 1868]

The article would benefit from an examination of The Dillingham Commission Reports, the Senate immigration reports from 1911 for which our some elected officials actually researched, personally, the facts about immigration to this country -- even traveling overseas to do so -- and accepted pleas from the public. (Compared to today's House "hearings", those earlier excursions seem Herculean.)

Many of the same fears that today form the basis of the anti-immigration/anti-immigrant platform have sprung up before in our history. They proved unwarranted. Despite that, their current incarnations still pose a threat, especially when (somewhat-) respected public figures publish them in widely-bought books and when our populace lives in a constant state of fear towards the rest of the world and, often, our own government. Tony Blankley lauds Buchanan's book in The Washington Times, echoing as truth and promoting as a guiding principal an equivalent to Malcolm X's denunciation that "The Seal and the Constitution reflect the thinking of the founding fathers that this was to be a nation by white people and for white people. Native Americans, blacks, and all other non-white people, were to be the burden bearers for the real citizens of this nation."

This must serve as yet another rallying call for rational thought and better dissemination of the knowledge that we have. Caving into mass panic with a blind eye towards reality, knowledge, and justice will surely lead us down a perilous path. Now, how do we proceed?

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Stop the Attack on America's Culture

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff toured parts of the U.S.-Mexican border this morning with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), which was "in no way meant to signal an endorsement" of the legislators' so-called compromise bill on immigration, according to The Washington Post. Chertoff talked about the drop in apprehensions -- though not acknowledging the possibility that enforcement policies are not deterring migrants but rather that migrants are evading apprehension.

However, part of what Chertoff said during his visit, as quoted in The New York Times, helps clarify some of the damage done by anti-immigration reductivism:

"'Let’s register them; let’s track them,' Mr. Chertoff said of the immigrants. 'Let’s collect taxes from them, and let’s just be sure that we know who they are because they have secure identification.'"

Listening to official rhetoric and perusing online forums, I've seen that people have very different understandings of the term "open borders". Some see such borders as ones through which anyone can pass at any time, without documentation, without even handing over a passport for scanning by customs officials. Others might see them as borders which allow a relatively free but monitored flow of people in both directions. Very few people really want open borders of the former definition -- and no one in government has advocated that. However, proliferation of that term -- like the overuse and criminalization of the word "amnesty" -- has created what seems to be a large population that cries foul at any policy that would let anyone in, even through a legal process. These people either refuse to read the legal proposals or simply refuse to believe them: They want to see this as a battle between security (closed borders) and anarchy (open borders). Yet again, this epidemic of black-and-white thinking rots the American brain and threatens to destroy any chance for genuine debate and genuine reform.

What makes the most sense is the second definition of "open borders". Enforcement, in this sense, has resulted only in deaths, millions of dollars in costs to U.S. taxpayers, and a failure to stop the growth of the undocumented population here. But, of course we should have regulated points of entry, where people show their passports and visas -- just like we do at, say, JFK or Regan National or Logan. No mainstream proposals advocate turning a blind eye to the border with any country; however, many advocate a more accepting legal standard that makes rational sense for the real situation in front of us -- and not the imaginary one conjured up by fear, selfishness, and bigotry.

If we increase the ability for people to enter the country legally, we will have established a sort of self-straining method that will automatically weed out whatever terrorist or drug threats exist. Again, most people crossing without documents don't do it because they're naturally bad people who enjoy breaking laws. They do it because no legal venue exists for them. If we provided a better legal venue, they would enter legally. This would, theoretically, eliminate objections from those folks who say they don't dislike immigrants but just want them to come legally. (And if they kept complaining after that, they'd have exposed themselves as liars and xenophobes.)

Under this proposal, only those who pose a real threat would be sneaking across the border in the dead of night. That means fewer mere migrants would die or suffer time in prison (on taxpayer dollars) and fewer U.S. resources would be wasted on patrolling for, apprehending, processing, detaining, and deporting people who really pose no threat to this country. It would serve as boon to all those who complain about the monetary cost of immigration and of the Senate bill in particular. (Why aren't more of those people up in arms about members of the House using their taxpayer dollars for campaign stops masquerading as hearings about immigration? The House has and plans to hold these "hearings" only in places where Republicans face tough races in November -- and in Iowa and New Hampshire, the key primary states -- and only for crowds that already agree with the enforcement-only theory.)

