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Justified Hysteria?

Apr
8
2008

There are times, these days, when I feel like the boy who cried “wolf” when I talk about the rampant hysteria against undocumented immigrants that has gripped this country. No one’s listening. But it’s not because anyone has raised any false alarms.

No on seems to think anything is wrong when an Arizona sheriff takes a posse of 200 officers and camps out on busy street corners just to catch undocumented immigrants.

They don’t see anything outrageous with a town outlawing renting to undocumented immigrants.

No one seems troubled that a good deed like giving a ride to a neighbor to the store or hospital or anywhere else could constitute a felony act if that neighbor happened to be undocumented.

A yawn is barely mustered when it’s discovered that legal Hispanic citizens are “mistakenly” picked up and deported to a country they’re not even familiar with.

And, well, making it a law that says English is the official language just to drive home the point that people are fed up with hearing “Press 1 for Spanish” is extreme. It seems the entire concept of customer service is lost on these critics who should take up their argument with the marketing department at those companies who implement a bilingual option, rather than create meaningless, mean-spirited legislation which will only serve to remind historians of this dark period in our country’s history.

A week doesn’t go by that some new legislation isn’t introduced somewhere targeting undocumented immigrants. The latest state that is jumping on this bandwagon and making undocumented immigrants the scapegoats of this failing economy, not to mention Congress, is the tiny state of Rhode Island.

According to a 2006 US Census study, eleven percent of the state’s population is categorized as “Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin.” Yet, for some reason, Rhode Islanders feel under “siege” by Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants, according to the governor.

Governor Don Carcieri issued an executive order last month requiring state agencies and companies that do business with the state to verify the legal status of employees. Also, the state police, prison and parole officials are now ordered to aggressively find and deport undocumented immigrants.

Why this sudden panic attack?

It seems Rhode Island has a $550 million budget deficit and the governor, under pressure to reduce it, sees a link between the short-fall and the number of undocumented immigrants in his state.

There’s only one small problem: state officials don’t even know how many undocumented immigrants there actually are.

And if you don’t know how many reside in the state, then you can’t know how much they impact the local economy.

Two service areas that always are highlighted as being abused by undocumented immigrants are healthcare and welfare. Yet, an analysis of Rhode Island’s healthcare found that while the state does provide millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidized free healthcare to those who cannot afford it, no one knows how much is actually used by undocumented immigrants.

However if the undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island follow the findings found in national studies of the healthcare practices of non-legal immigrants, the likelihood that healthcare is being abused by this demographic is highly unlikely. A 2007 study found that undocumented Latinos reported less use of healthcare services than native-born Latinos. The same goes for applying for welfare benefits.

Welfare data analyzed by researchers at the Urban Institute found that “less than 1 percent of households headed by undocumented immigrants receive cash assistance for needy families, compared to 5 percent of households headed by native-born U.S. citizens.”

It makes sense. Why would anyone who is living in the country illegally draw unwanted attention to themselves by applying for benefits they know they aren’t entitled to, not to mention, would send red flags to law enforcement?

They wouldn’t. Yet try and convince those who are stricken with the paranoia that Mexico is trying to resettle the country for their own expansionist agenda and it makes sense that such nonsense has been adopted as the gospel truth.

The only way this hysteria is going to come under control is if more people, both Latino and non-Latino, of political prominence stand up against it.

In Rhode Island, the chairman of the state’s Hispanic Republican Assembly, David Quiroa, broke his ties with the state Republican Party to protest the Governor’s actions.

“Everyone was cheering Governor Carcieri like we were getting rid of aliens from Mars who are infected with this weird disease,” Quiroa said. “So that lack of humanity is what really did it for me.”

How much longer will it be before it gets to the rest of us?

Posted by Marisa Trevino at 9:45 AM | Permalink

It’s a Family Affair

Mar
24
2008

Margarita Huerta made a bad decision.

