Thursday, September 25, 2014

Immigration Take 2: An Update on the Influx

This sermon was given on Sunday, 21 September, by Emily P. 

Children's book: Peace Begins with You by Katherine Scholes

Reading 1: 

from Enrique's Journey: The Story of A Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother by Sonia Nazario, 2006.

pg. 49-51
      "When Enrique's mother left, he was a child. Six months ago, the first time he set out to find her, he was still a callow kid. Now he is a veteran of a perilous pilgrimage by children, many of whom come looking for their mothers and travel any way they can. The thousands who ride freight trains must hop between seven and thirty trains to get through Mexico. The luckiest make it in a month. Others, who stop to work along the way, take a year or longer.
      Some go up to five days without eating. Their prize possessions are scraps of paper, wrapped in plastic, often tucked into a shoe. On the scraps of paper are telephone numbers: their only way to contact their mothers. Some do not have even that.
      None of the youngsters has proper papers. Many are caught by the Mexican police or by la migra, the Mexican immigration authorities, who take them south to Guatemala. Most try again.
      Like many others, Enrique has made several attempts. 
      The first: He set out from Honduras with a friend, José del Carmen Bustamante. They remember traveling thirty-one days and about a thousand miles through Guatemala into the state of Veracruz in central Mexico, where la migra captured them on top of a train and sent them back to Guatemala on what migrants call El Bus de Lágrimas, the Bus of Tears. These buses make as many as eight runs a day, deporting more than 100,000 unhappy passengers every year. 
      The second: Enrique journeyed by himself. Five days and 150 miles into Mexico, he committed the mistake of falling asleep on top of a train with his shoes off. Police stopped the train near the town of Tonalá to hunt for migrants, and Enrique had to jump off. Barefoot, he could not run far. He hid overnight in some grass, then was captured and put on the bus back to Guatemala. 
     The third: After two days, police surprised him while he was asleep in an empty house near Chahuites, 190 miles into Mexico. They robbed him, he says, and then turned him over to la migra, who put him, once more, on the bus to Guatemala. 
      The fourth: After a day and twelve miles, police caught him sleeping on top of a mausoleum in a graveyard near the depot in Tapachula, Mexico, known as the place where a migrant woman had been raped and, two years before that, another had been raped and stoned to death. La migra took Enrique back to Guatemala.
      The fifth: La migra captured him as he walked along the tracks in Querétaro, north of Mexico City. Enrique was 838 miles and almost a week into his journey. He had benn stung in the face by a swarm of bees. For the fifth time, immigration agents shipped him back to Guatemala.
       The sixth: He nearly succeeded. It took him more than five days. He crossed 1,564 miles. He reached the Rio Grande and actually saw the Untied States. He was eating alone near some railroad tracks when migra agents grabbed him. They sent him to a detention center called El Corralón, the Corral, in Mexico City. The next day they bused him for fourteen hours, all the way back to Guatemala.
       The bus unloaded him back across the Río Suchiate in the rugged frontier town of El Carmen. The river marks the Guatemalan border, just as the Rio Grande defines the Mexican border to the north. A sign in block letters on top of a hill says BIENVENIDOS A GUATEMALA.
       It was as if he had never left."

Reading 2:

Guerrillas of Peace on the Air: Pacifica Radio commentaries, reports and other works which examine and promote the ideology of peace by Blase Bonpane 
page 18-19

SICSAL Meeting In Guatemala
February 20, 1996

    "I recently attended a meeting in Guatemala which was truly upbeat. I am struck by the sense of empowerment of people living in such poor and oppressive places. But part of the re-entry crisis is to once again confront the myth of powerlessness which is so common in our own country.
     Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú was there, a Guatemalan human rights attorney who had been in exile as long as I can remember--and some of the world's most progressive bishops. The group is called SICSAL (Secretariado Internacional Cristiano de Solidaridad con los Pueblos de América Latina, Oscar A. Romero), or the International Christian Secretariate in Solidarity with the People of Latin America, Oscar A. Romero. Do not let the word Christian frighten you. This is not the so-called "Christian coalition" of the United States. This group is self-identified as macro-ecumenical, which means they are open to all perspectives on religion and non-religion. The focal point of SICSAL is solidarity with the people and especially the poor. 
    Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristóbal de las Casas serves as president of this hemispheric organization. We were in Guatemala to identify moral and ethical problems in the hemisphere and to look for solutions.
    The first moral imperative is the campaign to cancel Latin America's indebtedness to the international banks. We wish to accomplish this by the year 2000. Such debts cannot be paid and should not be continued. For every dollar invested in Latin America during the twentieth century, three dollars of raw materials have been extracted. 
    Second was to study more deeply the fanatical ideology which is being imposed on poor countries by an international clique of corporate capital. Alternatives to this centralized and anti-solidarity model were identified. Many of the stated alternatives are in the form of cooperatives with local decision making. Models established by the indigenous communities are excellent examples of cooperativism and communitarianism.
   Opposition to the principles of neo-liberal corporate capital were clear:

   No, to structural adjustment policies of the international monetary fund and the world bank.
   No, to the devaluation of local currencies as a condition for loans.
   No, to the privatization of schools, hospitals and social programs.
   No, to the use of poor countries as exporters of food while their own people go hungry. 
   Yes, to the removal of United States military bases from Panama, Cuba, Japan and many other countries.

