Posts Tagged Immigration

Summing up the American Losses at the VI Summit of the Americas, La Paz, Bolivia — May, 2012

By: Rev. Michael Gillgannon, a Kansas City – St. Joseph diocesean priest who has served the people of Bolivia for nearly 40 years

Pope Benedict XVI went to Cuba in March to continue the pastoral dialogue of the Catholic Church with the Cuban government which Pope John Paul II had so successfully initiated in 1999. Despite some not so well informed critics, Pope Benedict’s visit, including fruitful dialogues with both Fidel Castro, and his brother, President Raul Castro, had some quite interesting results symbolized by the regime making Good Friday a national holiday for workers to take part in religious observances. Pope Benedict reiterated his condemnation of the international economic embargo of Cuba while noting that the former Marxist ideology had become outdated in Cuba and elsewhere. Cuba has been in a process of deep economic and political change for some time and it became a pivotal point in the recent VI Summit of the Americas meeting. The difference of the patient dialogue of the Church and the unfortunately outdated Cuban, and Latin American, diplomacy of the United States was quite evident in their different results.

President Obama spent three days in Cartagena, Columbia for the Summit meeting of Hemispheric Presidents. Some cited this as a change in attitude, if not in policy, because few presidents had given that much time to Latin America before. The Summit event was inaugurated in the Clinton Administration in 1994 to promote free trade agreements like NAFTA all over the Western Hemisphere. The agenda this year was once again to promote trade (to seal and applaud such an agreement with the host country, Columbia, recently approved by both countries) but also to respond in new ways to the failed policies of years to curb the continental scourge of the drug trade and the cartels which control them throughout the Americas. The low point for the American President was not the scandalous behavior of the Secret Service agents accompanying him (Interestingly, prostitution is legal in most Catholic countries of the Americas. But, also interestingly, they outlaw the death penalty). Rather, it was the fact that university students in Columbia, reflecting popular sentiment against American policies, mounted demonstrations against him which forced the closing of the universities. And worse, the American agenda for Cuba, for trade, and for drug control, were all roundly rejected by the assembly.

The rejection included, unusual for this meeting, closed door diplomacy which was not able to reach a consensus agreement on a final document. So none was given. The democratically elected Presidents of Latin America and the Caribbean islands, representing over 600 million people, rejected the policy of not including Cuba in the Summit. Only the United States and Canada refused to budge on the fifty year-old policies of exclusion and embargo. Most analysts, north and south, repeated the truism that North American policies on Cuba reflect not intelligent and professional diplomacy but political deference to the influence of the Miami Cuban exiles on Florida and national American politics and policies. President Carrea of Ecuador boycotted the Summit because of the exclusion of Cuba. President Ortega of Nicaragua held a massive support for Cuba rally in Managua paralleling the Summit with thousands in attendance. The Latin American presidents ended by telling the North Americans that they would not attend another summit (in Panama in 2015) without the participation of Cuba.

The Columbia-U.S. Free Trade agreement, years in discussion, was offered as a benefit to the Columbian hosts for the occasion. But President Obama in his 2008 campaign had said he was opposed to such an agreement because of Columbian government policies against workers rights and trade unions. The Washington Office for Latin America recently published their study on such policies documenting that 30 union leaders were assassinated last year in Columbia. Since 1986 almost 3000 such organizers have been killed. And only 5% of such cases have resulted in penalties for their perpetrators. So much for workers benefits and social justice in the free trade agreements which the United States has imposed in the last 20 years on Mexico and Central America. Despite these contradictions, the U.S. policy makers seem tone deaf to the strong voices of so many progressive Latin American countries, like Ecuador and Bolivia, which are organizing political and economic trade blocs of their own excluding both the United States and Canada.

Among other serious disputes continue to be immigration. U.S. immigration policies seem to be unplanned, contradictory, and often, inhuman. A poem of Robert Frost questioned the saying “good fences make good neighbor” by intimating fences and walls are needed only because neighbors quarrel and lack mutual confidence. Building frontier walls and allowing States and municipalities to dictate national foreign policy does not seem to be wise when such laws are seen as unjust and insulting to human dignity. Latin governments ask, “Is the United States becoming a huge ‘Gated Community’ to keep out “the others”? Is fear and “national security” making a once welcoming people…“send us your homeless tempest-tossed”…a nation of selfish and closed citizenry? Latin Americas’ peoples and governments have every reason based on real experiences to think so despite the positive efforts of many Church people and others to change such unjust laws.