Some will argue that this mother of four made a bad decision when she decided to live illegally in the United States as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

Others will say she made a bad decision when she decided on December 14, 2007 to leave her children in her car, after running out of gas alongside a busy North Texas highway while she walked to get help. On her return, she learned that her 5-year-old daughter had tried to follow her and had darted into the heavy traffic, only to be rescued by passing Good Samaritans — who called the police.

Regardless of either decision, or more precisely because of both of them, Margarita found herself placed in the Collin County jail where she was charged with child endangerment and slapped with a criminal charge plus a detaining order by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to clear her for deportation proceedings.

This month, three months after she was first arrested, Margarita will finally be released from the detention center but won’t be seeing her children. Instead, she’ll be loaded on a transport and taken back to Mexico.

Margarita’s treatment and length of detention are not unusual – it’s how the United States treats undocumented immigrants in custody. In fact, Margarita is one of the lucky ones. She only had to be separated from her family for three months and she was only an hour away from where they lived. Too many in her shoes are not as fortunate.

In fact, the automatic detention and prolonged stays behind bars for undocumented immigrants, especially women, is a practice that makes no sense — even in the face of accusations that undocumented immigrants are flight risks.

In this high-tech age, there are proven better ways to keep tabs on nonviolent non-criminals than keeping them behind bars separated from their families.

The way the U.S. handles immigrant detentions has triggered attention from the global humanitarian community, the United Nations (U.N.) and immigrant communities and activists throughout the country who all agree there is a better way to treat a population whose only vice is being illegally in the country to work their way out of the poverty they were born into.

United Nations investigator, Jorge Bustamante, reported to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in early March that the United States is failing to uphold the international obligations of protecting migrants’ human rights by subjecting too many of them to “prolonged detention in substandard facilities.”

Bustamante reported that the annual U.S. detainee population has tripled in the past nine years. He called for the U.S. government to eliminate mandatory detention for certain migrants and to adopt alternative methods of monitoring, such as electronic ankle bracelets.

Unfortunately, while the government seems to feel technology is good enough to be used at the border in keeping unwanted immigrants out of the country, it’s not good enough to keep them in until they can be properly processed.

However, it’s the toll the separations take on these families that is worthy of attention.

In Margarita’s case, from the time she was initially picked up on that cool Texas morning, she has sat in the Collin County detention center — away from her four children and husband. According to her lawyer, Margarita has sunken into such a deep depression because of the separation from her children that she now is taking anti-depressants.

If ever there was a clear example of how broken our immigration system is it would have to be the excessive detention of women away from their families, and in some cases, along with their children.

Last year, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children co-authored the report “Locking up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families.

It was an analysis of how women and children were being treated at a specially designated “family” immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas at the T. Don Hutto facility.

What the authors discovered is that when it comes to detaining families, there is no precedent for it in our country and so no guidelines specifically addressing the issues of families in detention have been established. Nor does anyone with oversight authority know how to properly respond to the women’s or children’s needs.

But one thing is certain, the prolonged separation of mothers and children doesn’t bode well for a country trying to boost its global image and instill international respect for its rule of law.

Posted by Marisa Trevino at 8:38 AM | Permalink

Not Your Madre’s Texas Primary

Feb
29
2008

Latino voters have long been characterized as loyal supporters or, in some circles, followers, depending on your view of loyalty and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is counting on the latter here in Texas in her quest to snatch the Democratic nomination away from rival Sen. Barack Obama next week.

Clinton is hoping – more likely praying – that Texas Latinos follow the lead of our California and New York primos (cousins) and hand her a majority win over her rival. But her campaign is learning the hard lesson that a win in Texas depends, not on yesterday’s loyalties, but a new reality — the “M” factor.

Voters born between 1980 and 2000 are known as the Millennial Generation. In Texas, 31 percent of Hispanic eligible voters are between the ages of 18 to 29-years-old and these young Latinos are close to being the majority demographic overall among Texas Latino voters.

Latinos, 30-44-years-of-age, the current largest group within Latino voters, outnumber the millenials, but only by a measly .2 percent. Couple these numbers with the fact that Latino voters comprise almost 40 percent of eligible Texas Democratic voters. It’s an implication that deserves attention.

