Friday, July 13, 2007

Appleton - Day 5 (Thursday p.m.)

We had technical problems with the simultaneous translation equipment in Appleton. This was devastating to the flow of the event.

About 100 people arrived. It was during the testimony of our first speaker, Marta a young girl in her early twenties, that the PA system began to interfere with the simultaneous translation. Marta’s story is a student story. She immigrated as a child, grew up in Wisconsin with her family and was educated in here. She is perfectly bilingual, was active in her high school community and graduated with honors in Neenah. She wanted to go to a University and was accepted. She is undocumented. She does not qualify for in state tuition. She cannot take out loans. She went to community college instead. She could do better. It is a waste of talent. What do we gain by holding back these smart students? Immigrant children were thrown into a new environment with new challenges without making that choice and they are thriving. How much would society benefit from more people who are smart and hardworking but also have perspective on how to persevere, how to overcome and know what it is like to be different?

We talk a lot about diversity these days, but the approach is so often tokenistic. It is as if we want to make them more visible so long as we do not need to afford them more opportunities. The fastest route to class mobilization is education. One of, if not the most important, approaches to class integration is more economic equality- which comes with education. Marta is intelligent, composed, and charismatic. Moreover, she is young, fresh and ambitious. She is the future. Shame on us for putting a limit on the power she will have to shape what that future looks like.

I heard her story during the afternoon and I know how powerful it is. Sadly, much of the value of the story and the other testimonies like it were overpowered by my frantic quest to find the source of the technical problem and fix it. I zipped back and forth on stage, I sent other people up to stage and I’m afraid the chaos was not only distracting but gave the perception of an unorganized and unprofessional team. A handful of people walked out. This is regrettable because when doing a forum like this, especially when addressing sensitive issues and creating a comfortable open space for dialogue is essential.

Technical problems aside, the audience participation section was valuable. Some commented on the disorder and others on mixed messaging:

The first speaker: “I’ve been here an hour and a half and I still don’t know what it is that you’re trying to tell me. That you’ve had a hard life?” Like many, she indicates she thinks we all go through hardships, that life is full of struggles for everyone and suffering alone does not merit breaking the law.

It is another member of the audience was answers the question. She interjects that experiences of American suffering are different than our neighbors to the South. To her, Americans have no context for understanding the difference between the poverty of Mexico and the poverty of America. If one you were only making three dollars, five dollars a day, what would you do? She asks.

There is retaliation and a response to Luz’s testimony, “I’ve been to Mexico” an American woman informs us “and I am not a citizen there. If you do something illegal they will throw you in jail. It is the same.”

A man sitting nearby agrees that low wages are driving workers here, but asks Mexicans instead to challenge a corrupt government to change, to rise up to the challenge the way we do here.

A father refers to Christine’s presentation on NAFTA and the influence of trade agreements on migration, “It seems to me that we caused this whole mess. I’m a father and I always tell my son to clean up his mess. It seems to me that we have to clean up our mess.”

Another man falls somewhere in the middle. He thinks it is clear that NAFTA is at the root of the problem, he sees that immigrants are beneficial to the economy, but these things alone do not justify disobeying the rules. He wonders why can’t they just come through legal channels and uphold the laws in the American tradition?

I disagree on this point. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but we have become a society that accepts, if not encourages, the manipulation of the law to achieve maximum profit. He cites an American tradition of upholding the law. To the contrary I think the most important moments of American history were when the people rose up to challenge laws that we saw as unjust. The Boston tea party and the history of the American Revolution epitomize the principles of defiance, not compliance that our country was founded on. Have we forgotten the abolitionist movement? The labor movement? The womens suffragist movement? These were among our finest moments as a country. If we close our doors on that tradition, we what do we have left to be proud of?

The two sides of this debate are not so different. Do we want people to do it the “legal” way? Yes, everyone does. We disagree on the degree to which that is possible. People say “get in line.” The reality is there is hardly a line anymore. Immigrant labor is cheap and when it is illegal it is even cheaper. Undocumented immigrants can be exploited because they are afraid and they do not have the same civic rights and they will not complain. They will not go on welfare, they will not use food stamps and they will never get a tax return from the taxes that they are paying. As this has become more and more clear, the government has systematically been destroying the line. As demand for immigrant labor has risen, the government has cut back the number of visas available to the United States from Mexico. The line is disappearing.

Deportation and border security is also profitable. The companies that have the military contracts in Iraq are getting paid billions by the government to militarize the border. Private detention centers along the border are also getting paid to fill those beds. A detention center is different than a prison. Criminals in prisons are citizens and have rights. Detainees are not granted the same civic rights and as Tomas told us earlier this week the conditions are deplorable, despicable and almost unlivable. The majority of the detainees are deported, transplanted into their home countries with nothing. Who are they going to tell? Who is going to listen? As the profits have grown the legal path available has eroded to the extent that now it hardly exists. The debate is not about getting in line. It’s about recreating the line that we took away in the interest of profit.

That is what I wanted to say in Appleton. Unfortunately, I was busy trying to fix the technical problems.


stevenherro said...