Another sore point is the international drug trade and the failed United States police and military policies of control both at home and in Latin America. A mounting wave of criticism is asking for a revision of these policies because they have not worked for years. And many international voices are saying it is time to look for international collaboration and coordination to control the illicit trade now destroying not only persons but national States.

“The Economist”, a journal usually critical of the economic and political policies of progressive Latin American governments, had a pointed comment on the Summit worth noting…

”If Latin America is doing so damn well all of a sudden, why does it not just get on with the business of standing on its own feet? As for the tricky issues of immigration, drugs and Cuba, can’t those southerners see how things stand north of the border? Don’t they understand that the thorny domestic policies of the United States make serious action on them impossible? They can see. They do understand. But in recent decades some of the countries of Latin America have managed against great odds to summon up the courage to overcome their own impossible domestic politics. It may be time for the United States to follow their example for a change.”


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The 2012 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace is… Ruben Garcia

Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, has recognized the life and witness of Ruben Garcia, naming him the 2012 recipient of the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award.  Pax Christi USA first gave the award to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, in 1978 and has since recognized some of the most significant U.S. Catholic activists for peace and justice of the past 3 decades, including actor Martin Sheen; poet and priest Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.  Garcia is one of the founders and the current director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.

During his career at Annunciation House, Garcia has personally welcomed more than 100,000 migrants to his home and community, putting into practice and personally embodying the radical hospitality that Jesus exemplified to the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded. In his nomination of Garcia, Scott Wright, author and biographer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, wrote that Garcia “teaches peace by embodying peace, welcoming the stranger, and inviting others to share in this community where the least have a place at the table. From the experience of welcome and hospitality, comes an awareness and a commitment to address the root causes of injustice that push migrants to flee from the political violence in their countries, or conditions of economic disparity that condemn their families to die in conditions of extreme poverty and misery.”

“PCUSA is pleased to be honoring Ruben Garcia with the 2012 Teacher of Peace Award. For more than 35 years, he has been an inspiring teacher of peace, exemplifying by his life witness the teachings of the Gospel and the spirit of the Beatitudes,” stated Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “Ruben’s faith continues to be an inspiring witness to the best of Catholic traditions, social teachings and practices.”

In addition to his work at Annunciation House, Garcia has welcomed and met with hundreds of delegations to the border, teaching by inviting them into the world of the poor and the migrant, and allowing them to see and hear firsthand the stories of immigrants.  He invites them to commit themselves to address the root causes that deny to the immigrant the justice that is due to them in their homeland and in the United States.

“Ruben’s commitment to the radical hospitality of Jesus, welcoming all to the table, with preferential option for migrants, teaches peace moment by moment,” stated Cathy Crosby, Pax Christi USA National Council member and chair of the Teacher of Peace committee. “The PCUSA National Council celebrates the opportunity to recognize Ruben’s many years of humble service.  We hope that the work of Ruben and Annunciation House continues to inspire others to work for justice and peace, as we each recognize the countless small ways we are called to build God’s kingdom here and now.”

The Teacher of Peace award will be presented at a special ceremony honoring Garcia in Washington, D.C. in September 2012.

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DWN Report Spotlights Influence of Private Industry on Immigration Detention

Note: Article taken from DWN email.

As the largest for-profit prison company in the country, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), prepared for its annual shareholders meeting, a report released by the Detention Watch Network (DWN) shed new light on the growing influence of the private prison industry on the immigration detention system.

Drawn from a variety of sources, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reading Room, and the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, the report reveals the companies most heavily invested in the business of immigration detention – CCA, The GEO Group Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation – and suggests increased lobbying activity over the last decade, both in terms of dollars spent and government entities targeted.

“For years, private prison firms have played a critical role in shaping public policy around immigration detention, pursuing the bottom line at the expense of basic civil rights and tax payer dollars,” said Emily Tucker, Director of Policy and Advocacy at DWN. “This report highlights deep corporate investment in the detention business, raising concerns about how the corporate profit-motive is fueling the expansion of the detention system as a whole.”

According to research by DWN, corporations have increasingly devoted resources over the last decade to lobbying for policies and programs that will increase their opportunities to do business with the government. Of the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000, with CCA ($18,002,000) and GEO ($2,065,000) as the top two spenders. Lobbying efforts targeted a wide range of government entities, indicating a comprehensive strategy for influencing policy and legislation.

Both CCA and GEO have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as a lack of transparency and accountability has led to multiple cases of abuse and mismanagement in their facilities, resulting in the termination of contracts in a few recent cases.

