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La Jornada > Cobertura de "La otra campaña"

Nodos Comunes

.. Caosmosis ..

Rage One (blog)

domingo, agosto 27, 2006

Immigrant-Rights-Agenda Report: Part I of II = 08-27-2006

Immigrant-Rights-Agenda Report: Part I of II = 08-27-2006


August 27, 2006 =

Protest Targets Maywood's Stance: Both sides shout it out in the tiny city that is known as a 'sanctuary' for illegal immigrants.
By Ted Rohrlich, Times Staff Writer

For a couple of hours Saturday, a small group of demonstrators made Slauson Avenue in the tiny city of Maywood feel like the red-hot center of the national debate over immigrant rights.

A few dozen people from Save Our State and like-minded groups lined up behind police barricades, shouted into bullhorns and waved American flags to protest characterizations of the heavily Latino, square-mile city by some elected officials as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

Separated from the Save Our State contingent by other barricades and a line of riot-ready police a block away, about 200 counter-demonstrators shouted into their own bullhorns that it was time for amnesty and for the "racists" to go home.

Joseph Turner of San Bernardino, founder of Save Our State, said his group staged the protest in Maywood "to punish the city … for their transgressions" by disrupting traffic and commerce and making the city pay for extra police.

Protester Roger Young, an aerospace engineer from Lake Forest, said he had been involved in two traffic accidents with illegal immigrants who had no driver's licenses or insurance and tried to walk away, even though they were at fault. He said he was upset about people breaking laws, adding that it is difficult to get his point of view heard. "To voice a different opinion in this city," he said, "it takes 100 policemen for an escort."

Maywood's police force, which has about 40 officers, was heavily mobilized Saturday, supplemented by officers from nearby cities, including South Gate, Whittier and Huntington Park, and by Los Angeles school police.

Maywood Mayor Thomas Martin estimated that the city would pay $20,000 to $30,000 for police overtime.

No arrests were made as police turned back attempts by counter-demonstrators to take side streets around the barricades and confront the Save Our State group.

Pedro Olguin, a union organizer from Maywood, stood with the counter-protesters, many of whom were from groups that drew from outside the city. Among them were Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, and the Mexica Movement, which proclaims that peoples indigenous to the Americas "are not the illegals. Europeans are the illegals."

Olguin said he is part of a coalition that prevailed upon the Maywood City Council to oppose legislation that passed the House of Representatives in December calling for tougher enforcement measures against illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the legislation believe it would require cities such as Maywood, which is 96% Latino, to aggressively enforce immigration laws.

The city's resolution opposing the federal legislation was designed to say, "We won't use city funds to enforce immigration laws," Olguin said.

Martin, who supported the measure and well-publicized statements by a colleague that Maywood is a "sanctuary city," was promoting an event at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church three blocks away, where a couple of hundred people were treated to free lunch and Mariachi music while they were urged to become citizens and register to vote.

Martin said immigration enforcement by local authorities would promote unfair ethnic profiling.

In going on record against the federal legislation, he said, "We wanted to send a clear message to all departments of the community that we don't want you to be" immigration agents, he said.

Maywood has an official population of 28,000. But local officeholders say that about 45,000 people live there when illegal immigrants are fully counted.


August 26, 2006 =
Illegal immigrant's supporters, foes in made-for-TV roles
By Oscar Avila / Tribune staff reporter

Elvira Arellano retreated to an upstairs apartment Friday, while her supporters barred the door of a Humboldt Park church to await the Minutemen, a group that opposes illegal immigration.

Then the "protest" materialized: Ted Hayes, who flew from Los Angeles to oppose Arellano's defiance of a government deportation order, approached Adalberto United Methodist Church--and the television cameras planted in front.

Hayes works with the homeless and also is affiliated with the Minutemen. He founded the Crispus Attucks Brigade, an immigration control group named for an African-American who was the first colonial casualty of the Revolutionary War.