Melanie's comments about "the law" and "that which is legal" from the APL stop remind me of a few incidents from the life of Jesus.

1. Townspeople dragged an adulterous woman before Jesus, waiting to stone her for her actions. Jesus asked the accusers who was guilt free among them; they quietly left (perhaps with their "tails between their legs"). Jesus looked up, asked where the accusers were, was told that they left, and replied that he forgave the woman and that she should go and sin no more.

2. Jesus and his disciples were accosted for picking and eating grain on the sabbath. Such an activity was forbidden on the Sabbath; it required too much energy and was considered "work". What is more important, to maintain a religious law, whose layers can conceal the premise of what the believers are even trying to protect, or fight off malnourishment when preaching the word of God?

3. Finally, the "but they broke the law" argument causes me to ask, "And you have never surpassed the speed limit, consumed alcohol as a minor, etc?" Besides, having to pay a fine as a stage on the path to citizenship hardly suggests that a person is getting off "Scott free".

Anonymous said...

I attended the Appleton presentation. During the testimonies I kept thinking, "Does Spanish not have words or idioms for the concept of "illegal"? Is this very ephemeral, fluid concept of rule of law part of Hispanic culture?"

Tonight (Saturday the 14th) I was online searching for articles about the effects of NAFTA on Mexico, and was quite surprised by what I found. Did you folks "cherry pick" the most negative intelligence you could find? I quickly found articles from credible sources (ever hear of Yale University?) that counter your claims.

Two more quick points. You need to stick to the correct meaning of the term "immigrant": someone who is LEGALLY in another country for the purpose of establishing residency. Your Myth/Fact sheet alternately applies the term to both legal and illegal immigration, sometimes in the same sentence. I suspect that is a deliberate (and dishonest) confusing of the issue. I know of no one who is against LEGAL immigration.

I was horrified that you attempted to compare the illegal immigration issue with the tramua the United States endured while ending the institution of slavery. There are NO similarities - 450,000 Africans or therabouts did not voluntarily row across the Atlantic and wade ashore into slavery in Dixie "in search of a better life for their family", the plaintive rationalization for illegal immigration.

Similarly, America's Civil Rights struggles of the 50's and 60's were CITIZENS working to gain their rights, so comparisons to the illegal immigration issue are invalid.

Anonymous said...

A few responses to the last comment.

1) Of course there is a Spanish word for illegal- ilegal. Many in the immigration debate however refrain from using the term illegal when referring to a person, preferring to use the term undocumented. Many believe that acts, not people are illegal.

2) I also do not know anyone who is against legal immigration, but there are few opportunities to do so. People would come legally if they could.

3) According to Article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, people have a UNIVERSAL right to survival, and I quote:
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social service"

If they are being denied this right at home, I for one, do not blame them for pursuing it elsewhere.

4) The reference to slavery is in response in the context of the guestworker program. The comparison to slavery is from the South Poverty Law Center, a reputable think tank.

5) The civil rights movement was a movement of people to change laws they saw us unjust. I also see this as a response to injustice and not so different.

Anonymous said...

Some reactions to the last comment.

1.) The idea that "people are not illegal, their actions are" prompted an image of Charles Manson on the loose, while his actions were locked in sort of a Pandora's box. People who slip across borders without permission have made a deliberate decision to break the law. The usual consequence, which you find in every nation on the planet except one, is deportation.

2.)"Two few oportunities to immigrate...." The United States has the most liberal immigration program, and the weakest enforcement, in the world. Of course, we still must have limits; all five billion people on Planet Earth who could claim to be just "wanting a better life for their family" cannot come here. Remember, there are nearly two hundred nations on Earth, and the immigration quotas must be spread across ALL of them. Our immigration system is NOT broken just because 12 to 20 million illegals cannot get visas on demand, on their own terms, as though they were buying stamps at the Post Office. BTW, the poem on the Statue of Liberty also mentions a door if you read it closely.

3.) I agree with Article 25 of the UN charter. If I remember correctly, Eleanor Roosevelt was involved in writing it. People DO have a right to a decent standard of living. However, the United States is not obligated to provide it to the whole world. Latin America needs to fix its own problems. NAFTA was not imposed on Mexico.

$.) I have to reread history; I didn't realize the Southern Poverty Law Center was part of the 19th century movement to end slavery, the reference that was made. BTW, had a conversation with the Center this subject. They said they might advocate for an illegal in a hate crime case, and they do work on cases where guest workers aren't getting paid properly, for example. (Guest workers are here legally and voluntarily, remember.) The Center assured me they would not advocate for an illegal for any other case, a deportation hearing, for example.

5.) The Ameerican Civil Rights movement was African Americans working to gain rights they were being denied as CITIZENS of the United States. I do not recall a Latino connection to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for example. The Civil Rights movement in the United Stated is the sort of thing that Latinos should be replicating in their own countries in order to build better lives, instead of taking the lazy way out and walking across the borders of the U.S. When I saw all the illegals and their advocates demonstrating for "immigrant rights" two years ago in the spring, under all those Mexican flags, my very first thought was "why aren't you people doing this at home?"