Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dysfunctional Bracero Program

Remember George W Bush promoting a "guest worker program" some years ago so non-citizen workers could legally enter the United States? He never produced a huge program. But the U.S. actually had a major program during World War II, to supply laborers to replace the front line soldiers: the Bracero Program.

Thousands of Mexican Braceros left homes and families to harvest U.S. fields and work on U.S. railroads.
Many of them didn't see a little clause in the fine print of their contracts specifying that they'd get the final 10% of their measly pay after they returned to Mexico. This was intended to give them an incentive to return to Mexico, whether they needed it or not. But it became their nightmare. Although the Bracero Program itself ended in 1964, the ex-Braceros still have not received the money they earned!

Yesterday-January 28--was the final day of a window of opportunity the Mexican government gave the ex-Braceros to apply to receive the rest of their wages. By now, many Braceros are elderly and infirm from the toll their labors took on their bodies. Others have died, leaving widows and descendants who are among the worlds' poorest people. I assisted at the final day of registration, appalled that these humble ones are required to prove with original documents, including pay slips from decades past, their identities to "apply" for their own money. I hope to get access to the photos I took yesterday and post a few of the good ones. The faces--well, the whole experience reminded me of registering the homeless to vote back in October. Just to interact with the people enlivened my spirit and sent me home on a "natural high."

I'm embarrassed that my country had a hand in taking advantage of the Braceros, many of whom had very simple educations or were functionally illiterate. Bi-national Border leaders published an open letter to the Mexican government yesterday demanding an extension of the registration deadline a simplification of the application process. That letter claims that of thousands of applicants from the years 2003 and 2006 only 300 ever received their valid claim! Clearly the Braceros were used and are now abused.

There are two important lessons here. First, we must demand justice for the Braceros. The United States should intervene if necessary to rectify the situation and advocate for workers who served their needs for so many years. And, just as importantly, we need to learn from the past and not repeat past injustices. Should the United States reinstate a guest worker program, it needs to be highly regulated to ensure the laborers are treated with dignity and respect.

P.S. Guess what Bush & Co pushed through in December 2008? I got an email from the United Farmworkers today informing me that they revised to the federal guest worker visa program to weaken wage protections and housing standards for temporary agricultural workers, the people who already have far too few protections.

People, we've got some work to do!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blogger Meet-up!

I even get excited reading about other people's blogger meet-ups, so you can imagine how much it means to me when I'm in one! Got an email Saturday that my blogger friend Steev of Project Steev was in town. I "met" Steev last summer through Google when I was searching out images on the topic of the murdered women of Juarez (femicides).

It turned out he's a filmmaker (!) who did a documentary on the subject. It turned out he spent a bit of time in Bolivia. It turned out that his birthday is one half year apart from mine. It turned out that his mom lives in the adjoining city in my Iowan quad-city metro area. Steev is a film activist, recently completed a film opposing the Border Wall for the Sierra Club of AZ:

I was dying to meet him. "Come on over for Sunday breakfast," I chirped into his cellphone.

Steev was wonderful. "I think breakfast is an important meal," he observed as Mr. B.E and Steev and I plowed into an Iowa farmhouse-style breakfast: bacon and eggs and fried potatoes. He gifted us with the documentary that led me to him: On the Edge--The Femicides in Ciudad Juarez. And the new one (clip embedded above): Wild Verses Wall.

His new webproject is News on the Line. It's on my blog roll now.

After breakfast, Steev toured through our residence and spoke to the director of Project Puente about the work of his nonprofit. Then (gulp) Steev asked Mr. B.E. and I if we'd interview for him. So, who knows--we may end up in a documentary someday: border exploring goes video!

And if it does, you can say you had already heard that might be in the works.Thanks for the visit, Steev! Hope to see you again soon.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chertoff's Retirement Party in the News!

Well, my interest in this subject pretty much proves that I don't have much of a life! However, I did track down some news coverage of the party, it was all pretty local. I still think this whole concept is hilarious! Here's the post and link:

Here is a nice little local TV news clip that will give you a sense of our Brownsville party. We're waiting on the official photos and video and will post soon. Take a look:

http://www.valleyce news/video. aspx?id=245142

President Bush showed up to give our 9 foot tall Chertie a send off, and there was the requisite shoe-throwing. Then the (actual) mayor of Brownsville Pat Ahumada presented Chertoff with his novelty oversized deportation order. The guests enjoyed Chertoff cake and playing the "What will Chertoff Do Next?" spin game for a chance to win a bottle No Border Wall Adios, Chertoff AMF Ale.

I think all of our press was regional, but we did get several calls from national outlets who are interested in doing stories in the RGV, so I think news of the event stirred interest. In addition the Brownsville Herald article about the parties was featured in the Congressional Quarterly's email newsblast, so hopefully that generated some awareness in Congress ahead of the Napolitano hearings.