Because in this Democratic primary most young Latino voters are dismissing the political loyalties of their parents and following a path that is relevant to how they view the world.

Unfortunately, the Clinton campaign has missed this, insisting on focusing the majority of their Latino outreach on ethnicity, not age. By contrast, Obama has focused his campaigning on college campuses and urban settings, home to most youth. Clinton has stuck to the tried-and-true style of political politicking — walking the streets of Latino neighborhoods during the day and visiting local taquerias, not likely places or hours for young people to hang out.

If Clinton’s people had been savvy about this age group, then they would have known that the millenials, a group whose lives are seamlessly integrated with technology, are a demographic bred on instant gratification, constant change, team work, and for whom diversity is a way of life.

They are increasingly fed up with how the “old guard” Latino leadership insists on looking at today’s politics through yesterday’s lenses — and then professing to speak for all Latinos. It was a fact that recently came to a head in Dallas when an 84-year-old matriarch of Dallas Latino civil rights said that “Obama simply has a problem that he happens to be black.”

Drawing from her experience in the city’s history when racial tensions existed between blacks and browns, the self-confessed Clinton supporter was instantly scolded by Latino millennials who saw her comment as divisive.

“This whole black and brown divide…is one of the most exaggerated arguments in the country today,” opined 19-year-old Manuel Rendon. Rendon had introduced Obama at a rally the previous week attracting 18,000 people of all ages and ethncities.

Yet for all their passion and desire for change, millennials have a lousy track record for sustaining their momentum since they bore easily and really don’t like it when they don’t get their way.

A hint of that ego-centric mentality came into sharp focus courtesy of Obama’s own camp when his campaign commissioned a survey by Hispanic Economics. Latino first-time voters under the age of 30 were asked “If Obama is not nominated, and in November it is Hillary Clinton versus John McCain, are you likely to bother to vote at all?” Eighty percent of these young Obama supporters answered, “No.”

But if there is a “long tail” to this newfound political passion among Latino millenials, it’s the fact that they are not just sharing it with their peers — but with their families, the center of Latino culture. It’s natural that millenials bringing home their passion, enthusiasm and information are educating their parents and extended family members.

In some cases, the millenials are changing the minds of the older adults who are both proud of the budding political involvement of their children and who also have been struggling themselves in choosing who would make the better president.

It would be an understatement to say that Latino Millennials will be a factor in the Texas primary. The likelier scenario is that they will be a force — that will rock the vote.

Posted by Marisa Trevino at 8:46 AM | Permalink

Solving Illegal Immigration Nation-to-Nation

Feb
19
2008

The once white-hot issue of illegal immigration has taken a curious twist in American politics.

On the one hand, state and local politicians are using the polarizing topic as the foundation of their bids for public office.

But on the national level, presidential candidates try to distance themselves from that same issue. They pay just enough lip service to give the impression that they care about it, but not too much – not unless they’re campaigning in those pockets of the country directly impacted by the problems created by having undocumented residents.

To be fair, last year’s bipartisan partnership forged among Senators John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Jon Kyle, and fully supported by President Bush, which resulted in the crafting of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was a good start at addressing the issue. That it was roundly defeated in Congress and its supporters have since tucked their tails between their legs and retreated is a disappointing commentary on where the issue now stands at the federal level. Just how loathe Washington is to touch the issue was underscored during the recent visit of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon. Mexico’s president was received by state legislatures, governors and business groups but not by the White House where an invitation was never extended to the visiting head of state.

Political analysts, on both sides of the border, noted how unusual that a foreign leader visiting another country would not be met by the president, even if it was an unofficial trip. It’s too bad because much is changing when it comes to immigration law in Mexico – and it’s at the U.S.’ behest.

If reforming the nation’s immigration system is to ever be fully realized, it has to be on the national level. Not with work site raids, family detention facilities, border walls and intimidation tactics by neighborhood law enforcement and local and state politicians but taking it to the next level where only national players can — through nation-to-nation cooperation with the one country where the majority of undocumented immigrants originate.