It would also mean we'd know exactly who was entering the country on a much larger scale, rather than the current system, which forces people to skirt detection and hence enter without a screening process. And it could eliminate the human smuggling industry across the USA-Mexico border.

Reducing the debate to merely a question of "open borders" or not, "amnesty" or not, ignores the realities of the situation and proves only several things about the anti-immigration folks who spew these terms every time the second hand ticks across the clock: They really only care about the issue as far as it can win them an election; and/or they want to horde the bounties of America all for themselves; and/or they just don't like people from other countries. And that's decidedly un-American.

For, those who fight against tolerance towards all people, generosity of spirit, and liberty for others while claiming to defend "American culture" prove themselves hypocrites and worse. What has made the USA such a beacon for the world is that its culture is not contained in one type of folk dance or one religion or one language. The culture of the United States of America consists of our creeds, our principals, and our liberties. Immigration doesn't threaten to destroy American culture. We do.

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Immigration Dialogues in the Next Week, NYC

Below are both the English- and Spanish-language press releases from the NYCPP. These folks do some very interesting organizing and advocating around the city. Definitely worth at least a look -- particularly since, despite the huge effect that immigrants have on the New York City area -- the House has yet to announce plans to hold any "hearings" here.

Dialogue on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Join us for an update and discussion on the status of the immigration bills
in Congress; how global trade policy impacts immigration in the US; and how
you can get involved in fighting for immigrant rights at the local level.

Saturday, August 26th
5:30 PM
Community Church
81-10 35th Avenue (Corner of 81st Street)
7 Train to 82nd Street

Washington Heights
Sunday, August 27th
4:30 PM
Isabella Geriatric Center
515 Audubon Avenue (Corner of 190)
1 Train to 191 Street or Bus 101 to 190 Street

South Bronx
Wednesday, August 30th
6:00 PM
Rafael Hernandez School P.S./ I.S. 218
1220 Gerard Avenue (Corner of 167 Street)
4 or D Train to 167 Street

For more information and to reserve your seat please call:
Bronx & Washington Heights: Sussie Lozada 212-388-2149
Queens: Luz Rodriguez 212-388-2119

The New York Civic Participation Project (NYCPP) is a Project of La Fuente, a
Tri-state Worker and Community Fund, Inc. and a collaboration of SEIU Local
32BJ, AFSCME DC 37, Make the Road By Walking, the National Employment Law
Project, Laborers Local 79, and UNITE HERE Local 100.


Dialogo sobre la Reforma Migratoria

Venga e infórmese sobre las propuestas migratorias en el Congreso. Además,
entérese de cómo la política de la economía global impacta la inmigración
hacia los Estados Unidos, y de cómo usted se puede unir a la lucha por los
derechos de los inmigrantes a nivel local.

Sábado, Agosto 26th
5:30 PM
Iglesia Comunitaria
81-10 35th Avenue (Esquina Calle 81)
Tren 7 a la Calle 82

Washington Heights
Domingo, Agosto 27th
4:30 PM
Isabella Geriatric Center
515 Audubon Avenue (Esquina calle 190)
Tren 1 a la Calle 191 o Bus 101 a la Calle 190

South Bronx
Miércoles, Agosto 30th
6:00 PM
Escuela Rafael Hernandez P.S.218
1220 Gerard Avenue (Esquina Calle 167)
Tren 4 o D a la Calle 167

Para más información y para reservar su lugar por favor llame a:
Bronx & Washington Heights: Sussie Lozada 212-388-2149
Queens: Luz Rodriguez 212-388-2119

El Proyecto de Participación Cívica de Nueva York (NYCPP) es un Proyecto de
La Fuente, un Fondo tri-estatal comunitario-laboral, Inc. Y una colaboración
de SEIU Local 32BJ, District Council 37, Se Hace el Camino al Andar, National
Employment Law Project, Laborers Local 79, and UNITE HERE Local 100.



