Sunday, July 6, 2014

Suffer the Children

By Scott Nicol

We are confronted with a refugee crisis, as thousands of children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, run for their lives, coming to the United States in the hope of finding safe haven.

Children have been crossing the southern border for years, skirting $3 billion worth of border walls and dodging the Border Patrol, but as violence in these three countries has reached epidemic levels the number of refugee children has overwhelmed federal agencies and become impossible for the press or the public to continue to ignore.

Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate: in 2011, 92 people out of every thousand residents were murdered.  El Salvador ranked second, with 70 murders per 1,000 people.  Guatemala came in fifth.  For comparison, the U.S. murder rate that year was 5 per 1,000. 

Last March the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) released a report, titled “Children on the Run,” on the underage refugees streaming out of Central America.  UNHCR interviewed 404 children who had been apprehended at the U.S. border, and most said that they were fleeing gang violence.

A seventeen year old boy from Honduras said that, “My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: ‘If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang or the cops will shoot you. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.’”

A fifteen year old girl from El Salvador told the UNHCR, “I am here because I was threatened by the gang. One of them “liked” me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm. In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there and I should go to the United States.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released a map that shows the point of origin for Central American kids who arrived at the border in the first few months of this year.  By far the largest number, more than 2,500, came from San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the most violent country on the planet. 

The text on the DHS map says, "We analyzed these locations to determine the factors pushing child migration to the US Southwest Border. […] Salvadoran and Honduran children… come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home."

Notably absent from both the DHS document and the UNHCR report is a false belief on the part of these kids that United States laws had changed to allow them to stay here.  Republicans have made this a key talking point, a way to blame President Obama for the current crisis. 

In a recent FOX news op-ed, for example, Senator John Cornyn wrote, “Two years ago, the president stood in the Rose Garden and announced a unilateral change to U.S. immigration policy regarding children. Between that policy change and his broader refusal to uphold our immigration laws, he created a powerful incentive for children to cross into the United States illegally.”

Like the false idea that border walls stop desperate migrants in their tracks, it may sound plausible, but there is nothing to back Cornyn’s claim up.  The children interviewed by the United Nations described fleeing for their lives, not responding to a rumor that the United States’ convoluted immigration laws had become more favorable. 

What’s more, nearby countries other than the United States – Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – have seen a 432% increase in applications for asylum from Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans over the last five years.  Nothing that President Obama may or may not have said caused that.

The politicization of this crisis that Senator Cornyn’s statement epitomizes may doom these children.  While both parties call the situation a “crisis,” Republicans shy away from using the word “refugee” to describe children fleeing violence.  Their knee-jerk response to any situation on the border is to call for more militarization, starting with the mobilization of the National Guard. 

Governor Perry has announced that $1.3 million per week will be spent to send in the Department of Public Safety.  The DPS sniper that shot and killed Central American migrants from a helicopter, and the Highway Patrol speedboats with machine guns mounted on their prows that prowl the Rio Grande, have had no discernible impact on the number of people who come across the border, but in Perry’s mind it is important to look tough when faced with an influx of desperate children.

Democrats, from Representative Pelosi to border Representative Filemon Vela, have been more willing to face the fact that the children fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are refugees who deserve better than being locked in a bus garage or being forced to sleep on a concrete slab.

But President Obama seems unclear on the idea of refugees.  One the one hand, the President has pledged millions to assist these countries in shoring up their courts and combating gangs.  At the same time he is asking Congress for greater authority to speed up deportations.  Far from compassionate, making it harder for a child to plead his or her case before an immigration judge would inevitably cause many to suffer and die as they are thrown back into the grip of their persecutors, their tormentors, and ultimately their murderers.

On Thursday members of the U.S. House of Representatives will hold a field hearing in McAllen to discuss the refugees who are coming across our southern border.  Hopefully the assembled members will set aside the election year desire to blame the other political party and score political points, and will instead focus on the suffering of children who have traveled more than a thousand miles, and who have endured unspeakable abuse during their journeys, in a desperate effort to simply survive.