There are current attempts by immigration reform critics to bolster the justification of building a wall between Mexico and the United States by citing Mexico’s historically harsh treatment of their own illegally arrived population.

It’s an argument that Mexican legislators are trying to turn into a moot point.

In May of last year, the Chamber of Deputies in the Mexican Congress revoked age-old immigration laws that mandated prison sentences and huge fines for a list of offenses that resemble current U.S. policy towards undocumented immigrants: working illegally in the country, marrying a citizen for the sake of permanent residency, staying with an expired visa and returning to the country after being deported.

Mexican legislators want to change the current policy of imposing those guilty of these violations with lengthy prison sentences by either charging a maximum fine equal to minimum salary earnings of 20 days or imposing 36 hours of community service.

And in an obvious nod towards the current negative political attitude towards undocumented immigrants in the United States, the new law in Mexico would allow for undocumented immigrants to be given a chance to legalize their situation. The legislation is now undergoing analysis in the Mexican Senate.

In the meantime, U.S. leaders continually insist in putting the immigration issue on the backburner. Luckily, some organizations have not.

In breaking with traditionally helping U.S. Latino communities through investments, California-based Hispanics in Philanthropy has awarded their first installment of a three-year $219,000 economic grant to expand a goat-cheese cooperative in Guanajuato, Mexico.

According to Diana Campoamor, president of the organization, helping expand businesses south of the border is part of a new movement in Northern California to address the root causes of illegal immigration by supplementing Mexican economic opportunities.

And thankfully it doesn’t stop there. Recognizing how much businesses in both countries are interconnected, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, is overseeing an upcoming joint business development event in Mexico City for American and Mexican businesses.

Titled U.S. and Mexico: Building Partnerships in Infrastructure, the event is designed to educate businesses who want to bid on over 300 projects to be built in Mexico as part of President Calderon’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Yet, these isolated efforts to help Mexico overcome their economy’s shortcomings must be supplemented with a broader immigration reform initiative from the U.S. federal government.

It is our turn to craft policy on how to address this nation’s undocumented immigrants. Immigrants who applaud the turnaround happening in their native country so that relatives won’t have to repeat their same perilous journeys, but who don’t entertain the dream of returning to live in Mexico because of one simple reason — the United States is their home.

Posted by Marisa Trevino at 4:48 PM | Permalink

Texas Showdown, Modern Issue

Feb
15
2008

Texas has long been romanticized for its Wild West, in-your-face, up-against-the-odds streak of defiant independence. It’s the kind of defiance that created historical legends and which has always been hailed as a badge of honor by Texans.

Remember the Alamo?

Yet, who would have thought that in this day and age there would be a necessary resurgence of this kind of Lone Star defiance that would pit generational Texans against the federal government?

It’s exactly what is happening in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley between Texans, who live along the border with Mexico, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS is gunning for 180 miles of Texas land to build part of the congressionally mandated 670 miles of border fence dedicated to border security.

In the process of trying to wrestle the land away from its owners, the federal government is trampling on the property rights of Texans some of whom can trace their family lands to deeds granted by the King of Spain in the 1700s.

And the agency is increasingly creating tension between Texas and Mexico border neighbors who have historically depended on each other for economic support. On top of that, the government’s latest court actions are cultivating an ever-growing distrust and resentment between South Texas residents and Washington.

Unlike the past when Texans would lay down their lives rather than compromise their ideals, modern-day South Texans want to work with the federal government. It’s the government that doesn’t want to work with them.

Time and time again, delegations from the Texas border region have trekked to Washington to present their case – that there are better ways to secure the border. Building a barrier along the bordert would not only evoke memories of the Berlin Wall but create a hardship in the region.

Each time, border delegations’ ideas have been rebuffed.

Alternative suggestions include the creation of a natural barrier by constructing a weir dam along the Rio Grande that would raise the water level, widen the river and back it up for 42 miles.

One of the proponents of the weir dam, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, says that this idea creates a virtual fence that could easily be patrolled with high-speed boats, electronic equipment and border agents. It also would only cost about $40 million, much less than the barbed wire/chain-link variety.

