Dear President Obama, Turn The Grief-Bearing Ship Around

The Wall, Sasabe, fence and barrier


In a different form, this article originally appeared in the Mobile Press Register, 2011. Altered, it appeared in, August 29, 2014.

Dear President Obama and Members of Congress,

I am a Baptist Minister to the Community. My ministry focuses on the production of a migrant justice documentary, narrated by Martin Sheen, called The Second Cooler. I first felt called to make the documentary because I was heartbroken for the families, especially the mothers, whose children died under the blazing Arizona sun as they were trying to cross the heavily militarized border into the United States.

Through a terrible twist of fate, I joined them in grief.

On the night of April 17, 2009, my sixteen year old daughter, Leigh Anna, and her precious boyfriend were killed by a drunk driver in Huntsville. The car exploded on impact and Leigh Anna’s tiny body was consumed by flames. The driver was an undocumented migrant from Mexico.

My family and I lost a lot that night. A daughter, an only sister, a granddaughter, the son-in-law we might have had, grandchildren, an aunt, cousins. And on that fiery night we became one of the broken families with broken hearts and broken dreams.

One of my favorite memories of Leigh Anna was the day, about two years before her death, when she went with me to Athens. The Ku Klux Klan was holding an anti-immigrant protest. We went to participate in a counter-protest. I remember her holding a neon-yellow sign, as big as she was, that had one word written on it in big, black letters: LOVE.

I have my memories, but I grieve and I grieve and I grieve.

There is nothing special about my grief. It is no different from that of the young mother in Huntsville whose infant was suffocated by an anxious coyote in that treacherous southwestern desert. Or the grandparents of other children who have died of the brutal cold there, alone and scared. Or of the children whose fathers have been snatched from them and put into deportation. Or the mothers now making plans for someone else to take their children if they should be deported.

And I am reminded of Mary, prostrate with grief at the foot of her crucified son.

I am reminded that recklessness does not belong only to drunk drivers. Or to police officers engaged in high-speed chases.

Recklessness also belongs to the powers, princes, and potentates who wash their hands of the grieving people they accept as the collateral damage of their policies and programs. Who wash their hands of the broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams.

And as I think long thoughts about Leigh Anna and that reckless night, I recall that I worship the God who said, “No!” to Pharaoh and his recklessness. The God who said, “No!” to Nebuchadnezzar and his recklessness. The God who said “No!” to Caesar and his recklessness.

I worship the God of the Exodus, the God of protection for those in fiery furnaces, the God of Resurrection. The God who takes sides with the broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams. The God who defies expectations and delights in dramatic reversals.

I remember Saul on the road to Damascus who heard a voice saying, Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” And he encountered himself in that profound moment and Saul became Paul, announcing the reality of the God who had effected the dramatic reversal, the dramatic “No!” to Caesar, the dramatic Resurrection.

And I recall John Newton, steering his deadly ship filled with desperate, grieving human beings bound for slavery. And that in an unexpected moment John Newton encountered himself on that alien sea, encountered his own recklessness, turned around his ship with its cargo of broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams unsold, and wrote those endlessly beautiful words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

President Obama and members of the United States Congress, in the days and weeks ahead, the political talk and strategizing about “comprehensive immigration reform” will resume. In its guise as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, “reform” is a deadly ship, a ship filled with nothing but more broken families, more broken hearts, and more broken dreams.

But I believe you already know this. In your efforts to further militarize our southwestern border with this package, carelessly disregarding the more migrants who are sure to lose their lives there, you already know you are being reckless with other people’s lives. In your effort to extend the system of indentured servitude duplicitously called the Guest Worker Program, you already know you are being reckless with other people’s lives. In your effort to push all undocumented people into the deportation system under the guise of a “path to citizenship”, you already know you are being reckless with other people’s lives.

I am asking you to encounter yourselves as did Paul and John Newton and turn this deadly grief-bearing ship around. I am asking you to reject political calculating with other people’s lives and begin working for justice.


Plan Integral de Justicia para Migrantes

La orientación de la plataforma del Plan Integral de Justicia para Migrantes está dirigida hacia la justicia en lugar de cualquier conveniencia política.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Esta es la creencia de aquellos que planteamos en esta plataforma que la justicia puede hacerse únicamente cuando la injusticia del sistema actual es completamente y cuidadosamente expuesta. Nosotros enfatizamos que debemos trabajar en conjunto con metas claramente definidas. Estas metas están a continuación detalladas en un plan de rectificación.

La Declaración de Independencia de los Estados Unidos, la Constitución de los Estados Unidos, la Suprema Corte de los Estados Unidos y la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas nos guían en nuestra forma de pensar sobre los sistemas que van en contra de la marginación, separación y opresión de los pueblos.

La Declaración de Independencia de los Estados Unidos dice que parte de lo que significa ser libre es la capacidad de buscar “vida, libertad y felicidad.” La Declaración de Independencia pone en claro que los gobiernos solo existen para proteger los derechos inherentes otorgados por Dios a las personas. Esto además dice que la autoridad de los gobiernos únicamente deriva del consentimiento de aquellos que están siendo gobernados.

La 14ª Enmienda a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos establece “la igualdad de protección bajo la ley.” En la interpretación de este principio, la Suprema Corte de los Estados Unidos ha dicho que “la enmienda incapacita al Estado de privar inmerecidamente a un ciudadano de los Estados Unidos, a cualquier persona sin importar quien sea, de vida, libertad o propiedad sin un debido proceso legal, o de negarle a esta persona la igualdad de protección por las leyes del Estado… [Esto incumbe a] todas aquellas personas quienes pudieran estar dentro de esta jurisdicción.”

En 1948, la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas, en su Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos, clarificó que esto significa hablar de libertad y derechos inherentes en el mundo moderno. En particular, las Naciones Unidas señalan que esto pudiera no pasar si nosotros viviéramos juntos “en un espíritu de hermandad.” Nadie, esto dice, “deberá ser sometido en esclavitud o servidumbre.” Nadie deberá ser “sometido a tratamiento de crueldad, inhumanidad, degradación o castigo.” Nadie deberá ser “sometido a arresto arbitrario, detención o exilio.” Nadie deberá ser “arbitrariamente privado de su propiedad.”


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

La Declaración de los Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas además enfatizó en qué consiste la libertad. Esta consiste en el derecho de una persona a “dejar cualquier país, incluido el propio y regresar a su país,” el “derecho a la nacionalidad,” “el derecho de no ser arbitrariamente privado de su nacionalidad o de negarle el derecho de cambiar su nacionalidad,” el derecho “a poseer su propiedad solo o en asociación con otras personas,” el “derecho de tomar parte en el gobierno de su país,” “el derecho a los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales indispensables para su dignidad y el libre desarrollo de su personalidad.”



