Posts Tagged ‘LATINO POLITICS’

Breathing in Our Dead and the Spirit of Immigration Reform

August 13, 2013

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Of all our senses, the one that can most alter U.S. immigration history — and U.S. history itself — is our sense of smell. If we could, for example, magically bring the smell in the freezers of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office to politicians, advocates and voters on either side of the immigration debate, the current bipartisan push for a “border surge” would die faster than a cricket stung by a scorpion in the extremely arid stretch of desert known as the “Devil’s Highway.”

I visited the Medical Examiner’s office and the Devil’s Highway, where most of the bodies of the migrants tagged “John Doe” were recovered, as part of the film project produced by Presente.org with the help of filmmaker Jason Michael Aragon of Pan Left Productions. Our goal: to document the impact of border security policies on communities living and working — and traveling — in and around border towns like Tucson.

“Don’t stay in [the freezer] too long,” Dr. Gregory Hess, the very gregarious and straight-laced Chief Medical Examiner, told us as if he were Virgil warning Dante against being too curious about the Inferno. “We try to get in and out as quickly as possible. After a few minutes in there, the smell will stick to your clothes — and it’s hard to wash out.” Forty-five minutes of filming later, we more than understood the cold wisdom Dr. Hess was dropping on us.

What we didn’t yet understand was what the smell of 100 decomposing bodies does to your spirit long after you get the smell out of your clothes. Almost two weeks later, my time in the freezer inspires thoughts of how spiritus, the Latin word for “spirit” and “soul,” is directly related to spirare, the Latin word for “breath”, “vigor” and what in spanish we call “animo.”

Breathing in the spirits of the dead causes an intense conflict in the stomach, a conflict between profound sadness and the amino to live and fight on. Hess’ matter-of-fact statements add even more tightness in the belly.

“Previous attempts to increase border security have not decreased the number of bodies we see here in the freezer,” Hess told us. “In June, we registered more than 30 deaths, a very significant increase.”

In the fight to end border militarization and what activists in Tucson and other border states call the “border overkill” at the heart of comprehensive immigration reform, nothing in Tucson or anywhere else matches the persuasive power of the smells emanating from the stiff, dehydrated and decomposing dreams stored in white body bags; Not Hess’ map with the red dots signifying locations of the more than 6,000 immigrants who have died from heat and dehydration in the desert since “increased border security” began in earnest in 1994; Not the scholarly reports on Hess’ bookshelf with titles like “A Continued Humanitarian Crisis at the Border”; Not the colorful crosses used in protests against “border militarization” and “racial profiling” of entire border communities; Not even the tears and pain-packed words of mothers like Guadalupe Guerrero who told us about how her unarmed U.S. citizen son, Carlos, was shot and killed by Border Patrol agents. None of these facts and stories match the gut-wrenching smell I first came to know in the 1980s and ’90s, when the war in El Salvador filled “fosas comunes” (mass graves) with the skeletons and dirt-filled clothes of with victims of war.

Two weeks after I visited Tucson, the smell in the freezer inspires the will to peace, the necessary will to end the war — in this case, the war on immigrants. In the same way that smells and steam of desert plants like the ceresote, sage or the hediondilla (literally “little smelly one”) plant have long been used by local native and Mexican people as curative plants that relieve gut-wrenching pain and discomfort and other ailments, the smell of the freezer can and should cure us of the disease of “border security.” And in doing so, we will have made the bodies of the desert dead in the bags a little less anonymous — and a little more like the long line of peacemakers in the desert.

This post appeared originally on Presente.org. See hard-hitting new video by Presente.org & Jason Michael Aragon of Panleft Productions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvdJtAMQcX8

Time to Declare “Silence=Death” on Immigrant Death & Detention as Obama Signals Right On Reform?

May 8, 2009

silence-death

This post was inspired by a spirited and sometimes overly visceral discussion on a listserv. More specifically, we were discussing recent statements by President Obama, who made “get tough” statements about the border and immigration reform during a press conference according to the right wing Washington Times reports,. “If the American people don’t feel like you can secure the borders,” Mr. Obama said at his press conference last week, “then it’s hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, ‘Well, you’re just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.’