These children are not aliens, they are not invaders, they are refugees. 

If we reject them, if we deport them, if we put them on planes and send them back to the countries that they fled, or if the only response that we can muster is to line the border with more “boots on the ground” and machine guns pointing south, we will show ourselves to be no more humane than the gangs whose brutality prompted their flight. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Arresting Babies on the Border

by Scott Nicol

“They’re arresting babies.”

The thought struck hard, and it kept echoing.  I had come to the border wall with a correspondent from National Public Radio to see its impact on the environment.  We had also seen evidence of the apprehensions that occur there daily.  Piles of shoelaces and belts that immigrants were forced to abandon before being taken into custody, and even a pair of plastic toy helicopters, littered the ground.

The Border Patrol agent said that they had captured eighteen people.  Most sat in a line in the dirt beside the rusting wall as agents took their names and bagged their possessions.  Only three or four were adults.

Inside a Border Patrol van, escaping the heat, were two mothers, each with an infant in her arms.  On the seats beside them were a pair of toddlers.

The Border Patrol would probably prefer not to use the term “arrest,” but the children were taken into custody along with the rest of their family.  All eighteen will be included in the sector’s apprehension statistics.

In 2013 the Border Patrol apprehended 26,027 juveniles in its Rio Grande Valley sector, 21,553 of whom were unaccompanied.  Border-wide 38,833 out of the 47,238 minors who were captured were traveling without an adult.  At least these children were not on their own.

Call it an apprehension, call it an arrest, for a child too young to walk or talk the terminology does not matter.

The United States of America, through elected Representatives who are meant to express the will of its citizens, spent $18 billion last year to keep these families out.  A few years back taxpayers spent $12 million per mile to build the border wall that stood nearby, and more than $3 billion was spent to wall off 652 miles of the southern border.  From 1995 to 2003 we doubled the size of the Border Patrol, then over the last decade we doubled their ranks again.  They carry out the mission that we have given them.

We are arresting babies.

And toddlers.  And teenagers.  And adolescents.  And their parents.

We have decided that the people I saw lined up beside the wall, parents who traveled hundreds of miles from Guatemala looking for work with children in tow, threaten us.

Like most who walk or swim across the border they are not terrorists, they are not smugglers, they simply want a better life.  They are parents struggling to feed their families.  They are children hoping to escape violence, go to school, live the American Dream.  So long as that desperation and desire remains people will keep coming. 

This is not a challenge to our nation’s defenses, it is a test of our conscience.

When the Senate took up immigration reform they failed to grasp this.  They made a “border surge,” with hundreds of miles of new border wall, a further ballooning of the Border Patrol, and tens of billions of dollars of new military hardware, a “trigger” that must be completed before anyone currently in the country could start on a thirteen-year-long pathway to citizenship.  The irrational fears of middle American voters who only see the border when they watch FOX News or Border Wars on TV had to be appeased.

Even with the “surge” Republicans in the U.S. House refuse to even debate immigration reform.  They are far less concerned with the children sitting in a line on the dirt beside the wall than they are about a Tea Party challenge in the next primary election.

The Border Patrol agents called headquarters to have child car seats sent out.  Older kids shuffled back into the green and white van, now lacking belts and laces for their sneakers.

After they drove off we began to walk back along the top of the levee.  Through the border wall’s rusting bollards we could see another mother being marched out of the brush, clutching an infant to her chest.

As the sun settled into the treetops the wind carried the baby’s cries.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A New Wall Through El Paso’s Historic Heart

By Scott Nicol

The condemnation suit has been filed and construction crews are staging.  Another section of border wall will soon stand beside the Rio Grande. 

El Paso’s new border wall will tear through the city’s historic heart.  It will stand upon the exact spot where Don Juan de Oñate first crossed the Rio Grande in 1598, and New Spain established a road from Mexico City to Santa Fe long before the founding of either Mexico or the United States.  Oñate’s crossing was called “El Paso del Rio de Norte,” the Pass Across the River of the North, and over time it grew into the city of El Paso.

