Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Texas Can Do Better: Thousands rally today in Austin

Rally of thousands marching in Austin. Photo credit: West Cosgrove

Thousands Reject Anti-immigrant Agenda in the State Legislature
Madison, Wisconsin is not the only state capitol witnessing The People United. Members of the coalition Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) convened today at the State Capitol for a  rally and march to uphold the security of all Texas families as well as the dignity and rights of immigrant families.

To date in this legislative session, extremist Texas legislators have filed more than 60 anti-immigrant, anti-family legislative proposals. These include:

  • the criminalizing of immigrant families and workers in Texas, 
  • mandating local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law, 
  • requiring school officials to report undocumented students, and 
  • denying birth certificates to children born in Texas of undocumented parents.

As part of the “Texas Can Do Better” campaign, thousands of participants converged on Austin, bus loads of Texans from El Paso, Dallas, Ft. Worth, College Station, Houston, Laredo, Lubbock, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley. The day's activities included a march to and a rally at the Capitol as well as visits to legislators.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Radio Message Warns Iowans of Rep. Steve King's Threat to Constitution

A radio campaign launching today (February 14) will ask Iowa listeners to call Rep. Steven King, R-Iowa and urge him to leave the Constitution alone.

Airing on four Iowa stations, the radio spots say that Rep. King's legislative efforts will undermine the Constitution that guarantees citizenship to those born in the United States.

from AlterNet (1/6/11): Birthright citizenship -- that part of the 14th Amendment that automatically grants citizenship to those born on US soil -- is at stake in a new bill introduced yesterday by Steve King (R-Iowa). The Tea Party rep wants to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to “requires that only the children of citizens, legal immigrants permanently living in the country or immigrants in the military, be granted citizenship,” reports Politico.
According to the Reverend David L. Ostendorf of the Center for New Community, "King’s actions to undermine the Constitution reach far beyond his Iowa district. His actions affect every community and state in the nation. Millions of Americans would be caught up in a government bureaucracy to verify their birthplace. It would be a government nightmare."

The radio campaign will air on stations WHO-AM (Des Moines), KFAB-AM (Council Bluffs/Omaha), KSCI-AM (Sioux City) and KWMT-AM (Fort Dodge).

The Center for New Community is a national organization representing many faith traditions. It works with local leaders and institutions to defend democracy, empower communities and promote equality.

According to Ostendorf: "The people of Iowa and the nation need to be concerned. Representative King treats the Constitution as if it is a document to be edited and changed according to his own personal view of the world."

No citizenship of any particular nation or Congressional district is required to participate in this Facebook page: Steve King, U.S. Representative from Iowa's 5th District, is a Noncompoop. Anyone with a registered Facebook account may join.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reverse racial profiling?

Because my husband chose a Mexican bus line for his trip to Denver, he wasn’t surprised to discover when he boarded that he was the only Anglo on the bus.

We’ve taken this line often, and we like it. And we’re always the only Anglos.

Every bus to Denver passes through the 50 mile checkpoint north of El Paso. These Border Patrol checkpoints are like a “second border” found on all the major highways and interstates. All traffic must stop, and every person must declare their citizenship (or show their documents) to the Border Patrol agents. Usually there are drug dogs sniffing around, too.

At the checkpoint, the agents boarded this bus and one of them announced loudly: “Everyone take out your documents and be ready to show them to us.”

Passengers started burrowing through their things. My husband, sitting toward the back, dutifully removed his driver’s license.

The agents filed down the bus aisle, checking quietly—and individually--with each person.
Eventually one of them reached my husband and saw that he was prepared with his license in hand.

The officer smiled kindly.

“Oh, no!” he protested, quietly. “We didn’t mean you.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My visit to an immigration detention center (Part 1)

As you perhaps know, immigration detention is big business. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spends lots of money--around $1.7 billion per year--to detain undocumented immigrants. But few of us see how that money is used. So when I got the chance to visit a detention center this week, I jumped at it.

After a two hour tour, I’m no expert, but—(ahem)—I always have a few observations and opinions to share. Today is no exception. Take them with a grain of salt. A lot of info whizzed by me in two hours, and I could have misunderstood any of it.

