Berlin Wall in Our Backyard

The Senate has matched the failures of the House. Yesterday, just in time for campaign-time recess, the Senate approved -- by a count of 80 to 19 -- a bill to construct 700 miles of double-layered fencing along our southern border. Our Senators, who passed a more comprehensive and bi-partisan immigration bill in May that the House never considered, made no changes to the House's most recent vote ploy, and "[t]he president has indicated that he will sign [the bill]," according to The Washington Post. This from the one party that wore flip flops to its national convention in 2004 to mock Sen. John Kerry's alleged waffling on issues and the other party that tries to convince us it's just as strong as its opponents.

We, as a young and uninformed nation, used to have the excuse that we did not know about our politicians' overarching self-interest that far outweighed reason, integrity, and the well-being of our nation and, indeed, the world. Information did not break and spread so efficiently. Now it does. We have watched it all play out before us. We have shrugged, sighed, and shaken our heads. We have had no effect.

We watch as our lawmakers blatantly mock their duties to us to pander to extremists and the uninformed in preparation for an election almost upon us. They transparently use taxpayer money to fund partisan campaign stops, masquerading as open hearings, and we roll our eyes. They have taken the easiest route of no debate, of over-simplistic treatment of a complicated and important issue to ensure that they, both as individuals and as political parties, hold or gain seats at the polls.

This would be shameful enough were the effects of such behavior merely political. They are not. Our ignorantly drawn border long ago split at least one nation -- the Tohono O'odham -- that existed before ours. Our enforcement of inappropriate and insufficient immigration laws has disrupted the natural migrant cycles and increased the undocumented population of this country that it purported to eliminate. And instead of recognizing this, thinking, and changing tactics, we will continue to exacerbate the situation. We will dig the hole deeper at the expense of taxpayer dollars and human lives.

This new fencing -- if it can be built through the harsh desert landscape of ravines and rivers and jagged mountain peaks that stretch along the border -- will leave 1,300 miles of our southern border uncovered. That's 1,300 miles of borderlands in which people will attempt to cross and continue to perish in the wilderness -- and 1,300 miles of borderlands through which our undocumented population should continue to grow. And that's if this particular show of commitment to "security" lasts beyond election day: Congress has approved only $1.2 billion of the $6 billion it's estimated the fence will cost, according to The Post.

The argument that this wall will help secure us from terrorism also fails. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who until this past week stood for more comprehensive immigration reform, claims this wall will help fight terrorism: "'Fortifying our borders is an integral component of national security,' Frist said. 'We can't afford to wait.'" (WP)

But not even in the Tucson sector of the border, which has seen the highest migrant flows, has Border Patrol encountered even a hint of terrorist activity, according to Sam Lucio, a Supervising Agent for that sector. We have, however, heard of terrorist action on airplanes and even an alleged terror cell in Detroit. Perhaps we should ground all planes and wall up the Motor City. It worked so well for Berlin.

With the passage of this bill -- and the possible re-elections of the pandering politicians who seek to enact it -- hostilities, xenophobia, and ambient fear will continue to grow among us, as will our undocumented population and the death tolls of migrants. Everyone stands for disappointment except the politicians looking to keep their jobs -- and the already booming human-smuggling business that will surely boom even harder with this new measure. These men and women on Capitol Hill are our public servants, yet we are serving them. With this bill, the American people lose.

, , , , ,, .


Onions, Beds, and Free Trade

Supporting the "doing jobs Americans won't do" argument for guest workers and a possible path to legalization is further evidence of a shortage of labor on at least in some farms in the USA. The always-excellent blogging of Scott Henson points out the further damage more reckless enforcement inflicts on U.S. farms and the lunacy of spending much more taxpayer money on immigration detention centers to hold the people who have traditionally worked those farms.

But Henson leaves out a point that I think must always appear in this section of the immigration debate: Sufficient guest worker provisions or a path to legalization would provide higher standards for all workers because no one would be working illegally. Therefore, no one would undercut the labor market, workers' rights, or opportunities for "American workers". No cheaper, illegal Mexican labor would take jobs (at least some of which it seems U.S. workers won't staff anyway). The playing field would be even.

(The cheap-labor-for-low-food-prices argument so often attributed to and espoused by pro-comprehensive-reform advocates doesn't fly at the top of the flagpole for me, though affordable food is very important to those without unlimited budgets.)