The new El Paso wall will be added to the patchwork of barriers called for by the Secure Fence Act.  Those walls have proved to be largely ineffective at stopping either drug smugglers or migrants looking for work.  Customs and Border Protection spends millions of dollars repairing thousands of breaches each year, and if a crosser forgets to pack a saw the border wall takes less than a minute to climb. 

But efficacy is not the point, and never has been.  Border walls are nothing more than symbols, props for politicians to use as a backdrop in political ads.  Whether or not they actually stop anyone is irrelevant –appearance is all that matters. 

So far as Customs and Border Protection is concerned the actual damage that will be inflicted on a site of tremendous historical significance such as the Oñate crossing is also irrelevant.  Because the Bush administration used the REAL ID Act to waive 36 laws construction can move quickly, with no need to protect historic or archaeological features.  The Antiquities Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and other laws that might safeguard our cultural heritage have been swept aside, along with laws that protect our environment and human health.

Thanks to the waiver other border walls have caused severe erosion in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, flooding in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and the fragmentation of endangered species habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. 

There is no reason to think that this time Customs and Border Protection will act responsibly.

The stated intent of the REAL ID Act’s waiver provision was to allow for the “expeditious construction” of border walls and patrol roads that might otherwise be slowed down by compliance with laws.  But it has been 7 years since the Secure Fence Act was passed.  Construction was not delayed by lawsuits; Customs and Border Protection simply did not think that this section was a priority.  Now that they have gotten around to building it there is no rush, they just don’t want to be bothered with obeying our nation’s laws.

No agency should be above the rule of law, and it is beyond ridiculous to allow a law enforcement agency to violate laws with impunity. 

El Paso’s U.S. Representative, Democrat Beto O’rourke, and Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn have called upon Customs and Border Protection to rethink this section of wall, to reach out to El Paso residents and listen to the opinions of those on the ground as to whether this wall will be of benefit to the community or if instead it will be, as Brownsville’s Bishop Flores described Texas’ border walls, another “scar” disfiguring border communities.  Customs and Border Protection has refused to listen to border residents, likely because they know that those who will live with this scar through the heart of their community would reject it.

Having been given such tremendous power when Senator Cornyn and his fellow members of Congress voted for the REAL ID Act (in 2005 O’rourke was not yet a member of Congress, so could neither support nor oppose the bill), Customs and Border Protection can ignore the law and lawmakers.  They have a long track record of condemning the property of local landowners and municipalities and erecting walls in the face of local protests. 

Customs and Border Protection should commit to upholding all of our nation’s laws, not just those that it finds convenient.  If it is impossible to erect border walls without violating 36 federal laws those walls should not be built. 

This article originally ran in the Rio Grande Guardian on November 30, 2013.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Another Round of South Texas Border Wall Condemnations is about to Begin

By Scott Nicol

If the Border Patrol knocks on your door you might want to have a lawyer present when you answer.

That is because Customs and Border Protection is gearing up for a fresh round of land condemnations to build border walls in Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.

According to documents obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request the new walls won’t just slice through farmland and wildlife refuges.  In Roma “up to 25 residences could be impacted.”  In Rio Grande City the wall’s route will take it through a nursing home, and “If the decision is made to buy the tract out in its entirety, the business will need to be relocated along with 64 residents, potentially up to 90 residents if at 100% capacity.  In Los Ebanos landowners who went through condemnation three years ago will be hauled into court again to have more of their property snatched away.

This new assault on border communities is the result of the US section of the International Boundary Water Commission’s (US IBWC) decision to allow border walls to go up in the Rio Grande floodplain.