What followed was a bizarre scene of political street theater as Arellano's supporters prayed in a circle around an icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe while incense burned. Several feet away, the dreadlocked Hayes literally wrapped himself in the American flag as he talked into TV microphones.

The latest battle in this public-relations war revolved around the rights of Arellano's son, a U.S. citizen. Attorneys this week filed a lawsuit in 7-year-old Saul Arellano's name, charging that his rights would be violated if his mother, who entered the United States illegally, is deported. Hayes called that claim nonsense.

Before Hayes made his appearance, Arellano supporter Roberto Lopez had been on guard because the church had received threatening phone calls. "You can't take any chances," he said.

As Hayes approached, the crowd of about 20 Arellano supporters grew silent. Hayes extended his hand but only a few took it. Lopez put his hands behind his back and offered a modest bow, like a karate instructor.

Hayes approached Rev. Walter Coleman, the church's pastor, and skilled in the art of media soundbites. He's been delivering them for decades since his days in Uptown.

On this muggy afternoon, Hayes, who was getting a positively icy reception from the crowd, asked Coleman if he could meet with Arellano. "As mature individuals, we should be able to dialogue," Hayes offered.

Coleman hedged and also declined Hayes' invitation to hear his statement to the press. "I'm not interested in listening to your hatred," Coleman replied.

With the cameras rolling and his two late-arriving allies in attendance, Hayes criticized Arellano's defiance.


Aug. 26, 2006 =
She sought sanctuary, became a symbol: Immigrant living inside a church stirs U.S. debate over the fairness of immigration law
By TERESA PUENTE / Special To The Chronicle

CHICAGO - Elvira Arellano, the illegal immigrant who has sought sanctuary in a storefront church, says only God knows her destiny.

In the compact room where she sleeps above the church, she has converted a desk into a shrine of gifts from many of the people who support her attempt to defy a deportation order.

Her case of disobedience is gaining attention from international news organizations, American church alliances and activists on many sides of larger immigration issues.

Last week, Arellano clutched a rose-scented rosary next to a key chain with pictures of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and a prayer card of St. Toribio, the unofficial saint of undocumented migrants from Mexico.

"God is great, and I maintain my faith in this church," Arellano, 31, said in an interview in Spanish.

She has spent her time there since Aug. 15, the day set for her deportation to Mexico by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

No legal protections

The single mother has become a stirring symbol in the immigration debate, supporters said, giving a voice to the janitors, nannies and field workers who normally live and work in the shadows. Arellano, in fact, had a cleaning job at O'Hare International Airport before she was found to have used a false Social Security number.

Federal officials said they can apprehend and deport Arellano at any time. Her taking up residence in the church with her 7-year-old son, Saul, a U.S. citizen by birth, gives her no legal protections, they said.

"She willfully flaunted the law by not showing up (Aug. 15)," Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said. "She in fact became an immigrant fugitive."

But immigration officials have confided to reporters that they have no plans to remove Arellano from Adalberto United Methodist Church.

Her supporters argue that it is inhumane to separate a mother from her child and that immigration reform is needed to protect millions of other children across the country who have at least one undocumented parent.

"We believe that a moratorium (on such deportations) is the humane thing to do," said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of the church, where Arellano has been a parishioner the past three years. He has granted her lodging indefinitely.

Chicago attorney Joseph Mathews last week sought a court injunction against the woman's removal from the United States, arguing that the government would be forcing the illegal deportation of a U.S. citizen — her son.

If the child stayed behind, he would most likely become a ward of the state, Mathews explained. Arellano has no relatives in the United States and insists that she won't be separated from her son. The court request is pending.

Fighting since 2000

In a few other high-profile immigration cases, federal lawmakers have sponsored a private relief bill seeking to block an immigrant or immigrant family's removal. Illinois' senators, Democrats Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, have expressed sympathy for Arellano but declined to get involved.

Durbin had sponsored a bill for Arellano when her son had a medical emergency two years ago. Immigration officials said the move temporarily halted her removal, but that the bill never passed and the deportation case can continue.

