Friday, May 30, 2008

Today--May 30--is Memorial Day

Bill Moyers--on honoring our veterans this Memorial Day: a 3 minute 46 second video

[If you'd prefer to simply read the transcript, click HERE.]

I thank eProf for setting me straight on the Memorial Day holiday.

If not for Bill Moyers and Stewart/Colbert, I'd probably throw out my TV set. (But then again, without an occasional weather update, Mr. B.E. might get a little touchy.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!

Alas, recent photos of the border wall under construction demonstrate that it is easier to remove the splinter from your neighbor's eye [e.g. Reagan speaking to Gorbachev] than to remove the plank from one's own.
This wall is simply political posturing; 75% of all "illegal immigrants" arrived in the U.S. legally--and overstayed their visas. Pouring millions of dollars into this environmental disaster is worse than waste, it is creating destruction.

So let's congratulate El Paso (TX) County. This week their commissioners decided to sue the federal government for violating the constitutional rights of border communities and landowners--as well as federal law--in the wall construction. Citing improper negotiations and lack of consultation, the commission claims that the federal government needs to follow laws in the same manner that everyone else is required. (Now there's a novel thought!)

So, I cheer on El Paso, a David challenging Goliath, as county government tackles the feds. This is yet another prophetic stance; I sense a theme has developed this week here on Border Explorer.
To celebrate, take a break with another El Pasoan: Tom Russell, singer and songwriter, performing "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall?" with photography by David Burckhalter.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prophet or Critic?

People think of prophets as fortune-tellers. But actually in the Bible they are the courageous ones who speak the truth. The fortune part follows up naturally: if you call 'em correctly, you can pretty well figure out where things are headed.

My very favorite Catholic sister, Sr. Joan Chittister, juxtaposes prophets with critics:

When we think of prophets, we conjure up images of howling hurts and eyes of steel. What we fail to see in the prophet’s eyes and hear in the prophet’s howl is the rage that comes when, seeing pain, a person stands helpless in its wake. The prophet’s wail is the cry of despair that comes from those who stand in front of a burning building but are powerless to put out the flame. The prophet’s shriek rises out of the angst of helplessness that stops the breath of the living at the bedside of the dying. The prophet does not cry against us; the prophet cries for us.

There is a major difference between a critic and a prophet. Critics stand outside a system and mock it. Prophets remain, clear-eyed and conscientious, inside a sinful system and love it anyway. It is easy to condemn the country, for instance. It is possible to criticize the Church. But it is prophetic to love both Church and country enough to want them to be everything they claim to be—just, honest, free, equal—and then to stay with them in their faltering attempts to do so.

...Neither Church nor state wanted to hear Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton in their pleas for the poor and their prophetic cries for peace, but in the end, it is their messages that expose the secularization of the Church, that haunt it at the turn of every gospel page, that challenge it to this day, and that have marked its best presence in these times.

The function of the prophet is not to destroy. The function of the prophet is to expose whatever cancers fester beneath the surface so that what is loved can be saved while there is yet time.

To claim, then, that to criticize the government is treason, to insist that to criticize the Church is disunity, may be the greatest perfidy and the deepest infidelity of all. It is a prophet’s lot to risk both so that what is worth loving can be made lovable again.
–from “Hosea: Love Without Limit,” Ligourian, 1995

Remind me, please, when I don't speak with love. (I'm afraid that's happening more frequently all the time.) But let's never stop speaking.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ah, Nature! Ah, the Garden!

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Shakespeare

Well, OK, it was not scorn, nor was my response fury. But someone, somewhere suggested that my prior '08 attempt at a garden was reportable to the County Vegetable Cruelty Office.
Sadly, they were right. (sigh!)

So, with wounded but now-pardonable pride, I share a snapshot of my little plot in our community garden. Check out that Iowa soil--a Grant Wood special. We live in an economically distressed neighborhood. That makes our garden special, I think. But then again, isn't every garden special?

Illegal Aliens? Nope, the problem is illegal jobs.

The ICE raid in Iowa this month illustrates that the real chaos in this country is not, as many would have us believe, on the U.S./Mexico border. The anarchy is within corporate America, America of the bottom line, profit-driven America. The problem is illegal jobs, and it's in the heart of our country. Today's example: Agriprocessors, Postville IA.

  • The Agriprocessors plant in Postville enabled employment to 80% of their workforce (of nearly 1000 employees) without proper documentation. A former supervisor reports that the human resources manager laughed when told that three workers had the same social security number. (This same supervisor was fired when he discovered and dismantled a meth lab in the plant. OSHA-approved meth? I think not.)

  • An employee reports that different employees of the company were paid in cash or with different colored checks.

  • These were people paid between $5-6/hour. Iowa's minimum wage is $7.50.

  • Evidence suggests that employees were required to buy their cars from an Agriprocessors supervisor who purchased and titled the cars in two different cities for resale in Postville.

  • The plant's UFCW Union had filed an investigation into alleged exploitation of underaged workers.