When they were first proposed, along with the rest of South Texas’ border walls, US IBWC stated categorically that walls could not be erected in the floodplain because they posed an unacceptable flood risk to communities on both sides of the river.  Walls north of the river might deflect rising flood waters, worsening the damage to Mexican cities and possibly even pushing the river into a new channel, thereby changing the location of the international border.  For this reason walls in Cameron County were erected north of the flood control levees, and in Hidalgo County there were inserted into them.

The new walls will be identical to those built in Cameron County, using six inch wide steel posts that stand eighteen feet tall with four inch spaces in between.  In 2008 Baker Engineering looked at the impacts of this design placed in these locations, and estimated that during a flood the walls would clog with debris, limiting the ability of water to pass between the pillars.  In Roma they estimated an 85% blockage where the walls paralleled the river’s flow; in Rio Grande City a 67% blockage; and in Los Ebanos a 36% blockage.  Where the walls would be erected perpendicular to the flow Baker said CBP should assume that debris would cause the walls to be completely blocked.

In 2011 Customs and Border Protection paid Baker to look at the same wall design placed in the same location, and with no new evidence or explanation they came to a radically different conclusion.  Now A debris blockage of 10% was adopted where the fence is aligned parallel to the flow and 25% at locations where the fence is aligned perpendicular to the flow.”  Not surprisingly the model that this new estimate was plugged into concluded that walls in the floodplain would not deflect or dam flood water, since 75 -90% of the water would supposedly pass right through.

The US section of IBWC accepted this without question.  The Mexican section categorically rejected it. 

One would think that a bi-national organization would require agreement before permitting potentially dangerous projects.  Instead, the new border walls are going up.

In a presentation dated March 1, 2013, Customs and Border Protection laid out a timeline for the construction of these new walls:

Funds:  already received.

Achieve right of entry to survey property for wall construction:  60 days.

Initiate new acquisitions of property, through purchase or condemnation:  180 days.

So if you have property in the path of these walls, now is the time to call a lawyer.

And those lawyers are going to be very busy.  The “gang of eight” immigration bill includes $1.5 billion for new border walls. 

When Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006 Customs and Border Protection walled off big portions of California, Arizona, and New Mexico.  There aren’t too many places outside of inaccessible mountains without walls up there.  What’s left is Texas. 

Unless the bill is changed and the walls are taken out Customs and Border Protection will start filling in the unwalled spaces between South Texas’ existing border walls.  The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and the endangered species that it protects, will be utterly decimated.  And every other landowner with property along the Rio Grande from Roma to Boca Chica will stand in turn before a federal judge, before watching construction crews wall off their land from the river. 

Some, like the 25 households in Roma or the senior citizens in Rio Grande City, may even see the their homes fall to these new border walls.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Border Residents Kept in the Dark about New Border Walls

by Scott Nicol

Four members of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” the group charged with crafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation, recently paid a visit to the border wall that separates Nogales, Arizona from Nogales, Sonora.

The trip was little more than a photo-op.  The senators did not meet with locals or hear from others who live on the border, who experience border security daily and will be directly impacted by any border security measures in the coming bill.  But their pilgrimage to the wall did send a message that their bill is likely to be heavy on enforcement, possibly including hundreds of miles of new border walls.

Senator McCain (R-AZ) led the tour, and he chose a striking location to give Senator Schumer (D-NY) his first glimpse of the border wall. 

Maybe he just wanted to show off the nearby section of wall that he used as a backdrop for his “Complete the Danged Fence” campaign ad. 

It is a safe bet that he did not take his colleagues to the spot, a few hundred yards from where they posed for the press, where last October a Border Patrol agent reached through the wall to shoot an unarmed teenager in Mexico 11 times in the back.  He probably also failed to point out the high water mark left on Mexican buildings when, in 2008, the Nogales border wall dammed floodwaters, causing millions of dollars in property damage and the drowning of two men.

Of course those events don’t fit the simple narrative of McCain’s “perfect plan” for border security that he outlined in his TV ad.  Better to stare into the camera and ignore inconvenient facts, then and now.