In 1997, Arellano was caught by immigration officials and deported when she tried to cross the Mexico border northward. A later unauthorized crossing succeeded and she migrated to Washington state, where her son was born. She moved to Chicago in 2000 and was arrested at her airport job two years later.

She has been fighting deportation ever since and has been a public critic of U.S. immigration policy. She founded a group called United Latino Family and has helped organize protests and rallied for immigration reform.

Local Latino politicians have offered support. Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado announced plans to introduce a resolution to make the county a legal sanctuary for immigrants.

"We know it doesn't have legal teeth but it has moral value," Maldonado said.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., has asked President Bush to block the deportation.

Arellano's church refuge is along Division Street in the heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birthright.

"Before God, we're all equal. We're all mothers, too. We have to think of her son," said supporter Carmen Rodriguez, 68, who is of Puerto Rican heritage.

Arab-Americans have donated food and water. Croatian-Americans left behind a banner of support. From across town, a Mexican restaurant sends lunch every day for Elvira and volunteers at the church.

A donor provided 50 watermelons; others gave toy trucks and games for the boy and a refrigerator and vacuum cleaner for the church.

Some angered

Arellano's case, though, may have created friction with some blacks.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, who is black, took public offense to comparisons of Arellano with civil rights hero Rosa Parks.

Mitchell wrote that the comparison fails because Arellano is not a victim of an unjust system.

"Her chutzpah makes her a folk hero to some, but her blatant exploitation of Parks' legacy undermines the fragile coalition between some blacks and Hispanics that has formed around the immigration issue," according to the columnist.

Arellano said she has received supportive messages from blacks.

She is uncertain how long she will live in the church apartment. The living room of her apartment, set up like a command center, is where volunteers have a computer and a list of reporters who have requested interviews from all over the world.

Volunteers sleep in the church, keeping watch for any arrival of immigration agents. But she said she would do whatever she has to do to raise Saul in the country of his birth.

"What mother wouldn't do the best she could for her son?" she asked.


August 25, 2006 =
Black-clergy group backs immigrant fighting deportation
By Oscar Avila / Tribune staff reporter

Nine influential African-American ministers Thursday prayed and laid hands on Elvira Arellano, an illegal Mexican immigrant defying a deportation order.

Arellano had faced a backlash in recent days after comparing herself to Rosa Parks, the black Alabama seamstress who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955.

But the ministers, part of a broad coalition called Clergy Speaks Interdenominational, said Arellano is contesting an immoral government policy as Parks did. They say even though Arellano broke the law, she should not face the prospect of being separated from her young son, who is a U.S. citizen.

Speaking from the pulpit at Adalberto United Methodist Church, where Arellano has lived as a fugitive since refusing to report for deportation last week, Rev. Albert Tyson said he hopes their support would increase the bonds between Latinos and African-Americans.

"Injustice is injustice. Period," said Tyson, president of the group and pastor at St. Stephen AME Church on the West Side. "We have so much more in common than we do that separates us."

The group was formed this year to lobby for issues of social justice, such as police brutality, after State Sen. James Meeks (D-Ill.) was pulled over in a traffic stop some considered racial profiling.

The group met Monday and voted to take up Arellano's cause, which was presented to them byRev. Walter Coleman, pastor at Adalberto and a member of the organization.

Those in attendance Thursday included Rev. Marshall Hatch, a key member of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and Bishop Larry Trotter, senior pastor of the massive Sweet Holy Spirit Church.

Arellano, 31, has gained international notoriety during her nine-day stand in the Humboldt Park church. She is president of United Latino Family, a Chicago group that advocates for families with undocumented immigrants. She was arrested in 2002 while working at O'Hare International Airport.

Arellano said Thursday that she had first heard about Parks when she attended a memorial service at Beloved Community Christian Church, where U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is pastor. Rush had already worked closely with Arellano's organization and offered his political support.