Resounding support was given for displaced and migrant people with ringing opposition to California's Proposition 187 and the militarization of the United States border. Our support for the implementation of peace accords in Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico was unanimous as was our support for indigenous autonomy. 
     Everyone was in their right mind. Therefore, everyone supported the elimination of the United States' ancient act of war against the Cuban people; the embargo and the blockade conducted by nine foolish United States presidents against an island of delightful people. 
     As usual the ideas coming from the poor express the solidarity of one family. Solidarity means we care about each other. The globalization policies imposed on us by international corporate capital are anti-solidarity, anti-people and anti-humane. We oppose them on moral and ethical grounds.
     This is truly liberation theology. Such macro-ecumenical theology is not dead. It is the future of the spiritual quest of people throughout the world. What was proclaimed at the Guatemala meeting applies equally to the United States, whose great people have seen their country made into a Banana Republic by the newts in power."

Sermon: Immigration Take 2: An Update on the Influx, by Emily P

This sermon is a two-parter. I was asked to give an update on what's been happening with the "influx" and the UACs and why it hasn't been as prominent in the media lately. Then, I'm going to offer some suggestions about how to talk with people who aren't really informed about immigration, from immigrants stealing jobs to parents being irresponsible in bringing or letting their children make the dangerous journey to the United States. "Immigration" is a complex topic, and I am focusing more on the Unaccompanied Alien Children from Central America (specifically Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, which is where most of the kids are coming from) and Mexico. 

The number of UACs entering the US has decreased recently. Shelters are no longer operating at capacity, like they were earlier in the summer. I think the UAC situation isn’t in the news as much because the numbers aren’t as astonishing. I still see some articles about how schools are handling new immigrant children or about militias in the RGV who are interfering with border patrol operations.

There is anecdotal evidence that very few Honduran children are in the shelters in the valley. Perhaps some political pundits will say that it’s due to the border being more secured or a tougher stance on immigration. I worry that people will think the issue has been solved. Well, the media attention on overcrowded BP stations might have gone away, but the situations in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have not improved. 

On August 1st, the White House issued a press release on the government-wide response to influx of Central American Migrants at Southwest Border. In the diplomatic efforts section, they outline all of the programs designed to keep kids from emigrating in the first place. Unfortunately, I doubt that these programs address root causes. The names of the programs are groan worthy—my favorite is “Operation Rescue Angels” in Guatemala. Sounds like a biker gang, right? The “Angels” received training and funds from CBP. Honduras is also broadcasting information about the dangers of migration on 120 radio stations. In July, the government of El Salvador initiated a 1.2 million media campaign, and the second phase of it is supposed to “highlight government efforts to reduce migration push factors.” Well, the 6 months of the campaign hasn’t ended, but the “push factors” haven’t been sufficiently reduced, probably because it takes more time to solve such problems. Honduran spokesman for UNICEF, Hector Espinal said that “The governments in Central America need to wake up now to this crisis. They need to work harder to reduce the violence here. If they don’t, then more children will be going north, however many police and soldiers are in their path.”

I think Espinal makes a good point; I’ve heard that the kids who have come recently tend to have worse stories, in general, than those who came during the influx. Makes sense—they are desperate enough to leave that it doesn’t matter how many millions are spent on media campaigns.

And by the way, these kids in the US still don’t have court appointed counsel, which means they are not guaranteed an attorney to represent them in immigration and removal proceedings. The lucky ones work with a pro bono, non-profit, or have a private lawyer. While not all kids would qualify for legal relief, it is estimated that at least 40% would.

Part 2:
I watched an Aljazeera America TV series on immigration called Borderland. I highly recommend it. I think it is a good exercise or at least starting point for dismantling myths about immigration. The premise is that 6 Americans who feel very strongly about immigration and the border participate in a month long journey that starts in a Tucson morgue. They are paired up and then “follow the footsteps” of the three migrants who died in the desert. One is a 13 year old Guatemalan boy, a young woman from Chiapas, Mexico, and a woman who had lived in Des Moines but was deported after living there for 9 years. Her mother had escaped the U.S.-funded civil war in El Salvador. The show participants visit the migrants’ families and friends, ride la Bestia (the dangerous cargo train that many migrants use to travel through Mexico), and spend a couple of days in the Sonoran desert. While the show touched a little on the US’ military and economic involvement in these countries, it didn’t go far enough. I thought it was particularly telling that a couple of the participants expressed that the US had nothing to do with this problem of immigration, and who are we to blame that these immigrants are pursuing the American Dream? I wish it had mentioned farmers poisoning themselves because their farms couldn’t compete with the US corn dumped in the Mexican market…NAFTA and Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine is a topic for another day, that is, if I haven’t depressed you guys too much already. 