Cada uno, las Naciones Unidas prosigue, tiene el derecho a “trabajar, a libre opción de empleo, a justas y favorables condiciones de trabajo y a protección contra desempleo,” el derecho a “pago equitativo por trabajo equitativo” y a una “justa y favorable remuneración para él y su familia.” Cada uno, tiene “el derecho a formar y unirse a sindicatos para la protección de sus intereses.”

En 2006, reconociendo “la urgente necesidad a respetar y promover los derechos inherentes de las personas indígenas los cuales derivan de… sus tierras, territorios y recursos,” las Naciones Unidas adoptaron una Declaración Especial de los Derechos de las Personas Indígenas. Esta estipuló que las personas indígenas tienen derechos “colectivos” como también individuales para el pleno disfrute de “la ley internacional de los derechos humanos” incluyendo el “derecho a la autodeterminación,” el individual “derecho a la nacionalidad,” y el derecho a “vivir en libertad, paz y seguridad como personas distintivas.”

Para que eso finalice, los miembros del Estado “proveerán de mecanismos efectivos para su prevención, y de arreglos para “cualquier acción la cual tenga el efecto de privarlos de su integridad como personas distintivas” o “despojarlos de sus tierras, territorios o recursos.” Más adelante, esta dice que “ninguna relocación tomará lugar sin el libre, previo e informado consentimiento de las personas indígenas involucradas y después de acordar en una justa y equitativa compensación y, donde sea posible con la opción de regresar.”

Esto además dice “que las personas indígenas tienen el derecho a participar en la toma de decisiones en cuestiones que pudieran afectar sus derechos” y que cuando ellos hayan sido “privados de sus conceptos de subsistencia y desarrollo [ellos] están titulados a un justo y equitativo arreglo.”

Ellos tienen el “derecho a mantener y a fortalecer su propia relación espiritual con sus propias costumbres y con las tierras, territorios, aguas, costas marinas y otros recursos que han usado y poseído y de defender sus responsabilidades para futuras generaciones en este ámbito.” Finalmente, esta Declaración establece que todas estas especificaciones no son más que los “estándares mínimos”.

Cuando nosotros consideramos migración no autorizada a través de las especificaciones de estas prescripciones para “vivir en hermandad,” nosotros vemos que los derechos humanos básicos están siendo totalmente negados en cada ocasión. Nosotros enfatizamos en que las negaciones de estos derechos son además contrarias a la acordada ley internacional.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Existe una conclusión entre historiadores quienes analizan las políticas económicas desde la perspectiva de la gente pobre que el Tratado Norteamericano de Libre Comercio (TLNC) ha sido el principal factor de empuje detrás de la migración no autorizada de gente pobre e indígenas de Latinoamérica a los Estados Unidos. Este acuerdo por sí mismo admite que pequeños y tradicionales agricultores en México, por ejemplo, tuvieron que ser sujetos a competencia por corporaciones de granjas fuertemente subsidiadas en los Estados Unidos. Este admite que alzando las tarifas que las corporaciones de Estados Unidos previamente habían pagado en orden de transportar sus productos a México por ejemplo, y quitando los apoyos que el gobierno mexicano había ofrecido por largo tiempo a los agricultores tradicionales cuando estos rechazaron el artículo 27 de la Constitución Mexicana, que un gran número de estos agricultores serían forzados a abandonar sus tierras para emigrar.

Posteriores tratados de libre comercio, incluyendo el Tratado de Libre Comercio de Centro América (CAFTA), el Libre Tratado de China, y otros han tenido efectos similares. En octubre del 2011, el Presidente Barack Obama firmó adicionales tratados de libre comercio con Perú, Colombia y Corea del Sur. Debemos anticipar que nuevos tratados de libre comercio tendrán las mismas consecuencias de los anteriores principalmente creando más desplazamientos de gente y empujandolos a emigrar. Además notamos que los desplazamientos causados por tratados de libre comercio en una escala más pequeña tomarán lugar dentro de los Estados Unidos. La devastación de la industria textil de Alabama es un ejemplo de esta situación.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Una consecuencia a la firma del Tratado Norteamericano de Libre Comercio (TNLC) en 1992 fue la militarización de la frontera Estados Unidos – México. A la fecha, aproximadamente 5000 hombres, mujeres, niños y bebés han muerto como resultado de intentar cruzar esta frontera.

La militarización dió lugar a la prioridad de bloquear las áreas urbanas a lo largo de la frontera las cuales eran los caminos más seguros por los cuales los migrantes tradicionalmente habían entrado a los Estados Unidos desde Latinoamérica. La teoría llevada a cabo en la frontera suroeste de los Estados Unidos fue que los migrantes evitarían áreas urbanas militarizadas, serían empujados a cruzar a través de aislados y peligrosos lugares de la frontera, especialmente a través del desierto de Sonora, algunos morirían y se pasaría la voz hasta llegar a las comunidades de Latinoamérica, y los migrantes pararían de intentar cruzar. Esto fue implementado como una parte de la política de “impedimento.” En adición, muchos migrantes reportaron rutinariamente ser sujetos a tratamiento cruel y humillante a manos de oficiales fronterizos. Notamos que más allá de la militarización de la frontera Estados Unidos – México ha sido parte de cada plan para las “reformas integrales de migración” que ha traído antes el Congreso de los Estados Unidos en años recientes.

La razón por la cual los migrantes cruzan ilegalmente arriesgando su dignidad, su propiedad y sus vidas es porque los Estados Unidos no les permite cruzar legalmente. Estados Unidos tiene dos sistemas de entrada legales. Uno para Canadienses y Europeos del Oeste quienes pudieran cruzar la frontera de Estados Unidos únicamente con un pasaporte, otro es para latinoamericanos, africanos y asiáticos quienes deben tener una visa adherida a su pasaporte. Esta gente debe calificar demostrando que ellos tienen ambos dinero y un título de propiedad para poder cruzar nuestra frontera legalmente.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

La excepción a la prohibición de los Estados Unidos a personas pobres e indígenas es la H2A o H2B visa para trabajadores temporales. Sin embargo el Centro Sureño de Leyes para la Pobreza (SPLC) ha aclarado que el Programa de los Trabajadores Temporales esta “cerca de la esclavitud” como su reporte en la visa fue titulado. La visa legalmente somete al trabajador al empleador que lo importa. El trabajador no puede legalmente dejar al empleador aún cuando el trabajador es abusado. El SPLC describe con precisión que el programa es como “servidumbre por contrato” y “trata de personas.”