Arellano said she considers Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez to be role models but is inspired by Parks because she was also a young woman.

"I know that because she fought, the laws were changed," Arellano said.

But others have taken issue with the comparison. The church had been buzzing in recent days after Mary Mitchell, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, wrote a piece that blasted the comparison. "She is using Rosa Parks' name to buy herself more time, and that disgusts me."

Ted Hayes, a Los Angeles-based activist and board member of a group called Choose Black America, which opposes illegal immigration, called it a "blasphemy" to make the comparison. Hayes is planning to come to Chicago to organize the first counterprotests outside the church since Arellano took refuge there.

"The comparison is bogus. Rosa Parks was a U.S.-born citizen. This lady is a foreign national," Hayes said. "If she wants to use Rosa Parks as an inspiration, that's fine. But do it in Mexico."

Rev. J. Leon Thorn, pastor of St. James AME Church on the South Side, said he grew up in Alabama and recalls the discrimination black citizens faced every day. He agrees that many African-Americans do not like the comparisons to Parks because, unlike Arellano, the civil-rights icon was law-abiding until confronting a law now universally viewed as unjust.

Thorn said Arellano should not have entered the United States illegally but says African-American leaders should support her efforts to fix a "broken" immigration system.

"We need to stay united as a people. If we don't stick together, God help us all."


Chicano Hearings Report: Rise in Racial Profiling
Admol Chaddha / ColorLines RaceWire

The first time high school student Mark Joseph left Chicago was for a trip to Washington, DC, where he visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The second time was this month when Joseph – the 17-year-old son of an Iraqi father and a Lebanese mother – traveled on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride to bring attention to the struggle for immigrant rights. When the bus stopped in Ullin, IL, a tiny town six hours south of Chicago, he visited an INS detention center, which brought back the same feelings of despair that he had felt at the museum in DC.

"When I turn 18 in three weeks," explained Joseph. "I don't want to step into a world where I'm powerless."

At hearings Oct.18th and 20th in Chicago, Joseph joined a diverse cross-section of more than 200 of the city's immigrant and African American community members who came together to witness testimonies from local residents who had experienced racial profiling and government targeting as a result of the domestic war on terror.

"The Patriot Act is part of a whole wave of new policies and institutions that expanded federal power to engage in civil rights abuses and secrecy," said Josina Morita, an associate researcher at the Applied Research Center, which organized the hearings along with Amnesty International. "Racial profiling, which has long affected blacks and Latinos, has spread alarmingly to immigrant communities since September 11."

Nneka Alexander, a college student, testified at the hearing on behalf of her cousin, Kenny Dukes, a young African American man who was shot and killed by Chicago police officers in August 2003. Dukes had returned home from a picnic with his girlfriend and was walking to the front door when the officers yelled at him to stop. Not realizing they were calling at him, he continued walking with his back to the street. Although there was no warrant for his arrest and Dukes was not carrying a weapon, he was shot seven times in the back.

While the police department considers the actions of the officers a "justified use of violence," Alexander denounced her cousin's death as "a blatant act of racism and a shameful reflection on our society."

"This is real. It's not just a sad tale," she added. "It's a deep loss that hundreds of people will have to live with and suffer through."

Another testimony highlighted the story of a Pakistani taxi driver who got a parking ticket a year ago that may cost him his U.S. residency. Stopped by a police officer in Bensenville, IL, the cabbie was turned in to the INS and then the FBI for interrogation. He was detained for three months before being allowed to post $10,000 bond and now faces a deportation hearing.

An alliance of immigrant rights and civil rights groups mobilized for the two hearings, held at DePaul University and an African American Baptist church on Chicago's South Side. The events came on the heels of a city council resolution urging the repeal of the Patriot Act.

"Chicago is known as one of the most racially segregated cities in the world," explained Hatem Abudayyeh, director of the Arab American Action Network. "It's also known for the widespread use of racial profiling by law enforcement."