“ICE has called for sweeping changes in the immigration detention system,” said Tucker. “Yet they continue to partner with private prison firms that are part of the problem. We hope this research inspires further exploration into the relationship between prison corporations and the government at all levels. We need to reduce our dependence on detention and begin putting human rights over profits.”

Go here to read the full report.

For recent coverage of the report, visit the following:  The Latin American Herald tribune; The San Antonio Current; Houston Press; The Colorado Independent


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An Immigrant Mother Speaks from Her Heart

NOTE: The following words were written by a 29 year-old woman who was taken by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from her place of employment of about 4 months.  She is still in detention, and wrote this account in the hope of helping to change minds and hearts of people in the U.S.  This woman has been visited by a Sister of Mercy who has inspired and organized others to visit immigration detainees.

“In 2009 I emigrated to the United States with my 7 year-old son.  I hoped to move forward and get him an education that he couldn’t get in El Salvador.  But my dream didn’t happen.  Unfortunately, on March 9 [2010] when I was at work immigration came and picked up 18 people.  I was one of them.

I still cannot erase the anguish and torment that I lived on my journey to this country, and now I am closed in a jail as though I’m a criminal.  I have been nearly five months without seeing my son, and I am in the deportation process.

It is because of looking for a better future for our children and for food that they treat us as criminals.  It is painful to return to El Salvador and see the end of my son’s education.  Thanks be to God for giving me such an intelligent boy, but in El Salvador because of the poverty there is no way for him to get an education.  I ask God to change the hearts of the people who want to get Hispanics out of this country.  I think they believe we have come to rob them, when we have come to work to no longer be hungry, and to help our families.

It’s hard when I remember what I lived through with my son.  I remember that every night when we were on the journey to the United States he would ask me, “Mom, are we almost there?” I remember him saying “Mom, I’m hungry” and I would comfort him by saying, “We’re almost there and then you’ll get to eat whatever you want.”  My heart ached and my eyes were full of tears to know my son was hungry and I had nothing to give him to eat.

Now my son is eight years old and asks me, “Mom, why don’t they like Hispanics?”

I just ask God that some day the law will change and Hispanic families will be able to live without fear that any day they might be separated.  That has happened for so many families, and I pray that their dreams not be shattered the way it happened for me.”

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Immigration Policy Should Reflect Our Best Values

By Jude A. Huntz, Director of the Human Rights Office, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

“Immigrants don’t want to learn English.”

“Immigrants don’t pay taxes”

“Immigrants increase the crime rate.”

“Immigrants take jobs away from Americans”

“Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy.”

“Illegal immigrants are a burden on the U.S. health care system.”

Americans have been using these generalizations for 150 years to stigmatize members of every ethnic group that has traveled to these shores seeking a better life for themselves and their children.  Anti-immigrant rhetoric is as false today as it has been throughout our history.  Here’s the truth about immigrants:

  • English proficiency among today’s immigrants is no different than for previous arrivals.  Ninety-one percent of second-generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers, according to the Pew Hispanic Forum.
  • Between one-half and three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay state and federal taxes, and they contribute $7 billion per year to the Social Security Trust Fund.  They also pay sales tax like everyone, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
  • Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.  From 1994 to 2005, illegal immigration population doubled while violent crime dropped 34 percent and property crime dropped 32percent.  In fact, first-generation immigrants are 45 percent less likely to commit violent crimes than Americans, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
  • Immigrants improve the economy of the United States.  In every instance of dramatic immigration movements to the U.S., the economy grew and the nation prospered.  Immigrants today fill low-wage jobs in our nation, which requires more laborers than ever before, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.  What is more, the average immigrant pays a net of $80,000 more in taxes than he or she receives in government services.
  • Finally, immigrants access health care less frequently than Americans because they are in better overall health.  In Los Angeles County, for example, total health care spending for undocumented immigrants was 6 percent of total costs, even though they comprise 12 percent of the region’s population, the Rand Corporation reports.

Our nation needs a revised immigration policy that protects families, provides immigrants with a path toward citizenship and respects their inherent dignity.

In a nation that reveres the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we would do well to reflect on the fact that every major figure in those scriptures was an immigrant:  Abraham, Moses, Jesus.  The biblical text commands us to provide the ancient virtue of hospitality and to welcome the stranger in our midst.

Let us work to create an immigration policy that reflects our best values as Americans and people of faith.

This article was first published in the Kansa City STAR and is included here with permission of the author.

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