Study after study shows that occupations that pay poverty wages are legally substandard. With politicians too cowardly to tackle tough issues, I'm afraid that we, the people, are stuck with a mess inside our borders that's much worse than the mess on our border.

Friday, May 23, 2008

See for yourself: post-ICE raid on Postville, IA

It will take 5 1/2 minutes of your lifetime to watch this report:

Iowa's a small state; so, I know Sr. Mary. We need comprehensive immigration reform. The Washington Post covered the raid with a story and slideshow. "Why," the townspeople ask, "does the government target the workers and not the company?" To date no charges have been filed against Agriprocessors (that I know of). Meanwhile the union claims that important witnesses in a suit filed against the company (because it allegedly hired children!) are being deported. Cooincidence?

Living in Iowa now, I'm privy to info about the raid that doesn't hit the press. Use this address to donate to feed the families that are taking sanctuary in St. Bridget's Church:
Saint Bridget's Hispanic Ministry
Attn. Paul Real
PO BOX 369
Postville, IA. 52162

I'll keep you posted on Postville.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


The producer's comment:
The checkpoint in this video was nearly 50 miles north of the Mexican border, so it would have been utterly pointless in stopping illegal immigration. The real purpose of these checkpoints is to condition Americans to get used to the police state.

My comment:
The checkpoint system does apprehend undocumented immigrants, so I disagree with his first statement.

But perhaps the video shows a double standard in operation. The driver's Caucausian without an Hispanic accent; maybe I could get through a checkpoint using his method. How likely would a U.S. citizen with features of a Mexican or Central American exit the checkpoint so easily?

I won't copy his stunt anytime soon. But henceforth, I'll think about "the police state" whenever I pass through a checkpoint.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Dream in Doubt

Tonight public television airs A Dream in Doubt on the series Independent Lens.

from the promo material:
“A Dream in Doubt” is an immigrant story in a world in which patriotism has morphed into murder. When Rana Singh Sodhi’s brother is killed in America’s first post-9/11 revenge murder, he begins a journey to reclaim his American dream and fight the hate that continues to threaten his community. This intimate, hour-long documentary of one man’s odyssey from persecution in India to embracing America as his homeland proves that courage and hope have the power to overcome hate.

Sorry for the late notice. I've just arrived in my summer/fall residence, and we're moving in--never a fun process. If you can manage some extra TV time tonight (after the "Must-See TV" American Idol Final--cough) this looks like it'll be worth it.
Check your local listings for times. In Iowa it shows tonight at 9 PM and repeats at Midnight. It'll also air May 25 at 11 PM here, so if you miss it tonight you may get another chance.

The trailer:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Exploring the edges

The masthead "explorer" lives on the Border in the U.S. parking lot at the port of entry at Palomas, Mexico.

Exploring on the margin takes some of what it's got:
  • stamina to tough it out
It'll get uncomfortable.
  • flexibility to stretch into the unknown
It's difficult to leave the familiar.

  • willingness to get down, get dirty
An ability to handle inconvenience and discomfort
  • humility: earthiness (of the humus)
Not going to be a glory position for most of us
  • some grit
This is a short list to get the mind started.
When were you on the leading edge? What did it take to get there? To stay there?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Back to the Middle

"Spring Turning" by Grant Wood

My exploration of borders is not a rejection of Midwestern roots. In truth, I'm more in love with the Midwest than ever after our recent road trip back from the US/Mexico border. Even driving dreary Interstate 80 across the state of Iowa was tantamount to entering into a three-dimensional animation of a Grant Wood painting. Mr. Border Explorer aptly remarked that the countryside reminded him of an Andes mint: rich dark chocolate earth bordered by the soft, new green of springtime.

I'm captivated again by the rain, the color, every flowering bush and tree...and the countless small Midwest towns replete with flowers as well as charm.

"Spring in Town" by Grant Wood

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Border issues in the heartland

Although odd to begin a blog with a guest poster, the voice of this schoolteacher from Postville, IA--a town close to my usual stomping grounds--deserves the space. Blogging is about first person reports, after all.

From a teacher at Postville, IA:
Yesterday, our town was raided by 400 FBI agents, ICE agents (formally known as INS), state troopers, and a variety of other agencies. We had helicopters flying overhead for hours, all roads were blocked coming into and going out of Postville, media crews and cameras EVERYWHERE, and basically mass chaos. The federal government had decided to make Postville an example for the rest of the nation to see our supposedly working Homeland Security.

Ironically, as this all transpired, I was at the county courthouse with my Government class, so that they could see first hand how our judicial system works. We got more of a lesson then we were bargaining for. I received calls from the school not to come back to school because I have students they were concerned about. (Yes, they are undocumented students who have been in this district since they were in fourth grade. They speak English clearly, their parents work here in town and pay taxes, have tried to file papers to become legal, but have been denied due to the fact that they do not come from a 'desirable' country.)