Republicans say the shift is a sign that Mr. Obama, who during the campaign repeatedly called the issue a priority, is uncertain how to move forward.”

Such a debate and discussion would seem to fall along the same lines as the debate and discussion around immigration reform in 2006-except for 1 thing: we’re no longer in those halcyon days before 2006, days when all we had to worry urgently about were 3500-4000 people dying in the desert of crimmigration-filled U.S. migration policies first crafted by smiling Democrat Bill Clinton; we’ve reached a deadly stage where hating and dying and killing of immigrants are getting institutionalized on a national and unprecedented scale (anybody remember those who said “this will die down when we elect a Democrat”?)

Support for punitive policies has become dangerous and must be interrogated in open debate so that our communities can decide what is best by having all the facts; Better that than what too often passes for “immigration news”: the carefully crafted messages of powerful right wing and liberal groups with big budgets and lots of media power-PR, bloggers, pollsters, multimillion dollar campaigns and the like. In the media age, political legitimacy depends as much on media power as it does on moral power. You be the judge of which power prevails around immigration.

Some folks are starting to think about how to stop Obama’s effort to sell us the same old enforcement wine in the “hope”-filled new bottles of his political stardom. Will report back soon on this.

Though there is and will be a much-welcome, but hardly sufficient change of tone along with a softening on some enforcement, some forget that Obama has said absolutely nothing about altering or dismantling the massive multibillion dollar legal, bureaucratic and economic structures propped up in the name of “defending the homeland” from maids, gardeners and construction workers. The “tradeoff” will likely be supported by Obama, Dems, some big important and rich unions, Big Business (Ag,service,etc) DC advocates and the big foundations and other economic interests that support them as the main voices around “immigration reform”.

Whether these powerful liberal interests are willing to go the same dangerous tradeoff McCain-Kennedy route will ultimately depend on the ability of out-of-the-Beltway groups (or at least those intrepid enough to confront even the big foundations that fund them) and individuals to make it difficult to impossible to support any more punitive immigration policies without paying a high moral and political price. Making it widely known that you either support a moratorium on punitive policies ( as opposed to that embarrassing scarecrow that screams “they want to open up all the prisons) as part of a new CIR or you don’t. That wide Washingtonian gap has to be closed if there’s to be any shift in the deadly direction rooted in the immigrant=criminal premise underlying both right wing policies and the punitive components of CIR.

Of course, centrist Democrat Obama never promised any of this in his campaign. so, he is actually doing much of what he said he’d do, including dipping into the same civilizationally diseased pool of punitive policies-Obama’s support for the wall, his complete silence on the death and devastation in jails-and streets- and the inability to use his leadership pulpit to draw attention to the plight of those most mangled by the banker-led economic crisis and the hatred it’s unleashed, immigrants- yeah.

Obama should be the first to speak out against all the killings and hate towards immigrants, bu he doesn’t. just that would do alot. Yes, he’s got alot of other priorities. But silence in the face of so much devastation rained on migrants right now is, quite frankly an abomination for an openly declared Christian who used the images of Martin Luther King in his campaign. Just can’t imagine MLK either remaining silent before such officially and unofficially manifest injustice; Don’t see a suited up Jesus cutting deals in DC with extremist, even fascistic Republicans in the name of legalizing the 12 million.

Not the moral universe I think of when I used to say “Si se. puede” (don’t generally use left language commandeered for sloganeering of the corporate or political party kind…that’s why I encourage saying the more accurate “Si Se Pedo” instead); The question “What would Jesus do?” really does provide a good filter thru which to weigh the actions of the powerful on issues dealing with those Jesus called the “meek.” DC crowd, including Obama, spends more time talking about bailing out bankers, “the middle class” and other interests beside the poorest among us. That’s why DC groups sponsored repeated polls that told us that “moral arguments don’t work with American voters.”

The line between Realpolitik and What’s Right can be seen in the sands of silence around detention, enforcement, deportation and the like. In a climate in which hatred has been normalized and hate violence against migrants is perpetrated with impunity, failure to say or do anything about such issues makes us complicit.