The Washington Post publishes an alarmist article today by Jonathan Weisman that makes a GOP electoral victory feel all but certain -- if it rides the back of a firestorm of ire over immigration. Weisman and the Post, however, do not deserve the bulk of the blame for the article's attitude. Their coverage reflects the visibility and aggression of anti-immigration factions among politicians, vigilantes, and a few people among the general populace, all of which garner -- as they intend to -- more attention than the voices of reason, moderation and humanity. And they do it all in the service of fear-mongering to keep themselves in their cushy government jobs, while the people they claim to represent get left behind in the dust of poverty by the same politicians' other policies.

Consider this from the article, about the House "hearings" on immigration:

"Last week, House Republican field hearings in San Diego explored the societal and governmental costs of illegal immigrants' use of health-care facilities and welfare. Another in Houston looked at 'the criminal consequences of illegal immigration.' One near here, in Sierra Vista, examined the nation's strained technical capacity to monitor 'the efforts of terrorists and drug cartels' trying to 'infiltrate American soil.'

"At a field hearing Tuesday in Gainesville, Ga., Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.) brushed off complaints by those who wanted a more balanced witness list.'What I wanted was witnesses who agree with me, not disagree with me,' he told reporters."

Those holding these stumping sessions under the guise of informational hearings on the public's wants need to acknowledge what they're really doing -- trying to shake up a hornets' nest of voters with misleading if not false propaganda for their own personal benefits.

Unfortunately, withholding the complete facts and making unfounded connections really works in a culture that values overarching "principals" more than active thinking. Consider this statement from the article, about an attendee of a political rally in Arizona:

"Ewing railed against Bush's immigration policies, saying he failed to deploy enough resources on the border, and against the war in Iraq, where '2,600 Americans have died . . . for nothing.'" Ewing favors building a huge border wall.

Now, to some, this might sound like Ewing has consistent principals: We need to be stronger. Really, though, it's a contradiction. If the man really cared about people dying for nothing, he wouldn't support militarization of the border. If he believed in blasting out the enemy with more troops, to defend the country, he wouldn't think U.S. soldiers had "died ... for nothing" in Iraq. The only consistency here is a self-centered fear, founded on false premises.

Says a woman named Sally Hawk: "I think they ought to shoot them. I don't have anything against Mexicans. I just want them here legally."

Granted, Hawk's statement is ridiculous, but it shows what results can arise from tactics like those of the House GOP. Does this sound like a person who uses rational thought or principal to guide her? I want people to cross the street legally, too, but shooting jaywalkers on the spot won't solve the problem (-- and, obviously, it's morally reprehensible). Also, we don't punish all crimes with the death penalty. This looks like another case of forcing justice to take a back seat to a misunderstood version of "the law", rather than having the law serve justice as it should.

"Mike Hellon, a former Arizona GOP chairman running in the primary here, said, 'Not since the Watergate year of 1974 have I seen an issue so dominant in an election.'"

In reality, Hellon is wrong. It's not that immigration that has become a focal point of politics this year: Rather, as for the past five years, a faltering regime of politicians continues to foster fears and wind them up into irrational politics, again, for personal gain. This isn't a debate on immigration and what we really need to do about it; it's a fantastic horror story to keep us from daring to leave our beds at night and seeing the bad things mommy and daddy are doing downstairs. Worse, it has had the effect of stirring up dangerous hatreds that are actually resulting in the deaths of human beings and discrimination against others, in sum, an erosion of the basic American principals.

Weisman knocks part of the problem on the head, though he does it too far towards the end of the article:

"Most of the Democratic candidates are confident that their broader assault on Republican policies will prevail in November."