Next comes the tough question as to whether more farms will be forced to cross the border in the other direction to reap the benefits of cheaper labor as certain free trade agreements not only allow them to do but mandate the other nation to provide. That would certainly undercut the U.S. workers and economy.

, , , , , .


ICE Bequeaths More Enforcement Power

The number of areas around the country where state or local law enforcement is enforcing immigration laws has grown, according to two recent articles in The Washington Post. Through the "287 (g)" program, a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, ICE has deputized local officers to do some of its work in seven areas, with about a dozen more in negotiations to start similar programs.

This may sound like a good idea to some -- enforce our laws, however inadequate they may be -- but the plan has flaws throughout. According to traditional interpretation of the Constitution, the Federal government alone has the authority to enforce immigration law, essentially because immigration deals with national -- not state or county -- borders. Federal enforcement also hopes to ensure a uniform -– and fair -- application of immigration laws. Random counties' enacting immigration laws as they see fit results in a patchwork of legality, where police hunt foreigners in one county but not in the next; where a traffic violation can lead to deportation in this state but not the neighboring one.

And this leads to the major probability that police will pull over drivers for what we might call a DWF -- Driving While Foreign-looking -- or DWL -- Driving While Latino. According to the Post: "The House earlier this month was weighing a measure ‘reaffirming’ the authority of local law enforcement agencies to arrest people on suspicion of violating immigration laws." How does one come to suspect someone of immigration violations on sight?

Indeed, the first Post article cites the case of Mexican national Guadalupe Lara who “was pulled over by police after buying a pack of cigarettes”. In Lara’s case the police ended up discovering an undocumented person, but how could they suspect him? Because of his perceived ethnicity, which has nothing to do with immigration status.

In the second article, the Post quotes John DeNoyer, a former council member in Herndon, VA, which just became the latest locale to join the ICE program:

“‘Would I be profiled as a suspected terrorist or illegal alien because I have a beard and often turn brown toward the end of an outdoor summer?’ he asked. ‘Please do not glorify and nurture the xenophobic hysteria that is affecting our town.’"

That hysteria has enveloped many communities in the USA, stoking the flames of hostility towards all immigrants and native-born U.S. of various ethnicities.

"Texas, New York and California might be used to large influxes of illegal immigrants -- but we're not," said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, who favors stronger enforcement. "James Carville had it right: We're just Mayberry with a major airport." (WP)

Few were used to living in a slaveless society or attending racially integrated schools. Fear of change is a rather poor reason for avoiding progress. Neither is James’s attitude the only one taken by law enforcement:

"In the Montgomery County area, we've taken more the track that we celebrate diversity," said Gaithersburg Police Chief Mary Ann Viverette, who is also the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. (WP)

"The law enforcement community is split on this issue," said Gene Voegtlin, legislative counsel for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. (WP)

But reactionary behavior does seem to be the will of the immigration authorities, according to Robert J. Hines, who heads the deputization program for ICE:

"When you are removing the criminal element from the community, it's hard to point a finger and say it's a bad thing," Hines said. (WP)

Notice he says "the" criminal element. If undocumented immigrants were "the" criminal element in "the" community, why did national crime rates drop throughout the 1990s as the undocumented population increased? This is called scapegoating. Put everyone's sins onto one funny-looking goat and send it off into the wilderness to expiate the village. This country did it to the earlier Irish immigrants; Germans in the Nazi era did it to Jews.

Nevertheless, Hines says that "in the past three months, hundreds of state and local departments have inquired about [acquiring the power of immigration enforcement]."

The Post also cites this from one of our national legislators: "No more excuses," U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick (R) said at a news conference..., calling for tougher enforcement. "You're drunk. You're driving. You're illegal. You're deported. Period."

It's decidedly un-American to enforce laws unequally, but consider that an undocumented immigrant, like Lara, ends up arrested and deported for violating an open-container law, while Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) gets police escorts and rehab for drunkenly crashing his car.

, , , , , .


Post-ing on Immigration

The Washington Post provides two interesting articles on immigration today, one an editorial from two of the authors of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and the other a profile of the Tohono O'odham, the American Indian nation in Arizona that has become the grass the elephants trample in the immigration stampede.