I joined a group of college students who had arranged to visit the El Paso County Correctional Facility, one local place immigrants are detained. First important note: this is a big source of income for the county, since the federal government pays out $67 per day per detainee.

Most detainees are simple, humble “Jose and Marias” who were hoping to get a job in our slaughter houses, or cleaning our toilets, or harvesting our vegetables in 100 degree heat. [The Border Patrol told me 90% of their apprehensions have no criminal records.] But, those who are unlucky and get caught, are housed here in El Paso with those who face federal criminal charges.

As you’d expect, life in prison is highly regimented. This is a “maximum detention facility” which means that it can house the worst offenders—murder, rape and sexual assault. The intake process requires a complete physical search, including body cavities. Anything you bring with you is itemized and stored. However, if you are caught by the border patrol, your belongings are kept “at the bridge” [I presume that means at ICE headquarters in El Paso] and you’ve got just 30 days to petition to get them back.

Detainees who are determined to be “welfare” inmates—meaning they have no money in their account after a couple weeks—receive all their weekly supplies in a business envelope. This contains a few stamps and envelops, a traveler’s sized toothpaste and mini-toothbrush, and bar soap (used also as shampoo). They get a little laundry soap every other week.

“The food is bad here,” our tour guide frankly admitted. “It is not good.” But every detainee gets 1600 calories a day, divided into three meals: at 4 AM (!), at 9 AM and 3 PM. The students had some trouble understanding breakfast served at 4 AM [it helps the schedule to serve it then]. The cellblock goes dark from 10 PM until 6 AM (however, lights are turned on briefly for breakfast.)

Detainees are held in the same facility that holds the chronically imprisoned: those who are “institutionalized,” who can’t live in the outside world and, thus, recycle in and out of prison. Many prisoners are mentally ill, some of them seriously. The tour officer told of inmates who eat their own feces. Many try to commit suicide. Sexual assault happens. Anything can happen. The guards monitor the cell blocks every hour and remote cameras monitors watch the secured hallways. It is not a nice world.

---------------------- And this comment (reader response from Dava Castillo, with her permission) makes a worthy conclusion.:

The criminalization of illegal immigrants puts them in the same category as the criminalization of drug users. Non-violent offenders are housed with the violent. Nothing good can come from this. The jails and prisons have become the de facto mental hospitals and rehab centers. This is problematic for Americans as well as illegal immigrants. 

The prevailing concept of "out of sight, out of mind" is at work here. Placating the political entities by getting the so-called "undesirables" off the streets instead of dealing with the social issues prevents any real progress towards reasonable and humane detention. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

U.S. undocumented immigrant population holds stable

The undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. remained virtually unchanged across the space of a year at the end of the last decade.
Mexican immigrants compose majority of undocumented immigrants.
There were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in March 2010, according to new estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, roughly the same as the year before.
Unauthorized immigrants made up 3.7% of the nation's population in 2010.
The number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation's workforce--8 million in March 2010—did not change from the 2009 estimate either.  They made up 5.2% of the labor force.

The number of children born to at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent in 2009 was 350,000.They comprised 8% of all U.S. births, essentially the same as a year earlier.
Some other key points from the new report are:
    • The decline in the population of unauthorized immigrants from its peak in 2007 appears due mainly to a decrease in the number from Mexico. Mexicans are still the largest group of unauthorized immigrants, 58% of the total.
    • The number of unauthorized immigrants decreased from 2007 to 2010 in Colorado, Florida, New York and Virginia.
    • Bucking the national trend, the combined unauthorized immigrant population increased in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas from 2007 to 2010.
    • Although the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. is below 2007 levels, it has tripled since 1990, when it was 3.5 million and grown by a third since 2000, when it was 8.4 million.

Why did these changes occur? We don’t know for sure. There are many possible factors.
  • Recovery from the economic recession has been slow and unemployment remains high.
  • We’ve also seen important changes in the level of immigration enforcement and in enforcement strategies, not only by the federal government but also at state and local levels.
  • Immigration also is influenced by conditions in the sending countries. That analysis is beyond the scope of this study.
For more information: The report, "Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010," written by Jeffrey S.Passel and D'Vera Cohn, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center's website, www.pewhispanic.org.