Thursday, April 03, 2008

Refocusing The Immigration Debate

Can't seem to shake off this writer's block that has ascended from the ground like mist, through my feet, and up the cuerpo until finally reaching its goal of paralyzing the ability for my brain, heart and fingers to perform a synergistic miracle. During the day, I find myself simply reading instead of writing. By night, gazing up at the stars instead of creating, hoping that the silver sentinels will finally whisper their secrets to me.

Perhaps I'm thinking too much. I've done a lot of that in the past couple of weeks. Since returning from the New Organizing Institute's Summit and Training in D.C. last month, one thing has burned like an ember in my consciousness. It was something that I finally said out loud while I was networking with other bloggers: my site inadvertently became an "immigration blog" and I had somehow become an "immigration blogger". How the sheol did that happen?

Back in the days of 2004 and 2005, when we were still chiseling posts on granite, there was virtually nothing being written about the issue. At least not anything that resonated with the messaging and movements I had/have been involved with here in the frontera-lands. I felt there needed to be more scrutiny applied to the land grabs, law waiving and general disregard by the D.C. system to the opinions of those of us who call the desert southwest - home.

Plus, the daily drumbeat of news regarding human remains and/or bloated bodies being found in remote and sometimes not-so-remote areas of my state, vandalized water stations in the hottest region of the country, vigilante movements that harass and demean supposed invaders (or those who conveniently look like them), lawmakers and renegade sheriffs who join them in hateful and paranoid solidarity, increased checkpoints and armed military personnel that continues to appear farther and farther away from the actual border, etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, all of those things are dealt with using a reactionary/defensive posture. It becomes exhausting, especially as a Mexican American/Xicano/Latino/Hijo de la Mestizaje. There is no way to tackle issues like this without centralizing the racial and cultural oppression that the nativist movement has injected like poison in the veins of the discussion. It is a direct affront to my personhood and family's legacy when irrational measures are considered or passed that attempt to strip automatic citizenship rights for children born in this region of tierra, English-only measures are passed with spite while funding for English-learning programs are eviscerated, and media of all forms conflate the terms Hispanic/Latino with illegal/drug smuggler/invader/burden on social services/squatter/criminal.

The double-edged sword effect that must be dealt with, however, is that when immigration is pigeonholed as a "Latino issue" - building solidarity and allies is harder than the Chinese steel they're using to build the Great Wall of America™. Shifting the focus to human rights allows us to work across all imaginary borders we've built up between those of the bipedal persuasion.

While noting the Government’s interest in addressing some of the problems related to the human rights of migrants, the Special Rapporteur has serious concerns about the situation of migrants in the country, especially in the context of specific aspects of deportation and detention policies, and with regard to specific groups such as migrant workers in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, migrant farm workers, and migrants in detention facilities.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to highlight the fact that cases of indefinite detention - even of migrants fleeing adverse conditions in their home countries - were not uncommon according to testimonies he received. The Special Rapporteur learned from human rights advocates about the lack of due process for non-citizens in United States deportation proceedings and their ability to challenge the legality or length of their detention; as well as about the conditions of detained asylum-seekers, long-term permanent residents and parents of minors who are United States citizens. In some cases immigrant detainees spend days in solitary confinement, with overhead lights kept on 24 hours a day, and often in extreme heat and cold. According to official sources, the United States Government detains over 230,000 people a year - more than three times the number of people it held in detention nine years ago.

The Special Rapporteur notes with dismay that xenophobia and racism towards migrants in the United States has worsened since 9/11. The current xenophobic climate adversely affects many sections of the migrant population, and has a particularly discriminatory and devastating impact on many of the most vulnerable groups in the migrant population, including children, unaccompanied minors, Haitian and other Afro-Caribbean migrants, and migrants who are, or are perceived to be, Muslim or of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.

The Special Rapporteur notes that the United States lacks a clear, consistent, long-term strategy to improve respect for the human rights of migrants. Although there are national laws prohibiting discrimination, there is no national legislative and policy framework implementing protection for the human rights of migrants against which the federal and local programmes and strategies can be evaluated to assess to what extent the authorities are respecting the human rights of migrants.

In light of numerous issues described in this report, the Special Rapporteur has come to the conclusion that the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country (according to Government census data from 2006) a national priority, using a comprehensive and coordinated national policy based on clear international obligations. The primary task of such a national policy should be to recognize that, with the exception of certain rights relating to political participation, migrants enjoy nearly all the same human rights protections as citizens, including an emphasis on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable groups.

Jorge Bustamante, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants
March 2008

Amen to all that.

So how do we do it without having to be on the defensive all the time?

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