The mayor isn’t shy about admitting that such an idea would offer a range of economic opportunities to develop the river for tourism — something badly needed in a region that is home to some of the poorest counties in the nation.

For unknown reasons, the government wasn’t interested in this idea.

So border residents had another one: build the fence along the levees in the area. The fence would reinforce the levees without adversely affecting the flood plain. As it stands now, the proposed fence would impact the region’s ecological and historical corridor that lies along the river and which also serves as another source of tourism dollars.

Once again, this idea wasn’t received well.

If the proposed fence were to go up today, it would cut through the region in such a way that it would disrupt the fragile nature preserve that draws thousands of bird watchers every year and cede several historical landmarks to Mexico.

In what has become standard practice for this administration, little thought has been given to the consequences or logistics of the proposed fence. Nor does DHS feel they have to discuss it with Texas landowners.

In a document distributed by the agency titled “Border Fence Construction Outreach,” it stated that DHS had held 18 town hall meetings about the border fence.

Yet when pressed by the local media about the meetings, DHS was forced to admit that none of the meetings were held in the Rio Grande Valley. The majority were “briefings” held at Border Patrol stations.

It’s clear the government doesn’t want citizen input, nor obstruction.

So far, the DHS has filed 33 border wall condemnation lawsuits against Rio Grande Valley residents. They are suing for 180-day temporary access to the lands so federal contractors can “survey and conduct soil borings to aid in planning the fence’s location.”

The government hopes to have construction of the fence completed by the end of the year — right before a new President is to be sworn in.

As was to be expected, the first round of Texas landowners targeted by federal lawsuits have lost.

Yet, being Texans, the battle is far from over.


It’s exactly what is happening in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley between Texans, who live along the border with Mexico, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS is gunning for 180 miles of Texas land to build part of the congressionally mandated 670 miles of border fence dedicated to border security.
The only problem is that in the process of trying to wrestle the land away from its owners, the federal government is trampling on the property rights of Texans who can trace their family lands to deeds granted by the King of Spain in the 1700s.
Also, the agency is increasingly creating tension between Texas and Mexico border neighbors who have historically depended on each other for economic support. On top of that, the government’s latest court actions are cultivating an ever-growing distrust and resentment between South Texas residents and Washington.
However, unlike the past when Texans would lay down their lives rather than compromise their ideals, modern-day South Texans want to work with the federal government — it’s the government that doesn’t want to work with them.
Time and time again, delegations from the Texas border region have trekked to Washington to present their case that there are better ways to secure the border than building a barrier that would not only evoke memories of the Berlin Wall but create a hardship in the region.
Each time, border delegations’ ideas have been rebuffed.
Ideas have ranged from creating a natural barrier by constructing a weir dam along the river that would raise the water level, widen the river and back it up for 42 miles.
One of the proponents of the weir dam, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, says that this idea creates a virtual fence that could easily be patrolled with high-speed boats, electronic equipment and border agents. It also would only cost about $40 million, much less than the barbed wire/chain-link variety.
The mayor isn’t shy about admitting that such an idea would offer a range of economic opportunities to develop the river for tourism — something badly needed in a region that is home to some of the poorest counties in the nation.
For unknown reasons, the government wasn’t interested in this idea.
So border residents had another one: build the fence along the levees in the area. The fence would reinforce the levees without adversely affecting the flood plain. As it stands now, the proposed fence would impact the region’s ecological and historical corridor that lies along the river and which also serves as another source of tourism dollars.
Once again, this idea wasn’t received well.
If the proposed fence were to go up today, it would cut through the region in such a way that it would disrupt the fragile nature preserve that draws thousands of bird watchers every year and cede several historical landmarks to Mexico.
In what has become standard practice for this administration, little thought has been given to the consequences or logistics of the proposed fence. Nor does DHS feel they have to discuss it with Texas landowners.
In a document distributed by the agency titled “Border Fence Construction Outreach,” it stated that DHS had held 18 town hall meetings about the border fence.
Yet when pressed by the local media about the meetings, DHS was forced to admit that none of the meetings were held in the Rio Grande Valley. The majority were “briefings” held at Border Patrol stations.
It’s clear the government doesn’t want citizen input, nor obstruction.
So far, the DHS has filed 33 border wall condemnation lawsuits against Rio Grande Valley residents. They are suing for 180-day temporary access to the lands so federal contractors can “survey and conduct soil borings to aid in planning the fence’s location.”
The government hopes to have construction of the fence completed by the end of the year — right before a new President is to be sworn in.
As was to be expected, the first round of Texas landowners targeted by federal lawsuits have lost.
Yet, being Texans, the battle is far from over.