Senator Schumer likely sees more “danged fence” as the cost of immigration reform, the burden that border communities will have to bear to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.  That was also the idea in 2006, when the Congressional push for immigration reform fell apart and all we were left with was the Secure Fence Act and hundreds of miles of border wall.

As the “Gang of Eight” has been horse-trading behind closed doors Customs and Border Protection has been quietly laying the groundwork for the last of the Secure Fence Act’s walls to go up in Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos, along with neighboring farms and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Customs and Border Protection wants to build these walls in the floodplain, but over the years the International Boundary and Water Commission repeatedly rejected them, citing “substantial increases in water surface elevations and deflections of flow at several points of all three projects.”  Were the Rio Grande to flood after a hurricane or tropical depression, as it did in 2010, walls in the floodplain would deflect water into Mexican cities like Ciudad Aleman, and would stop water from draining out of communities such as Rio Grande City. 


Last year, after sustained pressure from Customs and Border Protection, the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission reversed its decision, rejecting the Mexican section’s objections and allowing these dangerous walls to go forward.  They now officially accept the claim that the border wall will allow flood water to pass harmlessly through, even though in 2008 they forced Customs and Border Protection to build walls in Cameron County of the exact same design north of the levees so that they would be out of the floodplain. 

Homes and businesses, farms and wildlife refuges, could be washed away or inundated by floodwaters as a direct result of these walls. 

Customs and Border Protection says that everything will be fine.  Of course they also said that they would pay to mitigate the damage that previous wall construction inflicted upon the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife refuge, but after years of promises not a penny has been provided.

Just like the “Gang of Eight” on their trip to Nogales, Customs and Border Protection has made no attempt to talk to residents or local officials in the Texas communities that the new walls will tear through. 

I contacted Customs and Border Protection last week and asked for an update regarding the Starr county walls.  Daniel Tirado, with the RGV Sector Public Affairs Office, responded that, "the Office of Border Patrol identified these segments as highest operational priorities in Texas. Though construction of these segments has been delayed, Border Patrol’s requirement remains.”

The assertion that these walls, or any border walls for that matter, are a high operational priority is absurd.  Customs and Border Protection knows better than to think that border walls stop anyone. 

While the Senators were doing their press junket in Nogales they watched as a woman laid a ladder against the 18-foot wall and quickly climbed over.  Senator McCain even tweeted about it as it happened.

Visiting Arizona last summer I easily climbed the border wall in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.  I was wearing sandals and didn’t have a ladder, but it only took a few seconds to reach the top.  The San Pedro wall is identical to the ones planned for Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.
These new walls will go up in Representative Cuellar’s district, and his silence regarding them has been even more striking, and surprising, than Customs and Border Protection’s.  He has not held any town hall meetings to get feedback from, or provide information to, effected communities, and he has not publicly criticized Customs and Border Protection’s plans or their refusal to speak with local residents.

When I asked his office if he had taken any action on behalf of his constituents, he responded,

I initiated a formal inquiry with CBP as a follow up and update on the status of the proposed fence. CBP has advised that there are no plans for building additional fences in FY 2013 due to the lack of funding.”

Customs and Border Protection also told me that, “Construction activities will commence at such time as funds become available.”

Which sounds good.  Until Congress provides funds for border walls maybe residents can relax.  One might expect that with the sequester gutting the budgets of federal agencies and forcing furloughs from the Environmental Protection Agency to air traffic controllers money for border walls won’t come any time soon.

But tucked into the spending bill that Congress just passed to keep the government running is a provision that says, 

“For expenses for border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology, $324,099,000, to remain available until September 30, 2015.”

Existing border walls are very expensive to maintain, so not all of that money is available to build new ones.  But Customs and Border Protection condemned the land and bought the steel for these walls years ago.  All that is left is to hire the crews, gas up the bulldozers, and start tearing up the land.