Hemos notado que la mayor extensión de visas para trabajadores temporales ha sido parte de cada plan para la “reforma integral de migración” que ha traído antes el Congreso de los Estados Unidos en años recientes.

Los números desproporcionados de aquellos que son forzados a abandonar sus tierras a consecuencia de los tratados de libre comercio y sus políticas pertenecen a la gente indígena.

Muchos observadores señalan que pueblos enteros en las zonas indígenas son ahora ciudades fantasmas o ciudades pobladas solamente por mujeres jóvenes, niños y ancianos.
Los estudios indican que un número desproporcionado de los cuerpos de migrantes recuperados en el desierto de Sonora provienen de las zonas indígenas del sur de México y Guatemala, por ejemplo.

También notamos que el requisito de tener un título de propiedad no es válido para los indígenas que viven en tierras comunitarias siendo esto es un impedimento para venir a los Estados Unidos legalmente.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Millones de personas han sido desplazadas en América Latina, en particular debido a las políticas económicas de los Estados Unidos, especialmente el TLCAN. Los Estados Unidos y demás signatarios, Canadá y México, claramente sabían de esto cuando se firmó el tratado. Este conocimiento previo se indica tanto en el tratado como en la Estrategia Fronteriza del Suroeste. Ahora millones de estas personas desplazadas se encuentran en los Estados Unidos.

Ellos viven bajo la constante amenaza de deportación. Notamos que aproximadamente 1.5 millones de personas fueron deportadas durante la primera administración del Presidente Obama. El Congreso de los Estados Unidos ha autorizado un fondo monetario para deportar 400,000 personas al año, y para hacer esto ha incrementado el fondo monetario para el Departamento de Seguridad Nacional.

Los Estados Unidos también tienen un creciente interés de lucro en su sistema penitenciario con lo que está haciendo enormes sumas de dinero de las deportaciones. El fuertemente financiado sistema de deportación causa un gran sufrimiento a aquellos que son deportados. Además se están desintegrando familias Estadounidenses al ser deportados los cónyuges y los niños son separados de sus familiares que muchas veces son ciudadanos estadounidenses. Esto además ha forzado que miles de ciudadanos vayan al exilio, cónyuges e hijos que siguen a sus deportados o de otra forma esperar el regreso de sus seres queridos repatriados. Muchos de estos ciudadanos americanos en el exilio se convirtieron en aquellos que viven sin ningún estatus legal en el país natal de sus seres queridos. Las barreras legales que enfrentan cónyuges e hijos de aquellos que han sido deportados dejan a muchos sin ninguna esperanza de vivir en algún lugar legalmente como familias.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

En suma, a muchos les es negado el debido proceso garantizado por la 14ª Enmienda a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos y son sometidos a discriminación racial y étnica, detención por meses sin cargos, audiencias secretas y “racionalizados” procesos judiciales, de los cuales la Operación Streamline de Arizona es un ejemplo de ello.

Trabajadores en los Estados Unidos, México y otros lugares cada vez más están siendo sometidos a un nivel de presión que van desde el “derecho a trabajar” y leyes para criminales, lo cual hace más difícil para ellos negociar colectivamente afectando así otros medios para conseguir salarios justos, buenas condiciones de trabajo y beneficios.
Trabajadores no autorizados son victimizados por prácticas abusivas que incluyen redadas en los lugares de trabajo y sistemas electrónicos legales de verificación de empleo [e-verify].

Una importante amenaza a la vida de migrantes e inmigrantes incluyendo niños en los Estados Unidos es la aprobación de la Responsabilidad Personal y Oportunidad de Trabajo y Ley de Reconciliación (PRWORA) en 1996. Señalando que había “un urgente interés del gobierno para eliminar el incentivo para la migración ilegal proveído por la disponibilidad de beneficios públicos”, por primera vez, la ley de 1996 vinculó la elegibilidad de los inmigrantes legales para recibir Medicaid de acuerdo al tiempo de residencia en los Estados Unidos. Estas restricciones, además aplicaban los Programas Estatales de Aseguranza para Salud de los Niños (SCHIP), el cual fue establecido en 1997. PRWORA y SCHIP abarcaron la mayoría de los inmigrantes, incluyendo residentes permanentes legales y a otros migrantes los restringieron a cinco años para su elegibilidad.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Lo que nosotros vemos en esencia es el crecimiento del número de personas prácticamente sin nacionalidad, quienes no tienen el significado de ciudadanía en ningún lugar, los esfuerzos para protegerse ellos mismos, sus familias y sus maneras de vivir les están siendo arrancados sistemáticamente. Derechos humanos fundamentales incluyendo el derecho a vivir, libertad y la búsqueda de la felicidad, les son prácticamente arrebatados. Derechos humanos fundamentales incluyendo el más específico derecho al significado de nacionalidad, a cambiar de nacionalidad, a mantener una identidad étnica, a cruzar fronteras legalmente, a no ser tomados como esclavos, a no ser sujetos a tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes, a no ser sujetos a arrestos arbitrarios, detención o exilio, de no ser privado de propiedad, de tener una propiedad colectivamente o individualmente, de tener la libertad a tener un empleo y favorables condiciones de trabajo, el derecho a pago equitativo por trabajo equitativo, el derecho de formar y de unirse a sindicatos, y el derecho a procesos justos que están siendo negados por el sistema. Hemos notado también, que cuando esos derechos son rechazados por acuerdo internacional a personas que estaban tituladas a esos derechos, les fueron negados sus derechos a compensación.

Plan de Enmienda:
Nosotros proponemos el siguiente Plan Integral de Justicia para Migrantes.
En particular, pedimos que las muertes de migrantes a lo largo de la frontera Estados Unidos –México paren inmediatamente.

1.- Crear una económica y rápida obtención de visas que permita a la gente, incluyendo a las personas de bajos recursos, personas indígenas que vivan y posean tierras comunitarias sin importar sus conocimientos o perspectivas de salario, venir los Estados Unidos de Latinoamérica, África y Asia.

2.- Desmilitarizar la frontera de Estados Unidos-México.

3.- Detener las deportaciones hasta que estas puedan ser desligadas del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional, de la industria de prisiones con fines de lucro y de cuotas.

4.- Abolir el H2A/H2B Programa de Trabajadores Temporales.

5.- Detener la firma y aplicación de los tratados de libre comercio y retroceder en aquellas partes que están en vigor actualmente.

6.- Restaurar procesos justos.