"Democratic candidates", most of whom at least seem to side with a more -- though not fully -- rational point of view on this issue than many of their Republican counterparts, "are confident". They're not "taking action" or "holding hearings". And maybe they're right. Maybe just letting the fire burn out -- like I've chosen to ignore the publication of a new moronic Pat Buchanan tirade -- and focusing on Republican failures in other areas bests tossing lighter fluid into the flames. That is a fairly typical Democrat solution these days, especially if "some Democrats worry that immigration hard-liners may be accurately gauging the temper of the times -- and that the GOP has found an antidote to its woes". So is this:

"[Former Arizona state senator Gabrielle Giffords] said the GOP thrust can be parried with a tough Democratic response that blames Republican inaction for the crisis that illegal immigrants have visited upon resource-strapped schools, health-care systems and law enforcement agencies."

That might work well for the elections, and that's good for the DNC. (Weisman roundly ignores here the Republicans on the side of comprehensive reform.) But it sells out the cause of justice and won't help bring us closer to the immigration reform we so sorely need.

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I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy

That Chris Simcox's Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (not to be confused with Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project) has thrown up smokescreens about who has donated money to the vigilante border patrol group should surprise no one -- despite the group's claim in its training manual that it has a "policy of honesty and transparency when dealing with anyone, especially the press". And apparently some current and former members of the MCDC have questioned where some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone.

According to this Washington Times article:

"Some of them have since challenged claims by Mr. Simcox that MCDC 'spent probably about what we collected' to pay for supplies for Minuteman volunteers on the border, including satellite phones, radios, flashlights, maps, portable toilets, thermal imaging cameras, night-vision cameras, computers, water and food."

What about the guns? Do volunteers have to supply their own? This article doesn't mention firearms, and the MCDC training manual doesn't list guns on the supplies list, though it does mention volunteers should ask about local regulations once they arrive. As Simcox writes in the "About us" section of the group's website, by participating in the MCDC, you, too, can join "one of the most important, socially responsible, and peaceful movements for justice since the civil rights movement of the 1960s". Fine. So why does Simcox carry an AK-47 with him while out on patrol? (I think it's an AK-47. I have to plead ignorance on the subject.) He makes no effort to hide his assault rifle from, for example, the cameras of filmmakers of the stunningly powerful documentary El inmigrante (which I'll be reviewing shortly). Nor does his patrol companion hide the pistol he carries in his hip holster.

I mean, I get it: Second Amendment, self-defense from the "drug dealers, criminals and potential terrorists" Simcox and company believe are pouring into the USA along with the "human flood breaching our Homeland Defense [that] is not necessarily the enemy per se". But I fail to see how patrolling the border with an AK-47 in one hand, a Stars-and-Stripes cap on your head, and a cigar clenched in your teeth, hoping to wrangle up some "illegals", is just as "socially responsible, and peaceful" as walking in suits and dresses while holding hands and singing. The contrast deepens even more when one considers that Simcox advocates sending thousands of members of the military and National Guard to line the border and establishing work details for captured border violators, while the Civil Rights Movement advocated extending equal treatment under the law and voting rights to all members of our democracy. There's no need to continue. To even consider the comparison borders on blasphemy.

The problem, though, is that the MCDC and similar groups do have some support and some influence on public opinion, at least symbolically -- and that can have an impact on national politics. Beyond that, even if they impact one single person directly in the borderlands, they've had too big of an impact. They advocate respect for the law but take it into their own hands. Their hypocrisy alone makes them suspect.

(For more on Simcox and others of his ilk, keep an eye out for my review of El inmigrante.)

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Save the Left! (Idealism alert.)

I'd like to discuss a topic only tangentially related to immigration but lying forefront in my mind these days – the state of the leftist activist movement(s) of the world, a wide band of which came out to the rollicking Manu Chao concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, last night. (Manu's song "Clandestino" laments the plight of undocumented migrants to the USA, so there's my connection.) Manu Chao has developed himself into the soundtrack for the anti-globalization movement, the Zapatista movement and other darling causes of his following – among which I count myself, along with the hippies, punks, revolutionaries of many ilk and various other leftists. During the show both Manu and the crowd got behind sentiments like "stop White House terrorism", and Manu made an important point of the need to stop fighting violence with violence and combat it instead with education and dialogue. (But when the rockets are raining on you already, what do you do?)