As we used to say in the fight against homophobia and AIDS, silence=death.

Still They March: Nationwide Rallies Highlight Failure of War on Immigrants

May 2, 2008

The battle for immigrant rights rages daily in the heart, mind and lanky 10 year-old frame of Chelsea resident and May Day marcher, Norma Canela. Norma’s mother Olivia illegally crossed the borders of Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S. almost eleven years ago from Honduras. Born shortly after her mom came to the U.S., Norma says attending one of the over 200 May Day marches for immigrant rights made her feel “good, like we could help people get their papers!”

Chanting, singing and marching alongside so many others in the Chelsea march, also provided the energetic 4th grader a counterbalance to the crush of loneliness (“I feel like nobody wants to help us”), fear (I’m scared they might take my mom”) and isolation (“Sometimes I feel alone”). If, it achieved nothing else, march organizers say, the May Day mobilizations gave Norma, Olivia and the 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families living in United States a dose of hope in the face of an escalating war on the undocumented.

Yelling “Alto a las redadas! Alto a las deportaciones!”(Stop the Raids! Stop the Deportations!) the tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marching throughout the country on May Day believe they took crucial steps for a movement trying to defend families like Norma’s from a multibillion dollar war being waged on immigrants. On May Day they hoped they helped align the movement’s agenda, animate its base and flex its power.

Relieved, yet still animated after organizing the largest (30,000 +) of the hundreds of May Day marches in towns and cities throughout the country, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin, a low-wage and immigrant workers center, said that the day’s primary objective had been accomplished. “Almost all immigrant rights groups are now on same page as far as opposing measures that criminalize immigrants and demanding legalization in the first 100 days of the next [President’s] administration” said Ortiz adding “I think across the board most groups are calling on Bush Administration put an immediate end to raids and deportation.”

Prior to today’s marches, the fissures and differences around strategy for immigration reform had split the movement. Some groups supported ‘tradeoffs’ -legalization for even heavier enforcement- like those contained in the now defunct McCain-Kennedy bill while other groups didn’t. May Day march organizers also found themselves on the defensive against what Ortiz calls ” a kind of low-intensity conflict” unleashed on immigrants shortly after the historic May Day marches of 2006: thousands of raids on homes and workplaces conducted by heavily-armed immigration agents, deployment of 6,000 national guard troops to the border, billions of dollars in government contracts to military-industrial companies like Halliburton, Blackwater and Boeing to build the infrastructure to surveill, trail and jail immigrants.

Against the backdrop of the intense escalation of attacks and the fear these attacks engendered after 2006, Ortiz and other organizers like Gladys Vega of the Chelsea Collaborative believe they also succeeded in injecting some “animo” into their movement. “On a daily basis, we have to deal with community members terrorized by raids, facing increased problems in the workplace because of the tighter (employment) regulations” said Vega adding “Here in Chelsea, a city that is 63% immigrant, 350, mostly Latino families had their houses foreclosed on and we can’t just sit by and watch.”

In response to what she considers the very predictable mainstream media stories focused on the decreased size of the May Day marches, Vega said, “When your community and you have to do so much and when there is so much repression against immigrants and their families, the real story is how so many people overcame their fear and marched in 200 cities.”

Now Ortiz is ready to pull out a defensive posture and launch an offensive. “Marching is one critical piece but not the only one” said Ortiz. “Most of us are also involved in the massive push for voter registration, citizenship drives and getting people to vote. May Day was also about sending a message to the Republicans and Democrats, about holding their feet to the fire.”

Norma and Olivia can’t cast a vote this election season. One is too young, the other doesn’t have the papers. But they are still involved in the electoral process. How? “I talk to our family and friends who can vote; I make phone calls, distribute flyers, attend events anything I can do I do it” said Olivia. For her part, future voter Norma, who sometimes joins her mother’s electoral activities, offers up some immigrant rights strategy of her own, “We’re going to march until they (the government/immigration authorities) get bored. Then we can all be safe.”