I am told after a few hours that I can come back on the school bus, but to expect to be pulled over by the FBI, and I am not to, under any circumstances, let any officer onto the bus. I now have 12 students who are scared as to what will happen, with four students that could possibly be arrested. Basically, I had 20 minutes to get my wits about me and be ready to face ICE or the FBI and tell them to take a hike. Under federal laws, schools and churches are considered sanctuaries, and people can go to them for political refugee. (Think of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.) Although this did nothing to calm my nerves, as I am afraid that I might also be arrested for not cooperating with the law.

We made it back into Postville, only to find that our school is now surrounded by media cameras. I will not make a comment about the news media...I have not much good to say about them at this point. I get to my classroom, to find out that our entire computer network crashed at 10 am (the same time ICE came to Postville). It also has been running off and on today, with an entire computer tech team unable to find out what is wrong. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe our accounts are being scanned. (Big Brother)

After school, all teachers and staff are told to report to the theater. We have 150 students with no parents to go home to. We are told that we need to stay with them until we find out where their parents are at or a relative that will care for them until their parents are found. Many of these kids lost both parents due to the raid and the parents are now sitting in jail in Waterloo, or in the National Cattle Congress Fairgrounds until they are deported. I guess, I don't really care how any of you feel about immigration, we all have our opinions. But I will say, that as a human being and as a parent, I find it disturbing to see little elementary kids crying for their parents and asking you to take them home, and all one can say is, I am sorry, or we are looking for them. By the way, we got no information from ICE as to who they arrested, and whether or not, their parents were being detained. At this point, I just wanted to go home and hug my own kids.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to locate family members, having students 'hide' their personal belongings in classrooms, barns, houses, or where ever, and ward off the media. From what I have heard, we were all over the Midwest news channels and newspapers, with CNN and FOX news also doing stories on us. I think we are on the national news tonight. It was announced that Postville's raid was the largest immigration raid in US History.

Today, I am missing about half of my students. Some have taken off for Chicago, others are hiding in town, some were arrested, and others are at the Catholic Church. I spent the morning helping in the church with food preparation (there are 400 people seeking refugee in the church right now), and also trying to locate items like diapers, food, pillows, blankets, and games for the little kids to play with. From media reports, about 350 people were arrested, with 697 more possible arrests, most of them Guatemalan (not Mexican). Only 57 have been released due to child care or medical reasons. They are currently back with ankle monitors on. Most will be deported.

The town has literally 'shut down'. Businesses are closed, the school is about half empty, and we are now left wondering if we will all have jobs next year. This town was a ghost town 15 years ago, but has managed to build itself back up on the backs of our immigrant workers. I have complained many times about the language barriers I encountered at school, but I have always said that the reason I had a job was because we were the only district that actually was growing and able to keep their staff due to the sheer number of students in the school district. By me working in the Postville School District, I am eligible to have half of my student loans forgiven over a five year time period. I only have one more year left to complete this goal. If we lose half of our students, this will not happen.

What frustrates me the most is that this raid accomplished nothing positive. It has destroyed families, will more than likely close some area businesses, some of us will lose our jobs, and the real estate in the area became worthless overnight. All this in an already struggling economy. I know that I am complaining in this email and it has become a lengthy email too, but everyone who complains about the immigrants 'taking American jobs' don't even want these jobs. Honestly, who wants to work for minimum wage, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week with no overtime, in cold, smelly conditions, gutting chickens or cows? I know that I don't want to do that for a living.

Interestingly enough, my US History students made a direct correlation between what we all witnessed yesterday to our history lesson three weeks ago. We have been studying W.W.II and the Holocaust. I had them view the movie 'Schindler's List' and the things that happened in the movie, with the Nazis rounding up the Jews, having them report their names and families' names, transporting them to unknown places, keeping them in substandard holding areas, and then getting rid of them, was very much like what happened yesterday, with one exception, the US has not practiced the use of genocide.

ICE is today, doing house to house searches of every home and apartment that has a Hispanic name attached to it. It is rather scary to see search teams go from place to place, looking for immigrants. We had agencies at the school a month ago with a subpoena to seize all student and employee files. Any name that sounded remotely Hispanic was flagged. I find this to be a form of racial profiling, and I know that it is happening, because I was already asked three weeks ago to bring in a copy of my birth certificate due to the fact that my maiden name was 'Hispanic' sounding. (de Julio)

How quickly we forget our own histories. Many of our ancestors came here with nothing to their names and very little to survive on. They wanted a fresh start too. Unless they are 100% Native American, your ancestors were also immigrants. So why are we trying to make an example out of those less fortunate? Why not go after the people who really are doing something illegal and wrong? Like drug dealers or child molesters? If we spent as much money on those items as we are currently spending on the War in Iraq (which we are loosing) or building a 700 mile long wall on the Mexican border which is actually 2300 miles long, we would maybe in a better economy that was safe for our families.

Proud not to have voted for George W. Bush in either election,
(name withheld)

Since I can't verify the teacher's name, I realize this post may be viewed as spurious. I have a pretty good sh*t detector, and it didn't go off when I read the letter. You can make your own determination.