7.- Crear un estatus legal para personas sin estatus legal en la actualidad en los Estados Unidos, incluyendo pero no limitando a su vez un camino a la ciudadanía.

8.- Ayudar a los indígenas a recuperar las tierras que tradicionalmente les han pertenecido en Latinoamérica y la repatriación a esas tierras a aquellos que lo deseen.

9.- Fortalecer el derecho al trabajador local, extranjero y transnacional para organizarse y negociar colectivamente (sindicalización).

10.- Levantar las barreras legales que han sido impuestas a los deportados y habilitar el regreso de repatriados a los Estados Unidos, barreras que seguido obstaculizan a cónyuges e hijos de ciudadanos americanos su derecho a regresar.

11.- Proveer de una remuneración a las familias con ciudadanía americana de deportados para cubrir los gastos relacionados al dejar los países a los cuales ellos hayan sido exiliados.

12.- Desbloquear las barreras para los migrantes e inmigrantes para la elegibilidad a Medicaid y SCHIP.

Elaborado por:
Ellin Jimmerson, Huntsville, AL, EE. UU. , 12 de Enero del 2013.
Traducico por Adryana Luna, Winnipeg, CAN

Firmado por:
Ellin Jimmerson, The Huntsville Immigration Initiative, Huntsville, Alabama.

Platform for Comprehensive Migrant Justice

The orientation of this platform for Comprehensive Migrant Justice is towards justice rather than political expediency.

It is my belief that justice can be done only when the injustice of the current system is exposed carefully and completely. The emphasis in this platform, which I wrote after numerous conversations with other advocates, is on working in concert towards clearly articulated goals.

The preamble sets out the rationale for the platform. The particular goals are listed below in a “plan for redress.”


Alfred Quíroz, Artist


The United States’ Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, US Supreme Court, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide can guide us in our thinking about systems which tend toward the marginalization, dislocation, and oppression of peoples. The United States’ Declaration of Independence says that part of what it means to be free is to have the ability to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness.” The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that governments only exist in order to protect these God-given “unalienable” rights.


The US Declaration of Independence also says that governments derive their authority only from the consent of the ones being governed.

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for “equal protection under the law.” In interpreting this principle, the US Supreme Court has said that “the amendment disable[s] a State from depriving not merely a citizen of the United States, but any person, whoever he may be, of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or from denying to him the equal protection of the laws of the State. . . . [This pertains to] all persons who may happen to be within their jurisdiction.”

In 1948, the United Nations’ General Assembly, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clarified what it means to speak of freedom and inalienable rights in the modern world. In particular, the UN addressed what may not happen if we are to live together “in a spirit of brotherhood.” No one, it says, “shall be held in slavery or servitude.” No one shall be “subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” No one shall be “subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” No one shall be “arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

The UN Declaration of Human Rights also articulated of what freedom consists. It consists of the right of a person to “leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” the “right to a nationality,” the right not to be “arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality,” the right “to own property alone as well as in association with others,” the “right to take part in the government of his country,” the right to “the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”

Everyone, the UN goes on to say, has the right to “work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment,” the right to “equal pay for equal work” and to “just and favorable remuneration for himself and his family.” Everyone has “the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

In 2006, recognizing “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from . . . their lands, territories and resources,” the United Nations adopted a special Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It stipulated that indigenous peoples have “collective” as well as individual rights to the full enjoyment of “international human rights law” including the “right to self-determination,” the individual “right to a nationality,” and the right to “live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.”

To that end, the member States “shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for “any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples” or “dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” Further, it says that “no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” It also says that “indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights” and that when they have been “deprived of their means of subsistence and development [they] are entitled to just and fair redress.”


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

They have the “right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” Finally, this Declaration states that all these specifications are but “minimum standards.”

When I consider unauthorized migration through the lenses of these prescriptions for “living in brotherhood,” I see that basic human rights are willfully being denied at every turn. The denials of these rights also are contrary to agreed-upon tenets of international law.


There is consensus among historians who analyze economic policies from the perspective of poor people that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been the primary “push” factor behind the unauthorized migration of poor and indigenous peoples from Latin America to the United States. The Agreement itself acknowledged that small, traditional farmers in Mexico, for example, were to be subjected to competition from heavily subsidized corporate farms in the United States. It acknowledged that by lifting the tariffs that US corporations previously had paid in order to export their products to Mexico, for example, and by removing the supports the Mexican government long had offered traditional farmers when it repealed Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, that large numbers of those farmers would be forced off their lands and into migration.

Subsequent Free Trade Agreements, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the China Trade Agreement, and others have had similar effects. In October, 2011, President Barack Obama signed additional Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. We must anticipate that new Free Trade Agreements will have the same consequences as previous ones, primarily creating more displacements of people and pushing them into migration.

Displacements caused by Free Trade Agreements on a smaller scale have take place within the United States. The devastation of Alabama’s textile industry is a case in point.

A corollary to the signing of NAFTA in 1992 was the militarization of the United States / Mexico border. To date, approximately 6,000 men, women, children, and babies have died as a result of attempting to cross this border. Militarization placed a priority on the sealing off of the urban areas along the border which were the safest paths by which migrants traditionally had entered the US from Latin America.

The theory, articulated in the US Southwest Border Strategy, was that migrants would avoid the militarized urban areas, be pushed into crossing through isolated and dangerous stretches of the border, especially through the Sonora Desert, some would die, word would get back to Latin American communities, and migrants would stop trying to cross. This was articulated as part of its policy of “deterrence.”

In addition, many migrants routinely report being subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment at the hands of border enforcement officials.

Further militarization of the US / MX border has been part of every plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” that has come before the United States Congress in recent years.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

The reason migrants cross illegally, risking their dignity, their property, and their lives is because the United States does not allow them to cross legally.

The United States has two legal entry systems.

One is for Canadians and Western Europeans who may cross US borders with only a passport. Another is for Latin Americans, Africans, and most Asians who must have a visa affixed to their passport. These people must qualify by demonstrating that they have both money and title to property in order to cross our borders legally.

The exception to the United States’ ban on poor and indigenous is the H2A or H2B Guest Worker Visa. However, as the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] has made clear, the Guest Worker Program is “Close to Slavery” as its report on the visa was titled. The visa legally binds the worker to the employer who imports the worker. The worker may not legally leave a employer even when the worker is abused. The SPLC accurately describes the program as “indentured servitude” and “human trafficking.”

Major extensions of the Guest Worker Visa have been part of every plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” that has come before the United States Congress in recent years.