But were people able to shift their staunch beliefs? The more conservative Americans grew more compassionate and realized that perhaps they had oversimplified the “immigration problem.” The 3 liberal participants acknowledged the importance of listening to those with opposing views and that even those who would deport their neighbors have a warm heart.

One of the participants is a farmer from Washington who is typically conservative but realizes that the US economy is dependent on low-wage labor and that his farm workers certainly aren’t taking jobs from native-born Americans. According to the American Farm Bureau, the US economy would lose $9 billion a year in agricultural production without guest workers. The UFW (United Farmworkers) has a campaign, several years running, called “take our jobs” in which they invite US citizens and legal residents to become farmworkers. For those who say those jobs could go to US citizens, have them sign up on 

What about the need for the border wall? I imagine there are mixed feelings here. Everyone is aware of the stash houses and how the RGV’s economy is intimately tied to drug money. But others might remember the days when there wasn’t a wall and you could spend the day in Matamoros without worrying if you’d be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are plenty of people in the US that think the border needs to be better secured. One of the participants in the show was astonished to see gaps in the border wall. He thought it was inexcusable for smugglers and migrants to be able to cross through the mountainous areas in Arizona. The other weekend I sat on the shores of Falcon Lake and looked at the people playing in the water while BP trucks perched on the hills. Looking over the water, I wanted to ask a border-wall supporter (for lack of a better term) if they thought it was feasible to build a fence through a lake. I remember a professor telling me during my Border Studies off campus program that the wall doesn’t stop the drugs—within days of the wall going up, the cartels had manufactured slim packages that could slip through the bars and people invented helicopters with lawnmower engines to fly over the wall to drop off a package. Yes, CBP seizes drugs and I am fully aware of the harm that is connected to the drug trade. Trust me, I got mad at plenty of friends in college who said “oh, no, don’t worry, this pot is from a friend in Colorado. I’m not supporting the cartels. See, this pot is a different color than the stuff that comes from Mexico.” But going back to my point, I’m not convinced that the border wall puts a significant dent in the drug trade. Out of curiosity, you could ask your pro-border militarization friends “hey, on TV I see drug busts all the time and we have, how many thousand agents in this sector, AND a fence. And driving along the border, I see so many enforcement vehicles that I lose count. What do you think is the solution?”

So maybe your friend agrees that the border wall doesn’t stop drugs, but what about stopping people? You can explain that the wall locations along the border are strategic. They were designed to funnel crossings away from populous areas into deserts and dangerous terrain. It is deterrence by death. It’s also had the unintended consequence of increasing immigrants’ length of stay in the US, because it isn’t as feasible to cross multiple times.

But think about it, imagine you are a Central American woman escaping from a gang member who told you he would make you his woman. If you stay, you will be killed, whether you refuse or not. It isn’t like in the US where you can just move across the country. This woman has been raped on the train (La Bestia)…I’ve read 80-90% (depending on the source) of women are sexually assaulted on their journey north. Is a border wall or the threat of dying in the desert really going to make her decide to turn around? 

One of the heart rendering scenes from the Borderland series is when a group of rural Guatemalan school children are asked if they know someone in the US. Nearly every child raises their hand. They are asked if they want to go to the US someday. Again, almost all raise their hands, giggling. Then they are asked if they know how dangerous it is. Their faces change. What can happen? A little boy says, “you can get lost,” another says “bad people hurt you.” A girl says sometimes, in the desert, you get really thirsty. You could die.” 

One of my friend’s relatives just doesn’t understand why these kids are coming to the US. A participant on the Borderland show thought the parents were incredibly irresponsible to let a child leave with a coyote. This friend of mine had a great response. She merely said, “imagine for a moment what would make you send your child away, say to Canada. How bad would things have to be?” 

Sometimes I get the impression that some people are just supposed to accept their lot in life, the suffering, the life they were born into. You could say to someone who takes their luck for granted, “you were fortunate to be born here, but what if you were born elsewhere? Are you just supposed to accept (for example) that gangs are trying to recruit you at age 12 and that they suffer no qualms in raping your sister or killing your family if you refuse?” Some of the UACs that come to the US grew up in poverty, were never threatened and just want to see their parents. Others have parents who can’t afford to feed them. A UAC said, “one day we had tortillas. The other day we had beans. We never had them together. My mom never could get enough food. A lot of times we’d eat instead of her.” Others certainly will die if they stay in their home country or are returned.

When we are talking with people who don’t share our viewpoints, it is important to keep reflecting the questions back to them. Keep engaging. 

I want to leave you with this quotation from a 16 year old migrant Osman. He was caught in Mexico and sent back to Honduras. He asked a reporter “Why are they trying to stop us? I am just trying to survive. There is nothing for me here. My mom is in Miami and I haven’t seen her for four years.”

Sources/recommended reading: (El Salvador’s Civil War)