In the IRCA piece, former Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ken.) and Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) of course laud their work, explaining the tenets of their bill, its continued relevancy, and the results of the failures to fully enact it. Along the way, they repudiate the House bills passed last year and this and show support for the more comprehensive Senate legislation. IRCA makes the news these days only as an example of the failure of "amnesty" on the enforcement-only side, but the bill contained several provisions that have arisen today as the harsher measures promoted by enforcement folks -- border fencing, increased surveillance technology, better law-enforcement training, and penalties for employers of undocumented people. It also included a new guest-worker visa and a path to legalization for some migrants.

Mazzoli and Simpson blame subsequent administrations for the failure of their "comprehensive" bill -- for which they say they led a bipartisan effort to research and debate immigration through commissions, field hearings, and expert recommendations. But the current state of "reform" -- particularly on the side of the House -- seems blind to this legislation of just 20 years ago. If our lawmakers can't see that far back, how can we expect them to consider the full history of immigration issues in the USA? It doesn't look good.

One of the main rallying cries of the enforcement camp -- including groups from the House to FAIR to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps -- is that the government has failed to enforce laws already on the books. By this they mean only the enforcement measures and willfully ignore the path to legalization and guest-worker provisions included in the same law. That should throw a strong shadow of doubt on their true motives: They want the "rule of law" only when it applies the restrictive elements they endorse. If they were honest, they would admit that rather than the "rule of law" they simply want to apply the law they think is right. Just like their opponents, they think some laws just and some unjust. So, let's toss out this already ridiculous "rule of law" stipulation -- which is merely a smokescreen that increases criminalization mindset and hatred of immigrants -- and get down to examining the real nature of immigration and determining what needs be done.

The Tohono O'odham story shows just how adversely some U.S. policies -- especially our creation of rather arbitrary national borders -- and poor cultural training of law enforcement have given rise to very un-American results. Border Patrol's kicking down doors of family homes in the middle of the night to demand the nationality of the people inside? Setting up militarized outposts on private property without any sort of permission?

Border Patrol has had little authority on the reservation, as the tribe invoked its sovereignty to keep out discriminating forces. In recent years, the tribe has let federal agencies have a greater presence on their land, to help deal with the increased flow of drug trafficking forced onto tribal territory by the militarization of the border in other areas.

But the feds continuously, it seems, have trouble respecting the laws and people inside the borders of the reservation. So, we have people crossing borders in violation of any respect for people or laws there, in order to stop other people from crossing borders in violation of any respect for people or laws.

The tribe has allowed the federal government more leeway to help protect them from the negative effects of drug smuggling, mostly, and migrant traffic. But it seems the Border Patrol have turned a lot of their energy towards policing the Tohono O'odham, as the Post article makes clear.

Complicating matters is the fact that the invading foreign hordes of yesteryear -- the settlers of the USA -- drew their southern border so that it divided the traditional home of the native citizens of the land, and now Tohono O'odham live on each side of the U.S.-Mexican border.

This passage from the Post article strikes me as particularly emblematic of our generally patronizing attitude towards native peoples of this hemisphere:

"The tribe is home to the Shadow Wolves, a storied, largely Indian unit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection that uses ancient tracking techniques to chase down drug smugglers. But after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol has run the Shadow Wolves and has shifted their focus away from drugs and toward immigrant smuggling, prompting several senior officers to quit."

, , , , , .


Insecurity in the House

The House brought forth yet another enforcement-only bill yesterday, according to The LA Times. Nicole Gaouette writes that the "Secure Fence Act", on which the House will vote today, calls for the construction of 700 miles of new fencing, "pushes for border agents to use greater force, and calls for more border surveillance using cameras, ground sensors and satellites." She also says the House plans to launch several similar bills in the run-up to the November elections.

The new bill sounds almost identical to H.R. 4437, which the House passed last December -- with the notable exception of the provision that would make it a felony, in many cases, to interact with an undocumented person. Both bills promote very costly enforcement measures that have been proven to fail in slowing the influx of undocumented immigrants into the USA and have served only to increase the population of those without papers, the deaths of both migrants and law enforcement officials, and tax-payer spending. The House has not attempted to negotiate on the immigration bill the Senate passed in the spring.

As Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), one of the spearheads of this effort, said yesterday: "We are not close to … a consensus now. The best solution is to go forward with strong immigration enforcement."