Disproportionate numbers of those forced off their lands by Free Trade Agreements and corollary policies and decisions have been indigenous peoples. Many observers note that entire towns in indigenous areas are now ghost towns or towns populated only by young women, children, and elderly people. Studies indicate that a disproportionate number of migrant bodies recovered from the Sonora Desert can be traced back to indigenous areas in southern Mexico and Guatemala, for example.

The requirement that people hold title to land automatically bars indigenous people who live on communally-held lands from coming to the United States legally. Millions of peoples have been displaced in Latin America in particular because of the United States’ own economic policies, especially NAFTA. That the United States and the other signatories, Canada and Mexico, knew this when they signed the Agreement is clear.

This prior knowledge is evident in both the Agreement and in the Southwest Border Strategy.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Now millions of these displaced people are in the United States. They live under the constant threat of deportation. Approximately 2.8 million people have been deported during President Obama’s administration.

The United States Congress has authorized funding to deport 400,000 people a year and to carry this out, has increased funding to the Department of Homeland Security.

The US also has a burgeoning for-profit prison system which is making enormous sums of money from deportations. The heavily-funded deportation system causes great hardship to the ones being deported. In addition, it is tearing apart US citizen families as deported spouses and children are taken from their US citizen family members.

Deportation also has created thousands of citizens in exile–spouses and children who follow their deported or otherwise repatriated loved ones to wait out the bars to returning. Many of these US citizens in exile then become the ones living without lawful status in their loved one’s home country. Bars on the lawful entry of their deported spouses and children, leave many without any hope of being able to live anywhere lawfully as families.
In addition, many are denied the due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and are subjected to racial and ethnic profiling, detention for months without charges, secret hearings, and “streamlined” court trials of which Arizona’s Operation Streamline is a case in point.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Laborers in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere increasingly are being subjected to a range of pressure ranging from “right to work” laws to murder which make it hard for them to bargain collectively and in other ways act in concert for good wages, working conditions, and benefits.Unauthorized laborers in the US also are victimized by abusive practices including workplace raids and electronic legal employment verification systems [e-verify].

An important threat to life for immigrants and migrants, including immigrant and migrant children, in the US was passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996. Stating that there was “a compelling government interest to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits,” for the first time, the 1996 law tied legal immigrants’ eligibility for Medicaid to their length of residency in the US. These restrictions also applied to State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP), which was established in 1997. PRWORA and SCHIP subject most immigrants, including legal permanent residents, and migrants to five year bars on eligibility.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist


What I see in essence is the burgeoning of people who essentially are stateless.

They have no meaningful citizenship anywhere. Their every effort to protect themselves, their families, and their ways of life are being systematically taken from them. Fundamental human rights including the general rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are being systematically taken away. Fundamental human rights including the more specific right to a meaningful nationality, to change nationality, the right to maintain nationality, to maintain ethnic identity, to cross borders legally, not to be held in slavery, not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, not to be deprived of property, to hold property collectively as well as individually, to free choice of employment and favorable conditions of work, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to due process are being systematically denied.

I believe that when these rights are denied, according to international agreement, people whose rights have been denied are entitled to redress.


Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Plan for redress

I propose the following plan for Comprehensive Migrant Justice. In particular, I ask that the deaths of migrants along the United States / Mexico border be stopped immediately.

1. Create an inexpensive, quickly obtained visa that allows people, including poor people and indigenous people who live on communally-held lands, and without respect to their skill or wage earning prospects, to come to the United States from Latin America, Africa, and Asia

2. De-militarize the US / Mexico border

3. Halt deportations until they can be detached from the Department of Homeland Security, the for-profit prison industry, and quotas

4. Abolish the H2A / H2B Guest Worker Program

5. Stop the signing and implementation of Free Trade Agreements and roll back on those parts which now are in effect

6. Restore due process in removal proceedings

7. Create a lawful status for people without lawful status currently in the United States including, but not limited to, a path to citizenship

8. Aid indigenous people’s recovery of what traditionally have been communally-held lands in Latin America and the repatriation to those lands of those who wish it

9. Strengthen the right to organize and bargain collectively (unionize) by domestic, foreign, and transnational labor

10. Lift the legal bars that have been imposed on deportees’ and otherwise repatriated people’s ability to return to the US, bars which often act as practical bars to their US citizen spouses’ and children’s ability to return

11. Provide redress to the US citizen families of deportees by providing for expenses involved in leaving the countries to which they have entered into exile

12. Lift Medicaid and SCHIP bars to eligibility for immigrants and migrants
Finalized by Ellin Jimmerson, January 12, 2013; amended August 5, 2016

All photographs are of aluminum cutouts by artist, Alfred Quíroz, used by permission. ©Huntsville Immigration Initiative, LLC

How Nuns On The Bus Get It Wrong On Immigration Reform

Serrano, Sin Título, with dog 1

Border Wall, by Guadalupe Serrano. Used with permission.

Like Sr. Simone Campbell I am a clergy woman. I also am a full time advocate for illegal immigrants, guest workers in the US legally with an H2 visa, and domestic labor. She is a lawyer; I am a historian. I am a film maker whose migrant justice documentary, The Second Cooler, narrated by Martin Sheen, has won awards on the festival circuit. I have won awards for humanitarianism. Sr. Campbell has been praised by Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Bill Moyers and has become the subject of a documentary in the making, Nuns on the Bus, directed by Sundance Award-winning film maker, Mellisa Regan.

It would appear we have much in common. In fact, we are miles apart when it comes to both a starting point for and an analysis of immigration reform. Sr. Simone promotes S. 744, the so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill which passed in the Senate but failed in the House last year [2013]. I vehemently oppose it.

The Wall, Sasabe, fence and barrier

Photo by Bill Schweikert for the Huntsville Immigration Initiative, LLC. As seen in The Second Cooler.

Her vocational starting point appears to be that clergy people must negotiate with power and accept the parameters established by military contractors, corporate employers, the for-profit prison industry, big, well-funded activist groups, and confused politicians. My starting point is that clergy must tell truth to power. We must say “No!” to Caesar and the national security state, not become apologists for them.

More importantly, Sr. Simone does not appear to understand the content of the bill. It is in no way a good bill stymied by Republicans on the wrong side of history. It is far from being a bill which would offer immigrants a reasonable “path to citizenship” or stop deportations. This is, however, precisely the message she conveys. As the subtitle of her article which appeared in on May 9 puts it, “Because Congress has failed to pass immigration reform, mothers will be separated from their children throughout America this Mother’s Day.”

Aizeki, Prohibido cruzar la linea

Photo by Mizue Aizeki. Used with permission.