And if the “Gang of Eight” includes hundreds of miles of new border walls in comprehensive immigration reform, instead of passing a clean bill that focuses strictly on immigration instead of multi-million dollar handouts to government contractors, the rest of the border landowners and wildlife refuge tracts in Congressman Cuellar’s district will likely suffer the same fate as Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

UN CERD Expresses Concern over US-Texas Border Wall Discriminatory Impact on Indigenous Peoples

Press Release – For Immediate Release

UN CERD Expresses Concern over US-Texas Border Wall Discriminatory Impact on Indigenous Peoples;
Addresses US Government and Need to Comply with Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Brownsville, Texas – March 25, 2013 – The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures has expressed “concern regarding the potentially discriminatory impact that the construction of a border wall might have on the Kikapoo, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Lipan Apache indigenous communities,” in response to a petition from the Texas-Mexico Border Wall region which was under review during it’s 82nd session.

In a letter March 1, 2013 to Betty E. King, U.S. Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, UN CERD Chair Alexei Avtonomov stated, “In particular, the Committee is concerned by the situation of the Lipan Apache, a tribe which reportedly remains Federally unrecognized, given the information received that the construction of the wall through its land has allegedly damaged ancestral burial sites, reduced the tribe’s access to elders and other knowledge keepers, led to severe decline in biodiversity, and may lead to the disappearance of the tribal identity altogether as the community may be forced to leave the land.

“Moreover, the Committee is concerned that... the border wall has been constructed without the free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities, and that no effective judicial remedies or compensation have been provided to date.” The letter continues on to request that the U.S. provides updated and detailed information with regard to the impact of the Texas-Mexico border wall on the rights of indigenous communities, and any measures envisaged to reverse the negative impact of the construction of the the border wall.

Says petition co-author Dr. Margo Tamez, citizen of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas, and Faculty of Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, “As an Indigenous scholar working on this effort to raise critical awareness, and as a first-hand witness to the suffering of Indigenous elders, families and communities in the path of the border wall, the CERD's request to the U.S. government is an affirmation of the importance of Indigenous peoples' efforts to promote paths and transitional spaces of inquiry for truth and justice. Meaningful partnerships of trust and respect are crucial in order for this process to address Indigenous peoples' core concerns and to halt the inter-generational harms they have endured.”

Petition co-author Ariel Dulitzky, Clinical Professor at the University of Texas School of Law, and Director of the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas at Austin, says, “CERD has made a clear demand for proper consultation and consideration of the indigenous communities in the border area. We call upon the U.S. Government to pay close attention to CERD’s request in terms of reversing the negative impact of the border wall and securing the rights of indigenous peoples to access their lands, resources and holy sites, to be properly consulted, and to receive compensation.”

A statement issued by Daniel Romero, General Council Chairman for the The Lipan Apache Band of Texas (Ndé) states, “We ask that the Obama Administration and Congress to incorporate CERD’s demands for proper consultation and consideration of the indigenous peoples and communities of the borderlands region. We request that the U.S. Government be inclusive of Ndés’ request in current immigration reform and proposal of the border lands policies that have negatively influenced the Ndé way of life.”