More on DLC’s Racial Politics: “Insidious Innuendo” Video

March 19, 2008

This clip by Oilwellian provides a video complement to some of the things mentioned in my previous post:

How to “Humanize” Immigration Raids Without Humanzing Immigrants

November 26, 2007

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This story in the L.A. Times reports on recently-announced Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (ICE) guidelines designed to “humanize immigration raids”.

While the announcement may mean some needed respite for that minority of immigrants arrested in work-site raids who are “pregnant, nursing infants or serving as sole caregivers to children or seriously ill relatives”, it does nothing for those millions that aren’t in any of these situations.

And what about the trauma immigrants experience due to beatings, gun-wielding and very violent raids, rapes in detention and even shootings perpetrated by ICE agents? Guidelines to “humanize” these ICE actions will, in all likelihood, not be forthcoming. This is, in large part, because, in order to execute such violent actions, ICE agents must learn to fundamentally dehumanize their fellow humans who happen to be migrants. Since 9-11, ICE agent boot camp has morphed into: distinguishing the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” the non-people requiring the state (and sometimes general populace)-sanctioned solution of violence. Just look at ICE’s website, a virtual immigrant rogues gallery for the 21rst century wild west. No human immigrants here.

It’s harder to beat, rape or otherwise traumatize and hurt someone if you see them as a member of your race, the human race. That’s why men (and women) with guns during the genocide era in Rwanda needed radio shock jocks there to fill the airwaves with descriptions of their perceived adversaries as “cockroaches”. Dehumanization is also why, in the U.S., mainstreamed hate radio jocks like the “Jersey Guys” provide airwave support the violent actions of ICE -the most militarized branch of government besides the Pentagon-with calls to denounce and capture immigrants in “Operation Rat a Rat/La Cucha Gotcha”.

Whether public or private, media can and does often enable violence – and legitimate the violent.

Just note, for example, what is being “humanized” in the title of the LA Times piece: “Guidelines to humanize immigration raids”. “Immigration raids”-not immigrants- are being humanized. And as you continue reading, you might note who Teresa Watanabe, the author, ascribes humanity and agency to with quotes like these,

“…. the agency’s Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers this month issued a memo directing agents to consider releasing nursing mothers on their own recognizance and using alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring, as long as they pose no threat to national security or public safety. The memo said the agency’s commitment to ending the “catch and release” practice, in which illegal immigrants are released soon after apprehension, did not diminish its responsibility to recognize “meritorious” humanitarian cases, Kice said.

“ICE is committed to enforcing the law, but we’re also committed to addressing humanitarian concerns,” Kice said.

Note also how Watanabe (or maybe her editor) neglects to ask why ICE and its director Julie Myers’ holiday announcement of “humanitarian” good cheer comes at this precise moment? The article does mention how some ICE actions like the New Bedsford, Mass raid have drawn considerable fire. But might the ICE announcement also have something to do with how Myers’ humanity recently made headlines after she gave a Halloween costume award to and took a picture standing next to a white man whose costume consisted of dreadlocks, a prisoner’s outfit and black face?

Given the continued and devastating violence of ICE, given the degraded state of immigrant humanity in the public sphere, the announcement of the guidelines to “humanize” the raids is nothing more than political minstrelsy designed to put a friendlier face on an agency that’s made a multi-billion industry out of dehumanizing immigrants.

If they really wanted to a “humanize” something, they’d not just stop the raids, but shut down this increasingly violent and constitutionally racist agency down altogether.

The announcement should also be seen as a small and, perhaps even, Pyrrhic victory for immigrants rights activists. To their credit, activists have more frequently and aggressively attacked ICE for its inhumanity and violence. Such activism is urgently needed to make up for the strategic catastrophe led by DC-based groups who told many of us in media teleconferences that “moral arguments (around immigration) don’t work with the voters.”

At this point in the immigration game, concern of and about politicos and voters who can lose their humanity in the urgency and anonymity of polls and voting booths can wait. Things have degenerated to dangerous levels. Before anything, we need to get back to a fundamental concern a for humans.