Reality is that the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would, if passed, make a bad situation much worse. It calls for further militarization of the US / MEX border which inevitably will put more pressure on border communities, environmental systems, and migrants. Deaths will increase. It will expand the consignment of poor foreign workers to indentured servitude by expanding the inherently abusive and highly exploitive Guest Worker program, a program which has been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center as being “Close to Slavery.” The program inevitably will work to the advantage of employers and to the disadvantage of domestic and foreign laborers.

Militarization and guest worker visas are not incidentals hovering around the edges of a “pathway to citizenship” bill. They are the keystones of the bill. Deportation? Not even addressed in the bill which should surprise no one since the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, the two powerful for-profit prison corporations which have contracts with the Federal government to fill their beds with immigration detainees are helping pay for the bill. And that “path to citizenship?” To the degree that it exists at all, it is a punitive, 13 year long path which cannot be begun until after the border is fully militarized and it is so filled with fees and exceptions that those who live long enough to start out on the path will never make it to the end. Surely, even those inured to the rough and tumble of politics should agree that it is a poor exchange for other people’s lives and other people’s servitude.

The Wall, Crosses 30

Border Wall art installation, by No More Deaths.

When I wrote Sr. Simone a letter last July [2013] encouraging her to reconsider her position on S. 744 she replied, “if you have a magic wand, please use it.” I have no magic wand.

What I do have is an ability to speak truth to power and propose justice alternatives. Instead of expanding militarization and increasing migrant deaths, we should de-militarize the border. We should create a visa allowing poor people without significant amounts of money and title to land to come to the US legally. We should abolish the Guest Worker visa. We should immediately confer a legal status on those without it. We should halt deportations altogether until they can be detached from the Department of Homeland Security and the for-profit prison system. We can support a good alternative to S. 744 which already exists, the American Families United Act, HR 3431.

In other words, we clergy can insist on justice not deals.

This article originally appeared in The God Article, with Mark Sandlin on on May 19, 2014.

Why “Don’t Say ‘Illegal Immigrant'” Is a Problem

thLast month [June, 2014], as Americans focused attention on Central American child refugees, Benjamin L. Corey’s June, 2013 article, “Why We Need To Stop Using The Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’”, appeared on my Facebook feed. In it, Corey said using the term “illegal immigrant” was to bear false witness against our neighbor.

I am a Baptist minister and film maker who advocates for illegal immigrants, guest workers in the US legally with a visa, and domestic labor. With enormous respect for those concerned about the term, I want to suggest there are bigger issues which are obscured, keeping us from bearing witness on our neighbor’s behalf, when we hesitate to use it.

First, crossing US borders without permission is a crime — a legal wrong doing. There are two classes of crimes–misdemeanors and felonies. Crossing “without inspection”, to use the legal term, is a misdemeanor the first time. But it is a felony when one returns, voluntarily or involuntarily, to his home country and re-enters illegally. Whether a misdemeanor or felony, because of Federal agreements with the for-profit prison industry, the crime of crossing illegally is costing 400,000 people a year their property and their families. The punishment is far out of proportion to the crime. Christians must bear witness to this.

Second, under current law, crossing our southern border illegally, whether as a misdemeanor or a felony, is a crime sometimes leading to loss of life without due process–without arrest, charge, representation, judge, or jury. Since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] in 1992, in an effort to control the movements of laborers it knew it was displacing, the Federal government began knowingly sending illegal immigrants to their deaths via border militarization.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Southwestern Border Strategy, devised after the passing of NAFTA, included closing off the relatively safe, urban crossing areas, such as that at Nogales, Arizona, to force migrants into the vast Sonora Desert. A limited number of migrants would die, according to the Strategy, and word would to get back to Mexican communities where those deaths would become “a deterrent” to others contemplating coming. To date, at least 5,000 migrants have been sent to their deaths in the Pacific Ocean and the Rio Grande, as well as the Sonora Desert. Using death as a deterrent to crime rather than as a punishment for crime is a significant moral problem and a significant international law problem. Christians need to bear witness to this.

In addition, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a particular class of human beings–in this case unauthorized laborers–became branded as a threat to national security. They themselves, not simply their actions in crossing our border without inspection, have been identified as a threat to national security. Despite the famous saying that “no human being is illegal,” identifying any class of persons, whether Jews in Germany or homosexuals in Uganda or illegal immigrants in the US, as a threat to national security so severe that it warrants taking their life from them is the essence of making human beings illegal. Christians need to bear witness to this.

Third, the word “undocumented” falsely implies there are documents to be had. It indicates that for some reason migrants chose not to come “the right way”. In fact, there is no way for people without title to land or large amounts of money to cross our borders legally if they are from Latin America, Africa, or most parts of Asia. The word “undocumented” functions to obscure the fact that the US has two racially, socially, and ethnically encoded legal entry systems. The system for these areas blocks, before the process begins, all indigenous people and all poor people from entering legally. Christians need to bear witness to this.

Fourth, sensitivity over the term did not originate with migrants. It originated with immigration advocacy insiders. Illegal immigrants often refer to themselves as “illegals”. So do their loved ones. In the days following the passage of HB 56, Alabama’s notorious anti-immigrant law, I listened to a woman in Alabama who had driven 3 hours to address a gathering at the Capitol building in Montgomery. She said, “My name is Rebecca. I’m married to an illegal. I worry every day that he won’t come home.” The translator corrected her. “My name is Rebecca,” he said, “and I’m married to an undocumented man.” It is a problem betraying a lack of respect for illegal immigrants when advocates talk down to, and become suspicious of, the very people they say they are advocating for.

By the same token, I have been in situations where I was afraid for my safety because volatile militiamen were present. I have heard them spewing venom against the “undocumented immigrants” they wanted to drive out of Alabama. As a shibboleth separating good guys from bad guys, “undocumented” simply doesn’t work.

Fifth, as renewed calls for “comprehensive immigration reform” gin up in light of the child refugee crisis, advocate generated suspicion of the term has helped grant moral high ground, and undeserved reliability, to those same advocacy groups which are relentlessly promoting a particular piece of legislation–S. 744. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is a sinister bill moving the entire system to the far political right. Instead of focusing on the defeat of a term, Christians must begin, and quickly, to rally defeat of this bill which would send proportionately thousands more to their deaths by completing the militarization of our southern border, ear mark Hispanics in particular for servitude by drastically expanding the guest worker program, and funnel everyone in the US illegally into the deportation machine. Christians need to bear witness to this.