I spotted a girl in the front row with a hand-made sign that read: "Lebanon: say something". She held up the sign for the entire several hours of the concert. The band never really said anything on the topic, though it did a quick shout-out to Palestinians.

This column from an Australian paper crystallizes the thoughts that went through my head last night – and that resurface whenever I find myself among this particular group with whom I agree on so many political issues. There's this sense that if you don't agree with the party line on everything, than you can't be part of the club – and you're the enemy. But isn't this the same sort of blind adherence to ideology that we on the left deride in our right-wing counterparts? And isn't such adherence dangerous and irresponsible? So when I hear people shout "No more war!" and "Fuera, fuera, Israel!" (Out, out, Israel!) but never condemn Hizbullah for admittedly starting the violent outbreak and for continuing to send missiles into civilian areas, indiscriminately killing people, I have to question the shouters' dedication to "No more war!" – and the justice of their movement as a whole.

Despite what one might believe about the extent of Israel's military retaliation -- or the Israeli government's general modus operandi -- why does the left often insist that Israeli civilian lives value less than those of various Arabs (while many others do the opposite)? How can one scream for peace and a cessation in the killing of civilians but on one side only? Why are Israeli citizens responsible for what the Israeli military does, when Lebanese citizens are faultless in their government's harboring of Hizbullah and doing little to stop the military aggression exploding from its neighborhoods and endangering its own citizens? If we are to condemn violence and demand justice, we must do so from everyone.

The "left" needs to remind itself that it can fall into the exact same pitfalls of hatred, hypocrisy, and irrationality as its opponents on the right. That's why this article in the Wall Street Journal not only frightens me as a Jew and someone who's not so into bigotry but insults and disappoints me as someone who generally would be considered way towards the left side of the political spectrum in this country, which forces me to align myself with the Democratic Party. In this piece, Lanny J. Davis, friend of and campaigner for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), expresses his dismay with the hate he never expected to find on the left side of the aisle. Here are some of the examples Davis cites of internet statements about Lieberman:

"• On "Lieberman vs. Murtha": "as everybody knows, jews ONLY care about the welfare of other jews; thanks ever so much for reminding everyone of this most salient fact, so that we might better ignore all that jewish propaganda [by Lieberman] about participating in the civil rights movement of the 60s and so on" (by "tomjones," posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).

"• "Good men, Daniel Webster and Faust would attest, sell their souls to the Devil. Is selling your soul to a god any worse? Lieberman cannot escape the religious bond he represents. Hell, his wife's name is Haggadah or Muffeletta or Diaspora or something you eat at Passover" (by "gerrylong," posted on the Huffington Post, July 8, 2006)."

I'm no fan of most of Mr. Lieberman's politics. His obsequious imitations of Pres. Bush in matters of "faith-based" governance and his hawkishness have soured me on him as a leader. But the responses above are as sick as those of the anti-immigrant folks on the message boards of The Arizona Daily Star, whose enlightened declarations below came in response to this article about the crash of an SUV, carrying more than 20 people as it fled Border Patrol in Yuma, AZ. Nine people died and twelve were injured, including a pregnant woman. Read on:

"10. Comment by Rich O. (darkhorse) — August 8,2006 @ 7:17AM
Rating: 5 Thumbs Up

Boo Hoo! I never cry when criminals die. Just think how many more thousands of dollars would have been spent on these 9 people plus all of their families.

22. Comment by Steve S. (#6590) — August 8,2006 @ 9:53AM
Rating: 2 Thumbs Up

Freakin ****s! If they would just stay in Mexico, this would not happen. I knew right away they were ****s when I heard 22 people in a Suburban.

Do you know why they only used 10000 Mexicans at the Alamo??

They only had 1 truck!

26. Comment by Clifford P. (Patriot) — August 8,2006 @ 10:16AM
Rating: 0 Thumbs Up

NINE DOWN, MILLIONS TO GO. If the ILLEGAL ALIENS in this country want SYMPATHY they can find it in the dictionary, it's somewhere between

Would these folks still feel the same knowing how much money they would save in cases like this by loosening immigration laws, therefore not having the BP out chasing undocumented immigrants (at a cost of $1,700 per arrest), and therefore not having folks end up in the hospital? (See my last posting.)