Lipan Apache Band of Texas
Comunicado de prensa - Para publicación inmediata
Comité para la Eliminación de la Discriminación Racial (CERD) de las Naciones Unidas expresa preocupación por el impacto discriminatorio del muro fronterizo de Estados Unidos-Texas sobre los Pueblos Indígenas de esa region.
El Gobierno de los Estados Unidos deberá cumplir con el Convenio sobre la Eliminación de todas las Formas de Discriminación Racial
Brownsville, Texas - 25 de marzo de 2013 - El Comité para la Eliminación de la Discriminación Racial (CERD) de las Naciones Unidas, Alerta Temprana y Procedimientos de Acción Urgente ha expresado su "preocupación por el impacto potencialmente discriminatorio que la construcción del muro fronterizo podría tener en las comunidades indígenas Kikapoo, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo y Lipan Apache ", en respuesta a una petición de la región del muro entre Texas-Mexico que fue objeto de examen en su 82 ª reunión.
En una carta el 01 de marzo 2013 a Betty E. King, Embajadora Permanente de EE.UU. ante las Naciones Unidas, ONU CERD Presidente Alexei Avtonomov declaró: "En particular, el Comité está preocupado por la situación de los Lipa Apache, una tribu que al parecer sigue siendo no reconocida por el gobierno federal, dada la información recibida de que la construcción del muro a través de su tierras ancestrales aparentemente a destruido lugares ancestrales de entierro, a reducido el acceso de la tribu a sus ancianos y cuidadores de conocimiento, y a encaminado a la disminución severa en la biodiversidad, y pude llevar a la desaparición de una identidad tribal como una comunidad que puede ser sujeta abandonar sus tierras.
"Además, al Comité le preocupa que ... el muro se ha construido sin el consentimiento libre, previo e informado de las comunidades afectadas, y que no existen recursos judiciales efectivos o compensación se han proporcionado hasta la fecha.” La carta continúa peticiona que los EE.UU. proporcione información actualizada y detallada en lo que respecta al impacto del muro fronterizo entre Texas y México sobre los derechos de las comunidades indígenas, y todas las medidas previstas para revertir el impacto negativo de la construcción del muro de la frontera.
Dice la Dr. Margo Tamez, co-autora de la petición, ciudadana de la Banda de Lipan Apache de Texas, y Facultad de Estudios Indígenas de la Universidad de British Columbia Okanagan, "Como académica indígena trabajando en este esfuerzo por crear conciencia crítica, y como testigo a primera mano del sufrimiento de los ancianos, las familias y las comunidades en el camino del muro fronterizo, la petición del CERD ante el gobierno de los EE.UU. es una afirmación de la importancia de los esfuerzos de los pueblos indígenas en promover los espacios de transición para la investigación de la verdad y justicia. La creación de redes significativas que creen confianza y respeto son fundamentales para que este proceso pueda abordar las preocupaciones fundamentales de los pueblos indígenas y para detener los daños intergeneracionales que se han sufrido. "
Petición co-autor Ariel Dulitzky, Profesor Clínico de la Universidad de Texas Escuela de Derecho, y Director de la Clínica de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Texas en Austin, dice: "El Comité ha hecho una clara demanda de consulta y consideración de las comunidades indígenas de la zona fronteriza. Hacemos un llamamiento al Gobierno de EE.UU. que preste mucha atención a la solicitud de CERD en términos de revertir el impacto negativo del muro fronterizo y así asegurar los derechos de los pueblos indígenas al acceder sus tierras, recursos y sitios sagrados, para ser debidamente consultado y recibir una compensación . "
Un comunicado emitido por Daniel Romero, Presidente del Consejo General de la Banda Lipan Apache de Texas (Ndé), dice: "Pedimos que el gobierno de Obama y el Congreso pudea incorporar las demandas de CERD sobre consulta y consideración de los pueblos indígenas y las comunidades de la zona fronteriza región. Pedimos que el gobierno de EE.UU. incluya a solicitud de Ndés las en la reforma de la inmigración actual y propuesta de las políticas de tierras fronterizas que han influido negativamente la forma de vida Ndé."
# # #
Lipan Apache Defensa de la Mujer
Lipan Apache Band de de Texas

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Security First?

by Scott Nicol

The “gang of eight” U.S. Senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, have released a set of principles that they see as the basis for comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  The fact that they are trying to resolve this issue is a positive step, and has the potential to allow millions of people to finally live normal lives, free of fear and exploitation.  But a key component of their plan calls into question whether that promise will ever be realized.

Immigrants’ advocates have long held that a “pathway to citizenship” must be part of any immigration reform plan, allowing those currently in the United States without papers to earn U.S. citizenship. 

Conservative icon Ronald Reagan agreed with this, saying, "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally."   Today anti-immigrant groups spit out the term “amnesty” as a curse, and many in the current crop of Republican politicians (Texas’ U.S. Senators prominent among them) use it to slander the very idea of allowing the undocumented to become citizens.