Surely, in our desire to do right by those in the US illegally, we can do better than focusing on these two words while obscuring real life and death issues. Christian witness insists on it. Justice depends on it.

This article originally appeared in Patheos on August 25, 2014.

Comparing Politicians to Christ: Facts, Please



Dr. Russell Moore

It is not often that Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC], and I agree. He opposes same sex marriage and abortion, for example. I support same sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose. When I officiated at Madison County, Alabama’s first same sex wedding, that started a chain of events that led to the church with which I am associated to be “disfellowshipped” by the SBC. Typically, Moore and I do not agree on much.

However, prominent Christian pastors on both the left and right have publicly supported their favorite politicians – comparing them to Christ. Here is where Moore and I agree – if you are going to compare a politician to Christ, you need to back up your comparison with facts.


Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Several days ago, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University endorsed Donald Trump. He gushed, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment”.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Moore demonstrated that Falwell’s praise is at odds with the facts of Trump’s life. He wrote,

[Trump] revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the ‘top women in the world’ [and that Trump] is a casino and real estate mogul who has built his careers off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily.

Similarly, Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew and conservative host of the popular radio show, The Line Of Fire, wrote this op-ed for the Christian Post. In it he quoted a colleague:

I just don’t understand how a true Christian can so easily dismiss all this … wife posed nude, married three times, nasty, crude, cruel, proud, dishonest, manipulative, casino owner and promoter, bankrupted several companies, ‘hates’ abortion but agrees to make it legal, gutter mouth … and on and on and on.


Donald Trump

Citing Trump’s attacks on those he happens to dislike at the moment, Brown asks,

be it Megyn Kelly or Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush or Rosie O’Donnell – attacks in which he behaves more like a spoiled, petulant child than a presidential candidate, how [can Falwell] point to his Christ-like character?

In other words, Moore and Brown are addressing the facts of Trump’s life and career. These facts fly in the face of claims that Trump is the embodiment of Christ from a conservative Christian, personal morality point of view.

There are equally extravagant claims being made by progressive Christians. John Pavlovitz, a pastor and blogger with millions of followers, recently said in the Huffington Post that President Obama has “in effect out-Jesused many of his Conservative Christian critics”. Obama, he wrote, has “championed justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people in a way that closely resembles the stated mission of Christ”.


Rev. John Pavlovitz

Among other claims, Pavlovitz said that Obama

has vigorously defended the civil rights of all human beings, has challenged us to be hospitable to refugees and immigrants, and has called out corporate lobbyists and big business special interests that have crippled the middle class and widened the income gap between the richest and poorest.

These claims are factually inaccurate if not downright preposterous. The most cursory glance at his policies should make that clear.

Despite his campaign promise, for example, Obama did not close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where some prisoners have been held for decades without being charged. Among the detainees’ basic rights, which Obama has failed to champion in any meaningful way, are the rights of habeus corpus, a US and international principle providing the right to challenge the legality of one’s arrest, and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution which provides the right to a “speedy and public trial”.

Then there is the matter of Obama’s foreign policy. Jeremy Scahill, a national security correspondent for The Nation and for Democracy Now!, traces the expansion of covert wars in countries ranging from Somalia to Pakistan. He says that

particularly in the Obama administration . . . . we’ve returned to the kind of 1980s way of waging war, where the US was involved in all these dirty wars in Central and Latin America, in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and beyond.

For example, he says, the US and Obama are “using proxies, that effectively are death squads, in Somalia to hunt down people the US has determined are enemies . . . . [and] mercenary forces in various wars, declared and undeclared, around the world.”


King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa

Similarly, Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, wrote “Obama’s Troubling Counterterrorism Allies: Dictators”. Hiatt detailed Obama’s alarming embrace of Syria’s Bashar-Al-Assad, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa, and Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov. Hiatt calls Al-Assad the “bloodiest butcher of this young century”.

He goes on to say that Al-Sisi has “killed and imprisoned opponents with a brazenness Hosni Mubarak never dreamed of,” that when Al Kahlifa “cracks down on peaceful dissidents, the United States barely notices”, and that Karimov “presides over a closed society of prison camps and forced labor.”

As for being “hospitable to refugees and immigrants”, as Pavlovitz asserts, that has been anything but true of Obama with the exception of his recent welcome of Syrian refugees. Obama supports further militarizing the United States / Mexico border which was militarized to prohibit Mexicans and others displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] from coming to the US. Militarization has taken a minimum of 6,000 migrants’ lives.


President Barack Obama

Obama has earned the derogatory nickname “Deporter in Chief” among Latinos because under him deportations sky-rocketed, ripping some 2.5 million people from their families. Deportations have left over 5,000 children stranded in foster care and forced other US citizens into exile to be with their deported husband or father. He has deported asylum-seeking Central Americans which has cost 83 their lives, according to London’s newspaper, The Guardian. And, according to the Washington Post, his administration failed to protect thousands of other Central American children, placing them in the hands of human traffickers or abusive caretakers in the U. S.

As for Pavlovitz’s claim that Obama has “called out corporate lobbyists and big business special interests” one needs only to look at his support for free trade agreements [FTAs] to know that is inaccurate. He signed FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and has been negotiating vigorously for the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP]. As I demonstrated in my film, The Second Cooler, NAFTA not only pushed some 2 million Mexican peasants off their lands and into migration, it allowed good-paying jobs in the United States to be sent overseas. Displacement of peoples is inherent to FTAs which push people off their lands and out of their jobs in order to fulfill the goal of “opening up markets.”

Economic researchers with Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute have projected that the TPP would likely lead to the loss of 448,000 US jobs and cause labor’s share of income to decline by 1.3%. This necessarily would increase the gap between rich and poor and widen inequality. The researchers found that while the US job market will suffer the most, the TPP would lead to 771,000 job losses over the next 10 years in the member nations.

FTAs, however, are about more than opening up markets, displacement of peoples, and the offshoring of good paying jobs. Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, has called trade deals “backdoor financial deregulation,” a “power tool to demolish financial stability policies,” and part of the establishment of an “investor-state” system. She concludes that the TPP and other FTAs are mainly about “new rights for corporations and new constraints on governments’ non-trade regulatory policy space”.

Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes about markets for the New York Times, voiced similar concerns. She wrote that “trade agreements might well be read as an invitation to fight financial regulation”. She points out that Ecuador in 2011 asked that World Trade Organization to allow it to preserve its ability to create regulations to ensure “the integrity and stability of the financial system”. But the proposal was rejected by trade representatives in the U. S., the European Union, and Canada.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in economics to surmise that it is the middle class that suffers the most from these deals.

