Monday, April 14, 2008

Column of the Americas: the price of a Mexican, #2

The inhumane border

by Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

TUCSON -- In early December, a Mexican family is pulled over by a Tucson police officer who promptly calls immigration officers to the scene. In the meantime, a passenger, Miriam Aviles-Reyes, goes into early labor on the street. While her husband is deported, she is taken to a hospital. There, an immigration agent prods her to "push." Outraged, she demands that he leave the hospital room. After he leaves, she gives birth, and is subsequently ordered to leave the country by the end of the month. Appeals to allow her and her newborn to keep their doctor appointments are denied.

Not coincidentally, her departure was set to coincide one day before a new draconian anti-immigrant law (HB 2779) in Arizona went into effect.

As abhorrent as this traumatically induced birth was, she is actually one of the "lucky" ones. This is a part of the country in which since the mid-1990s, some 5,000 migrants from Mexico, Central and South America have died attempting to cross inhospitable deserts and mountains for a chance to work in this country. Many others die in horrific crashes as smugglers increasingly attempt to evade "the migra." Some are killed by rogue agents, whereas many women are sexually assaulted. Few perpetrators are ever convicted. This is also minutemen vigilante country. It is where migrants get blamed for the failure of politicians to pass humane immigration agreements. As a result, migrants continue to die and millions of dollars continue to be wasted to erect walls of fear and hate along the southern border.

Similar to the more than 1,000 laws that have recently passed nationwide, the Arizona law panders to those that scapegoat Mexicans for the nation's problems. They also conflate immigration enforcement with the "war on terror" and the need to "protect the homeland." This state law severely punishes employers for hiring undocumented immigrants. Not unexpectedly, along with hate crimes, reports of employment harassment and discrimination are on the rise.

Down the highway, under the guise of crime suppression, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gone wild, initiating massive dragnet raids that target Mexicans, resembling a modern version of "Indian Removal." Similar raids are taking place around the country, though not against Canadians or Europeans, etc (nor should they). Nowadays, there are special holding facilities for immigrant children and families (T.D. Hutto Res. Ctr, Taylor, TX) - run by the for-profit Correction Corporation of America (CCA). There are also expedited immigration courts on military bases (Davis Monthan Air Force Base) with the objective of criminalizing en masse as many migrants as possible. Also profiting from such kangaroo courts is CCA.

The entire country is going through a convulsion, fueled by fears over who belongs and who doesn't. Mexicans have gone from being "others" to enemies. Extremists want them all deported - regardless of their legal status. Yet even some "progressives" see them as but part of a subservient class. Yet, there is hope.

At the recent annual banquet in Tucson held by the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos organization, I approach a woman with a cane. Sometimes I see her walking with the aid of two canes. I ask Raquel Rubio Goldsmith, an immigration rights veteran and the director of the University of Arizona's Binational Migration Institute, how she maintains her sanity in this environment.

She says few words. It's her eyes that tell the story. Her eyes do not well up nor is there a sign of anger. Instead they reflect exasperation, not with right-wingers, but with the complacent middle. Thousands of migrants die and people just go on with their lives, unmoved to action.

At this banquet, Gerald Lenoir, head of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, delivers the keynote address and along with it hope as he links the historic struggle of the African American community with the struggle for the dignity of migrants - peoples who are nowadays viewed as less than human. By his very presence, both he and Derechos Humanos show a different way.

After a subsequent conference (No Vale Nada la Vida? - Is life not worth anything?) in which death on the border is the focus, I again ask Rubio-Goldsmith how she maintains her sanity amid the indifference. The exasperation she feels also extends to the media, she confides: "me dan tanta rabia" (the media infuriate me), she says.

What I really want to ask her is: What indeed is the price of a Mexican? A few years back, a Texas court determined it was $6,000. In today's climate, I think we all know the answer.

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