Posted by Marisa Trevino at 10:31 AM | Permalink

Papers Before College

Jan
21
2008

Senator Hillary Clinton has been on a roll when it comes to delivering snappy sound bytes lately. The most recent one making the rounds of blogs – no surer sign of a quote living on in infamy – is the one about “No woman is illegal.

The Democratic presidential candidate made the comment in Nevada during a campaign stop at a Mexican restaurant when someone shouted that his wife was illegal. It’s the kind of remark that teachers like to use to quiz their students on whether or not they’re keeping up with current events. But for a certain group of kids due to graduate from U.S. high schools this year, Clinton’s memorable quote is nothing more than a string of words with noble intent but no substance.

Wait, isn’t that the definition of politics?

Maybe not (entirely), but for the 65,000 students born outside the borders of the US who find themselves in the throes of senior high school activities: SAT test-taking, shopping for prom, getting fitted for cap and gown, and ordering class rings, the only thing keeping them from realizing their version of the American Dream — working legally, qualifying for in-state college tuition, citizenship — is politics.

For these students, and their families, politics is what has branded them as criminals and to be seen as “illegal” in the eyes of the law.

Though politicians seem to have declared undocumented students as the enemy, there are countless stories of teachers, principals and counselors who are able to see past the petty politics and recognize the talents and future potential of today’s undocumented students for tomorrow’s society.

That’s a good thing since politics is the driving force behind state legislatures passing punitive laws denying kids, whose only sense of home has ever been within our border the ability to their U.S.-born peers onto college campuses. They want undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition, even if the kids traveled through a state’s school system from pre-school through high school.

In Arizona, one of the most aggressive states to deny in-state tuition to undocumented students, 4,000 students were identified in early January as being “unverified” or able to prove they were legal residents. Most of these “unverified” students were enrolled in the state’s junior college system — a sign that college affordability weighs heavily on the minds of these kids.

From a quick scan of Google news headlines, it appears more states want to follow Arizona’s lead. One governor who wants to buck the trend, Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick, is finding that changing the politics of the situation is a lot harder than changing the law.

Before the snowstorm of criticism started blanketing him, Patrick said he and his legal team were weighing whether the state could bypass current state legislation and pass a regulation that would grant in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Needless to say, Patrick is feeling the “cold” reaction to his plan from the state’s Republican Party. One political opponent to Patrick’s idea said he would go as far as “filing legislation to bar illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition” if the governor goes ahead with his idea. You have to wonder if Patrick’s opponents are upholding the law or trying to prove political might?

It’s not until we hear about the efforts of teachers and counselors who work with the very students politicians want to punish for the sins of their parents that we see how much politics is dictating the future of these kids.

A recent Washington Post article cited how a Virginia high school counselor and a couple of parent liaisons, who run a homework club for English language learners, pooled their resources together to help one of their students speed up his resident visa application. Elsewhere in the state, the faculty at Osbourne Park High School in Manassas, Virginia is helping an 18-year-old Salvadoran senior, one of the top students in her class and the recipient of a prestigious faculty award, in one of the ways they feel politicians would understand: In addition to providing the usual scholarship and financial aid guidance the teachers are also investigating ways to get the girl’s name attached to “some sort of bill in Congress.”

Politics — it moves in strange and mysterious ways.

Now, that’s a sound byte.

Posted by Marisa Trevino at 10:23 AM | Permalink




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