Judging from their statements, I fear that they would. So, it's not an issue of politics, or even one of money. Deep-seated bigotry runs beneath the facades of political arguments, along the opposing banks of blind ideologies, before crashing into a sea of discord -- and more violence. At the font of the river then, Manu, lay down your education. And how does one combat the missiles, literal and figurative, flying many ways across the sky before we can shut off the font? That, I don't know. But that doesn't mean we stop pushing on any front. Como dice Manu, "Próxima estación -- esperanza. Hope -- always."

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All the President's Toys

This article from the AP reports on Pres. Bush's visit yesterday to inspect the troops at the border before retreating to his Texas ranch for vacation. He looked at some vehicles and hi-tech surveillance equipment and petted some Border Patrol horses. He then made a statement:

"'We have an obligation to secure our border and we have an obligation to treat people with decency and respect,' the president said after his tour. He spoke of using motion and heat sensors, infrared detection equipment and other high-tech devices to catch illegal immigrants."

So, to "treat people with decency and respect", we will force them out of settled areas and into the desert and hunt them with "motion and heat sensors, infrared detection equipment and other high-tech devices"? That doesn't sound very decent to me. Or very sporting. And it will not help reduce migration to this country or the undocumented population already here. It has already done the opposite.

The non-visual sensors have proven particularly problematic because they get triggered by other desert inhabitants -- wildlife and ranchers' cattle. I saw this first-hand while on a patrol with No More Deaths in the Arizona desert in an ominously gloomy and quiet area. The two volunteers and I smelled death in the bottom of a ravine and found several dozen vultures nesting in the trees. We spread out to search for the source of the smell; but, finding nothing, we continued along the trail. A few minutes later, we heard the thudding sound of helicopter blades chopping the air. The sound grew louder. Then we saw a military-green helicopter come over a ridge, pointed directly at us. As it neared, we could see a man with a large weapon leaning out of the door, looking at us. The chopper hovered directly over us for a second and then buzzed away into the grey sky. We must have set off a hidden sensor.

It was a pretty terrifying feeling, isolated in the wilderness like that -- and we knew where we were, had a way out, and were not in the commission of any sort of violation. But we knew the stories about BP helicopters' "dusting" groups of migrants, swooping down on top of them to about 10 feet about the ground and hovering there for several minutes. This causes people to scatter and often lose themselves in the desert. Separated from their guides and companions, this can be a death sentence. According to one of the NMD volunteers, over half of the 68 people the group medically evacuated last year reported being dusted. Decency and respect, indeed.

However, the major argument against increased border enforcement and militarization comes from the simple fact that it does not reduce the undocumented population in the United States of America. In fact, it has the opposite effect. By making entry -- and re-entry -- into this country so difficult and the penalties so severe, we are scaring millions of migrants who would return home into staying here. It has also fed the boom in the smuggling business: With crossing so difficult, people pay more money for the services of coyotes.

Prof. Douglas Massey, PhD, of Princeton University has published extensively on this subject and testified on the findings of his studies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18, 2005. Writing in his article "Backfire at the Border"(pdf), Dr. Massey has found that since the USA began to crack down on immigration in 1986, "the number of foreign-born workers entering the Unites States each year has not diminished". The much-derided amnesty of 1986 came with several other provisions -- sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers, more funding for the Border Patrol, and Presidential authority to declare an "immigration emergency".

Despite pro-enforcement cries that the government has not followed these policies to the necessary extent, enforcement has actually increased and failed to bring about the intended results. The beefing up of border militarization began in 1993 in El Paso, Texas, with Operation Blockade, followed the next year by Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, which brought flood lights and 14 miles of fencing to the border. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 added layers of fencing in San Diego and tougher penalties for all involved in undocumented entry, as well as "funding for the purchase of new military technology and... for hiring 1,000 Border Patrol agents per year through 2001."