We can't agree, so let's just do what I want? That makes sense.

Perhaps it does make sense when one considers the way Sessions and company have behaved on this issue: Gaouette also reports that House members claim this new bill and those to follow emerged from needs they ascertained in the field "hearings" they conducted this summer, events at which Congressmen did the majority of the talking, not the listening (and certainly not hearing). The moments they did listen they reserved only for supposed experts they knew already supported their enforcement-only views. The public was not allowed to participate, despite the fact that we funded these little excursions, which, it seems, turned out to be little more than self-interested campaign stops on the tax-payers' dime -- just as this new bill seems to be but a ploy for votes rather than a serious attempt to fix our immigration problems.

, , , , .


Sellz and Strauss Freed from Charges

No More Deaths reports that a judge in the 1st U.S. District Court dismissed charges against two humanitarian-aid volunteers last week, stemming from an incident that happened last summer -- and that could have landed the two in jail for years. Judge Raner C. Collins ruled that Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, both then 23 years old, had made reasonable efforts to ensure their actions fell within the law when they tried to transport three very ill undocumented migrants to a medical clinic.

The migrants suffered from heat-related illnesses and could not keep down water after several days trekking through the desert -- and would very likely have died without immediate treatment, something that calling the Border Patrol would have delayed or impeded entirely, according to what NMD volunteers told me in June. The men did not receive the full treatment, however, because Border Patrol arrested them and the two volunteers before they reached the clinic.

The arrests spurred the founding of the "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" movement within No More Deaths -- and even inspired a rollicking, old-school, folk song by local, Arizona singer Desert Rat. The incident has lead to greater cooperation between humanitarian groups and the Border Patrol -- a particularly welcome though obviously not effective-enough occurrence, considering that, "this year, more than 171 migrants have perished in Arizona," according to NMD.

The Arizona Star has more on the story -- and a whopping message board of comments.

, , , , .


Progress on the Move?

A four-day march in support of immigrants' rights and immigration reform launched yesterday from Chicago's Chinatown. The 50-mile trek will end on Monday at the door of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's home office in Batavia, Ill. This is something we mostly haven't heard about thanks to a lack of coverage outside the Chicago region. (Check out the rather anemic coverage in The Washington Post.) Several hundred people, according to The Chicago Tribune, are making the journey, stopping to pray and rally at various places along the way.

Miller Lite has donated some $30,000 to the effort -- in hopes of making good after having donated to U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who sponsored the draconian immigration bill that the House passed last December.

Chicago has long served as a crux of cultures and has emerged as a hotbed during the swell of the debate over immigration. Recently, Elvira Arellano, an undocumented migrant from Mexico, was granted sanctuary in a church in the Midwestern metropolis. She hopes to avoid deportation because of the hardships her expulsion would cause for her seven-year-old, U.S.-citizen son, who officials originally planned to turn over to the state. Law enforcement has so far resisted entering the church to arrest her.

In other news (--I've always wanted to say that), enforcement of the beleaguered Hazleton, Penn., law cracking down on undocumented immigrants will not go into effect on Sept. 11 (coincidence?) as originally planned. The law will impose penalties on landlords' renting to and employers' hiring people without valid papers. It will also make English the town's official language. The ACLU and various Latino-advocate groups have sued to have the law declared unconstitutional because the Constitution grants only the Federal government authority to enforce immigration laws -- and because the law would promote discrimination against legal immigrants and U.S. citizens of Latin descent.

But the delay does not come from a change of heart on the part of the city, according to Mayor Lou Barletta.

"'We're not enforcing it because we are in the midst of amending it,' said Barletta, who has championed the law. "'The amended ordinance will be even stronger and more defensible.'" (From the AP.)

The city has seen protests both for and against the law, complete with Confederate flags.

Similar battles are raging in cities and towns around the country, with proponents of these laws claiming that the Federal government's "failure to enforce our immigration laws" leaves them no other choice. They argue also that undocumented migrants are ruining their standards of living. (The Hazleton law emerged after two undocumented migrants were charged with murder.) But the argument against such measures -- the worry of enforcement that discriminates against immigrants -- certainly has precedent in U.S. law -- at least as far back as the famousYick Wo v. Hopkins in 1886. Should we continue to repeat those mistakes out of shortsightedness and panicked prejudice?

, , , , , .