Though Cornyn and Cruz present the rejection of earned citizenship as a principled ideological stance, many conservative pundits have pointed out that Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats – 71% voted for Barack Obama – so allowing the 11 million or so mostly, but not entirely, Hispanic undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. to vote might hurt Republicans in future elections.

Alienating Hispanic voters is costing Republicans elections now, but adding more Hispanic voters could hurt Republicans in the future.  What are they to do?

The answer lies in the “gang of eight” principles. 

The recently unveiled framework makes border security a prerequisite for the issuance of green cards to undocumented immigrants.  After that they could apply for full citizenship, going to the “back of the line.”

Of course the length of that line depends on what country they come from since each nation is assigned a quota; whether they are related by blood or marriage to U.S. citizens; and their income and skills.  For a Mexican national with no family in the United States, no money or special skills, the line that they will be going to the back of is over a century long.

But until the border is declared secure, that hundred-plus-year clock will not start ticking.

The principles released by the “gang of eight” do not define a secure border, so it is impossible to know how many years, how many new Border Patrol agents, how many more drones, how many miles of new border wall, it might take to get there. 

The Senate plan calls for a commission made up of “governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border“ to determine when the border has been secured. 

Immigrants’ advocates cried foul at the notion that Texas governor Rick Perry and Arizona’s Jan Brewer could hold the citizenship of millions hostage indefinitely by refusing to declare the border secure. 

Perry manages to find money for Highway Patrol speedboats with machine guns mounted on the front to patrol the Rio Grande at the same time as he cuts $4.5 billion from Texas’ schools.  Brewer has committed Arizona’s scarce financial resources to defending SB 1070, the state law intended to make immigrants’ lives so hellish that they “self-deport.” 

Neither are particularly objective in their assessment of the border.

The gang seems to have viewed sacrificing the border to get a bill as a given, and they sold us out so quickly that it never occurred to them that making border security a prerequisite could put citizenship in permanent limbo.

Democratic gang members have responded to the criticism with assurances that the Department of Homeland Security would develop a new, workable definition of a secure border tied to concrete metrics rather than the delusions of Perry and Brewer.  They now say the commission will be strictly advisory.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is certainly further form the lunatic fringe than the governors of Texas and Arizona, but the Department of Homeland Security has a terrible record on the border.

Upon taking office Napolitano refused to halt the condemnation of land and construction of border walls in South Texas and elsewhere.  Early last year her underlings finally succeeded in pressuring the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission to approve walls in the floodplain at Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos, despite the risk to residents on both sides of the river and the damage that the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Roma Bluffs World Birding Center will suffer.

Last week Secretary Napolitano spoke in El Paso, ranked the safest big city in the United States for the third year running, and declared that the border is more secure than ever, and that the idea that immigration reform should be held hostage to border security “suffers from a fundamental flaw.” 

Her argument is backed by the numbers.  Border Patrol apprehensions are at a forty year low, and the Pew Research Center has found that net migration from Mexico is effectively at zero, with as many people heading south as north.

So why has her agency continued to push for border walls?  Politics, of course.

At the beginning of her tenure halting border wall construction would have opened up the newly elected President Obama to attacks in the press.  The “gang of eight” likewise assume that throwing the border under the bus is a political necessity to get a bill through Congress, so they do it without hesitation.

Immigration reform should not be held hostage to “border security”, whether it is Perry and Brewer or Napolitano who decide on what that means.  There will always be conflicting political needs that will prevent the honest assessment and agreement that would allow reform to move forward.

When the Senators draft their bill in the coming weeks border security must not be a prerequisite for anything else.  Otherwise real reform will always be just over the horizon, one more agent, one more drone, one more wall away.

Politics is an abstraction, but the actual border consists of real lives and real landscapes.  We are not a bargaining chip for politicians who have never dipped a toe in the Rio Grande, walked a trail in the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge, or looked a South Texas citrus grower in the eye.