The consequences of these policies -- and, by extension, the developments the President praised yesterday -- have been increased deaths of migrants, a drastically increasing cost to the U.S. taxpayer, no reduction in undocumented migration, and an increase in undocumented people within the USA. (From shooting fish in a barrel, the Border Patrol now has dumped them all into the sea and must expend much more energy and funding to apprehend them. Dr. Massey writes that the cost of apprehending one migrant was "around $100 per arrest" in 1986 and grew to $1,700 by 2002.)

So, forget "decency and respect": Increased militarization of the border, with all its fun gadgets and imposing barricades, has done and will continue to do nothing towards stemming the "flood" or the "invasion" or whatever it is that some of our compatriots fear will destroy us. On the contrary, it has held captive a vast portion of the migrant population that would have returned home, thereby increasing the alleged burdens of that population on U.S. taxpayers and workers.

Sadly, despite the dissemination at least in academic cirles and before the U.S. Senate of research like Dr. Massey's, our politicians keep playing politics, repeating mistakes to win votes, and much of our media continue to skirt some major issues like researched conclusions, as in this article on Bush's stop yesterday in The Washington Post.

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The Times Tells Selective Truths

The Senate has passed funding for 370 miles of border fence and 500 miles of vehicle barriers, according to this piece from The Washington Times.

The Times calls this "an abrupt about-face" because the Senate rejected similar funding on July 13. Says pro-enforcement Sen. Jeff Sessions:

"People heard from their constituents after they voted to authorize the fence in May and then voted against funding it a couple of weeks ago."

Maybe. But that ignores basic principals of our legislative process: Legislators often end up rejecting provisions they support -- evidenced in this case by the inclusion of fence-building clauses in the immigration bill they sent to the House -- because they are included alongside provisions they do not support. It does not necessarily show a change of heart on the part of the Senators. The Times would have done well to interview any of the 66 Senators who did the "about-face" rather than asking Sen. Sessions to speculate on their motives.

In fact, the article does acknowledge this right at the end, when discussing Sen. Bill Frist's "switching" his vote.

According to Frist's spokeswoman, "her boss feared what homeland-security programs might be cut under that earlier amendment.

"Other top Republicans seconded that explanation as the reason they voted against the last amendment and for this one."

So, this does not mean that Senators suddenly "heard from their consituents" and some sort of burgeoning tide of pro-fence sentiment in this country. This funding was included in S. 2611, the bill the Senate sent to the House in May and that the pro-enforcement folks have been deriding ever since. Those who claim the Senate is finally hearing the people have not been paying attention. However, mentioning this earlier in the article might ruin The Times's pro-enforcement agenda -- by telling the truth.

The article makes another rather dubious claim here:

"But the Guard's presence has led to a 25 percent drop in apprehensions at the border compared with the same time last year, suggesting the troops are having success in preventing illegal aliens from trying to cross."

A lot of factors play into how many apprehensions the BP makes. Consider the current deadly heat wave that's killing people across the country. Now consider trekking through the desert in it. Also, the state of uncertainty over Mexico's still-undecided presidential elections could have a role in the number of people trying to cross. And the fact that the BP has caught fewer people could also mean that more people are getting through -- and/or dying in the desert.

But The Times makes a good point -- though not surprisingly -- in calling out Democrats, particularly Rep. Nancy Pelosi, on their politicking.

"Democrats seized on the report as evidence Mr. Bush has fallen short on a key measure of homeland security.

"'The record is clear: for more than five years, the president has failed to secure our borders and to enforce our immigration laws,' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who added that Republicans in Congress have let Mr. Bush get away with under-funding the Border Patrol and have delayed 'real immigration reform' by fighting among themselves over whether to do enforcement first or pass a broad bill."

Pelosi's statement seems to affirm Democratic commitment to acting like Republicans rather than taking an independent stand on issues other than Bush-bashing.

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A World of Grey

I want to thank Dr. King for the following quotation -- and blogger-journalist Josh Wolf for bringing it to my attention. It makes a good point to the "law-and-order" crowd.

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think it goes also for those who break an unjust law in furtherance of their basic human rights.