So who says justice and peace people don't have a sense of humor? It really takes one to keep on slogging through the ongoing onslaught of muck this life dishes out. See ya later, Chertie. Or not!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's Michael Chertoff's Retirement Party: The Border Says "Adios!"

Communities along the Texas border are throwing Retirement Parties this weekend celebrating the end of Michael Chertoff’s tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security. Chertoff is the man who drove a wall through the borderlands. In the process, he condemned hundreds of Texas landowners’ property and waived dozens of environmental (and other) laws. His tenure imprisoned families of immigrants and thoroughly messed up the Hurricane Katrina response. The Border is ready to say “adios” to Chertoff, whose concrete and steel border wall will remain as a reminder of his "accomplishments."

Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition emphasizes that this event, celebrated in various cities along the border, is a true party and not a protest. Chertoff himself is not expected to attend (ahem).

The Brownsville TX Retirement Party tonight will include poetry, live music, a retirement cake decorated with Chertoff's picture, and the traditional breaking of the Chertoff piƱata! There will be a Chertoff’s Wheel of Fortune, a raffle, and a possible "visit" from still-President Bush.

The latest word from El Paso is that the Chertoff retirement party is postponed here; I was quite disappointed. We await further notice.

Reports are the Associated Press will cover the Chertoff Retirement Party event. Watch for any info in your local newspaper and let me know if you see coverage, OK? Thanks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Bankers Rule

Peter Maurin was the brain trust behind Dorothy Day. (Not to say that she needed more brains!) A French philosopher, he wrote simple essay/poems that are punchy for their pith and still relevant. Here's one:

When Bankers Rule by Peter Maurin, 1877-1949

Modern society has made the bank account the standard of values.
When the bank account becomes the standard of values
the banker has the power.
When the banker has the power
the technician has to supervise the making of profits.
When the banker has the power
the politician has to assure law and order in the profit-making system.
When the banker has the power
the educator trains students in the technique of profit making
When the banker has the power
the clergyman is expected to bless the profit-making system or to join the unemployed.
When the banker has the power
the Sermon on the Mount is declared unpractical.
When the banker has the power
we have an acquisitive, not a functional society.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

This pushed America to the brink of financial disaster...

I'm no longer your mainstream Catholic. Our Sunday Visitor is a mainstream Catholic tabloid-style weekly newspaper often sold at mainstream Catholic parish churches after the weekend liturgies. Maybe I'm more mainstream than I thought, or maybe the Visitor isn't as mainstream as I thought. Because this reprint of one of their articles says a lot in a few paragraphs! Check this out:

What's pushed America to the brink of financial disaster was not all those illegals coming and "stealing" our jobs as busboys and janitors and underage laborers in meat-processing plants.

This was an inside job. It was made in America. It was all the hotshot brainiacs, our best college grads, the brokers and bankers pulling in bonuses that weren't just in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions.

These were the people who have been most blessed by this country's abundance, and these were the people most driven by greed. They weren't minimum-wage workers trying to put food on their table and give their children an opportunity to obtain a high school diploma. They weren't the day laborers on the city streets hoping for a job or the field hands bent double from hoeing the weeks on corporate farms.

These were the people who drove Manhattan delirious come bonus time, the folks who bid up the prices on luxury condos, who went to restaurants competing to serve the most expensive hamburgers in America, who vacationed at the toniest resorts and who, if they had children, sent them to only the best prep schools.

These were the people whose patterns of consumption were lauded in the Style section of The New York Times, the same paper that now excoriates them on the editorial pages.

These were the people who saw themselves as "Masters of the Universe, " and the irony is that some of these same folks--now working for the government--are supposed to be crafting the nation's exit strategy from this financial debacle.

We don't know where this will all end. The number of people who have lost their houses and lost their jobs is already a scandal, but what the future holds, we don't know. Will other financial institutions fall to earth? Will the taxpayers have to pay even more to cover up the bad decisions of the best and the brightest?

And will our nation with its trillions of dollars worth of IOUs to countries like China and Saudi Arabia--both made unbelievably wealthy by our voracious consumption beyond our means--have the fortitude to stick to our promises, pay our bills and not sacrifice the poorest among us while doing so?

Greed has permeated our society. In most cases, it led us to make some dumb financial decisions based on bad assumptions, and the results will be defaults on home mortgages and car loans and credit-card debt. But the greed of those most materially blessed who were leading some of our most powerful financial companies is what is most shameful, and has done the most harm.

I know people who are in this country illegally. They pay their taxes, they work two or three jobs at minimum wage and send money back home to support impoverished family members there.

Yes, they broke the law. Yes, a country has the right to enforce its laws and protect its borders.

But Americans have taken their eyes off the ball. We have not been done in by the strangers among us. We have been done in by our own.

Never has it been more true: We have met the enemy, and he is us.