Christian pastors and bloggers have the right to endorse or support any candidate and any president they wish, but Russell Moore and I agree on this: when Christian leaders compare the president or a presidential hopeful to Christ, they must backup their claims with facts. We may disagree on which facts are or are not critical, but they must be backed up. Other people’s lives are hanging in the balance.

Illegal Immigration — Op-Ed for Mobile Press Register, 2008

I wrote this article in 2008. It was about this time that I began to get the idea of making a documentary about immigration.

“Illegal Immigration” (unedited version)

Mobile Press Register

March 3, 2008

300px-Wallace_at_University_of_Alabama_edit2The borderline has come to the colorline in Alabama and we are off to a bad start. There should be no people in the country better prepared to step up with empathy, courage and humility to the issue of illegal immigration. Our history of slavery, segregation and debt peonage should have brought us the insight that what is legal is not always right. Rosa Parks’ momentous decision should have etched on our collective psyche the profound understanding that what is illegal is not always wrong. Strong histories of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments and Birmingham in 1963 should have taught us to respect the complicatedness of race and class. The struggle to reverse our well-deserved reputation as a safe haven for demagogues should have made us leery of the politics of race, fear and confusion.

The borderline has come to the colorline in Alabama and we are off to a bad start. There is not a dime’s worth of difference between George Wallace vowing he would never be “out-niggraed” and Gardendale Rep. Scott Beason’s aggressive decision not to be “out-illegalled.” There is not a dime’s worth of difference between Wallace’s “segregation yesterday! segregation today! segregation tomorrow!” and local city councils proposing ordinances referring to a group of human beings as a “public nuisance.” There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the arrogance of “whites only” and “English only” nor between the current crop of vehicle impoundment ordinances and the old voter literacy laws designed to harass and humiliate.

The borderline has come to the colorline in Alabama and we are off to a bad start. The racial cast of characters has changed but the old, ugly vilifications have made a comeback. At a public meeting a black man rants he cannot rent his property because of Hispanics “running around half-naked.” A white, professional Hispanic with papers lords his supposedly Spanish descent over the poor, indigenous, undocumented Latinos in his church. A white woman with refined speech mannerisms dresses up her racist anti-Catholicism as concern for women. At the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission’s (JIPIC) lynch mob-like Huntsville meeting, black and white police officers step into the crowd to protect a Latina attempting to speak up for illegal immigrants. At the JIPIC’s Hoover meeting, in words chillingly reminiscent of “Crucify him!” the mostly white crowd chants “deport them!” when a white minister attempts a “what would Jesus do?” mini-sermon.

We are at it again. We need to remember our history. We need to develop a working knowledge that U. S. history includes installing, supporting or colluding with Latin American dictators and their Mafia-like national guards and promoting economic “developmentalism” plans both of which, many historians conclude, have concentrated more and more wealth, land and power in the hands of fewer and fewer. We have been instrumental in creating the poverty pushing Latin Americans across our borders.

We need to develop a working knowledge of current “trickle down” developmentalist subsidies, tariffs and U. S. free trade agreements with Latin America. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a phased-in agreement signed by Canada, the U. S. and Mexico in 1992, was designed to make the countries safe for investors. That it may have done. Experts who look at economic policy from the perspective of workers and peasant farmers, however, conclude NAFTA has brought catastrophic suffering to already impoverished Mexico. For example, NAFTA’s lifting of export tariffs the big, subsidized U. S. producers of corn and beans had to pay allowed them to dump their products in Mexico well below the cost of production. The result has been, according to conservative estimates, the bankrupting of 1 ½ million small corn and bean farmers pushing them off their lands and into migration. Many of them are Native Americans pushed onto the latest leg of a hemispheric “Trail of Tears.”

Experts who look at economic policy from the perspective of small and medium Alabama farmers and ranchers conclude free trade agreements are also bringing economic suffering to Alabamians. Our once strong peanut producers are being hard-hit. Small and medium-sized Alabama beef ranchers, flower growers, tomato farmers and lumber mills are struggling to compete with cheap corporate-produced Argentine beef, Ecuadorian flowers, Mexican tomatoes and Canadian softwood.

And jobs? Fort Payne’s sock factories are in the Dominican Republic. In Huntsville, a Canadian-owned maquiladora, as low-end, foreign-owned assembly plants in Mexico are called, says it simply cannot operate without importing and abusing 900 human beings duplicitously referred to as “guest workers.” At the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission’s “fact-finding” meeting in Mobile, shipyard, oyster company, and seafood company owners politely testify they simply cannot operate without that most vulnerable of all worker—the guest worker far from home, legally bound to the employer who imports them, who speaks little English and who has incurred thousands of dollars in debts to get here. Meanwhile, predominantly black Perry County languishes in eternal underemployment, poverty and neglect. And the Poarch Creek Indian reservation in Escambia County languishes in eternal underemployment, poverty and neglect.

The borderline has come to the colorline has come to the picket line in Alabama and those of us who advocate for legal and illegal migrants are also off to a shaky start. We have been quick to assume that if migrants are right, farm and trade unionists concerned about the adverse affect of “guestworkers” on U. S. workers’ wages and working conditions must be wrong. We are quick to assume that because blatantly racist Minutemen are wrong, polite corporate owners insisting they need more “guests” must be right. This despite the fact Montgomery’s Southern Poverty Law Center has called the H-2 guestworker program an “inherently abusive modern day system of indentured servitude.” We have been quick to lament the failure of the U. S. Congress’s proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill oblivious to its effort to extend this cruel system of “disposable workers” and to its proposed extension of the militarized border which since 2000 has sent 1,000 migrants to their deaths in Pima Co., AZ alone, including at least four little girls. We have been slow to be horrified by this new federal experiment which exchanges real peoples’ lives for hypothetical safety from hypothetical terrorists. The new noose.

The borderline has come to the colorline has come to the picket line in Alabama. This phase of our on-going civil rights struggle, as before, is about race, class, fear, small jobs and big money. It will be won when we insist on human dignity. We are in a struggle for our soul. It is going to be a long haul. It is not too late to get it right. Somewhere encoded deep in our DNA is the intuitive conviction that the politics of division is feeding a sinful socio-economic structure that is benefiting the few at the expense of the many. Somewhere deep in our DNA is the intuitive conviction that cruel, oppressive systems are bigger than the people, like slaves, segregated blacks, poor whites and illegal immigrants, caught up in them. We need to bring that deeply buried but nonetheless real intuition to the surface and allow it to work for us. Sí, se puede, Alabama. Eyes on the prize!

Ellin Sterne Jimmerson