Wolf currently sits in a Bay area jail for refusing to turn over to authorities video footage he took at a political protest.


A Culture of "No"

This study from TRAC Immigration, reported in The New York Times, quantifies a phenomenon that many on the inside of the immigration process have known for a while: Our system of legal immigration is biased and flawed. (That's why the American Immigration Lawyers Assoc. has consistently pressed for comprehensive immigration reform.) And it reminds us of the unequal treatment under the law that we apply to immigrants, based on our political agendas.

Here's an example. In the 1980s Cuba bustled with Soviet-backed industriousness. The industries worked, but much of the population suffered under political and social repression. In El Salvador, chaos reigned. An oppressive military dictatorship and its right-wing militias engaged in warfare with rebels that devastated the country, massacred uninvolved civilians, caused a refugee crisis, and disrupted the economy. U.S. immigration policies at that time allowed any Cuban who touched U.S. soil to stay, and our government furnished many with discounted college tuitions and other aid to help the transition to life here. On the Salvadorans who managed to reach our country we slammed the door. Why? Because we were playing politics. The USA supported – in training and weapons – the homicidal Salvadoran dictatorship, while it vehemently opposed Cuba's communist ties. So we welcomed Cubans in order to highlight the negative sides of Fidel's government but rejected those Salvadorans with legitimate asylum claims because it might embarrass the "friendly" government that they fled.

Now, it seems, our politics instruct us to reject legitimate asylum claims in a way that we remain consistent with the fear-peddling that has characterized much of our government's activities since 9/11/01.

According to this study, since the beginning of 2000 we still rejected a vast majority of Salvadoran asylum claims (80 percent), "while fewer than 30 percent of asylum seekers from Afghanistan...were denied." What's special about Afghanistan in that period? Oh, right, we were thinking about deposing their government.

The study claims: "Ten percent of the nation’s immigration judges denied asylum cases in 86 percent or more of their decisions, while another 10 percent of judges denied asylum cases in 34 percent of their rulings during that same time period."

Also, it seems that the Cuba/El Salvador bias continues:

"The study echoes a report released last year by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an agency created by Congress in 1998. The commission study, which examined the processing of asylum cases from 2000 through 2004, found that more than 80 percent of Cubans were given a permanent right to stay in the United States, along with more than 60 percent of Iraqis. By contrast, just more than 10 percent of those from Haiti and fewer than 5 percent from El Salvador were granted asylum."

And I'm going to quote a whole chunk of Ms. Swarns's article because it's so important when considering the problems associated with undocumented immigration and with the behavior of our federal government:

"The handling of asylum cases has become a delicate issue recently as federal appeals judges have assailed what they have described as a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions from immigration judges in asylum cases, which make up the bulk of immigration appeals.

"In September, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said it had been repeatedly forced to rebuke immigration judges for “intemperate and humiliating remarks.” Citing cases from around the country, the court described “a disturbing pattern” of misconduct in immigration rulings that sent people back to countries where they had said they would face persecution.

"In November, Richard A. Posner, a prominent and relatively conservative federal appeals court judge in Chicago, concluded that the handling of asylum cases by immigration judges had “fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice.”

"Concerned about what he described as 'intemperate or even abusive' conduct by some immigration judges, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales called for a comprehensive review of the immigration court system in January."

Read that again. Alberto Gonzales criticized officials for abusive behavior.

An AP article in The Washington Post adds that:

"'The goal of any court system is evenhanded justice,' said Susan Long, a Syracuse University professor and co-director of the clearinghouse. 'The results certainly raise questions about whether that goal is being achieved.'"

It quotes Gideon Aronoff, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, as saying that "success in asylum claims is a matter of "luck of the draw.'" That's not how our legal system should work.

This is what happens when we let judicial decisions rest solely in the hands of the politicized executive branch, which, headed by the President, also serves as the prosecutor in these cases -- and do so without legitimate oversight or any real opportunity for appeal. If we unjustly reject those for whom our laws already provide, whose lives are directly in danger if they stay in their home countries, what choice do those for whom we won't even nominally provide have, aside from dodging a system they know won't work?

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