Within this environment, speakers at the event emphasized the importance of drawing connections between the many forms of racial profiling that communities of color experience.

"I have always felt that immigrants and refugees have a lot to share with the African American community, especially in Chicago," said Hayelom Ayele, an Ethiopian immigrant who currently serves as chair of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. "Holding this event in Chicago signals that the communities are open to making the connections."

Other testimonies highlighted personal accounts of workplace discrimination and job loss, the detention and deportation of immigrants since 9/11, and physical confrontation and harassment by local law enforcement.

Elvira Arellano, an employee at O'Hare International Airport, was at home with her son Saul when five police offers came to her door last December. Operation Chicagoland Skies was the local version of the federal Operation Tarmac, through which law enforcement agents swept up undocumented immigrants working at airports. Arellano was one of 45 workers arrested during the raids in Chicago.

After the officers handcuffed her, "they threatened to take my son and give them to the city because he had nowhere to stay," Arellano described."Since I've been arrested, I haven't been able to work," she added. "I'm not a criminal. These laws do not protect the weak and poor. We have to be brave and speak out about the injustices."

Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who moderated the forum, emphasized "the power of telling our stories." Ransby recalled the civil rights movement and linked the hearings to that period by discussing the "catalytic force of Emmett Till's mother telling the story of her son who was a victim of racist violence in the 1950s."

Chicago resident Chiye Tomihiro drew another historical parallel by describing the experience of her father who was among 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II. "When we were evacuated, the worst part was the silence. When we were interned, there was no one to speak up for us. Today, I see that the community is not being silent."

Racial profiling has intensified even more, said Kareem Irfan of the Council on Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, in the current "carefully orchestrated hysteria about homeland security."

"We will not let the truth be concealed and the nation be led astray," Irfan said. "It is gratifying that we will not stand for silence today."

Re-printed from ColorLines RaceWire


Thursday, August 24, 2006 =
Care for illegal immigrants cost more than $22 million

DALLAS: Dallas County officials say medical care provided to illegal immigrants at Parkland Memorial Hospital cost more than 22 (M) million dollars million this fiscal year.

The estimate released yesterday doesn't include emergency treatment. It marks the first time Parkland has quantified the amount Dallas County taxpayers have spent on the care of illegal immigrants.

Parkland has sent foreign governments bills for indigent citizens who received care at the hospital. A federal program distributes 250 (M) million dollars a year among providers of emergency care for illegal immigrants. But the program doesn't include reimbursement for outpatient or clinic care provided by hospitals.

Hospital vice president Jim Perry says Parkland's emergency room treats about 50 illegal immigrants a day.

Parkland's president, Doctor Ron Anderson, says Parkland won't turn away sick or injured people who live in Dallas County, regardless of their legal status.


August 24, 2006 = Man gets nearly 3 years for confining immigrants
By Jon Murray

A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to holding 20 illegal immigrants captive in an apartment and was sentenced to nearly three years in community corrections, but two other suspects received no jail time.

All three pleaded guilty in Marion Superior Court to criminal confinement. They were arrested in early May after one immigrant escaped, telling police he had been held captive for three days at a Far Southside apartment and had been fed one egg a day.

The men drove the immigrants from Phoenix to Indianapolis, shook extra money out of them and threatened to kill them if they tried to escape, prosecutors said.

"I would hope this serves as a warning," deputy prosecutor Mary Garner said after Rolando Marcial-Hernandez, 25, was sentenced Wednesday. Human trafficking "is not something Marion County takes lightly."

Last week Jose DeJesus Palacios, 33, and Sergio Felix-Martinez, 30, each received time-served sentences and 18 months of probation, minus the 107 days they had already spent in jail. They would have faced much stiffer penalties at trial.

All three had been charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and intimidation, and Palacios with attempted kidnapping and attempted criminal confinement. A conviction for conspiracy to commit kidnapping -- a Class A felony -- would have netted 20 to 50 years in prison.

The Marion County prosecutor's office had pressed for three years in prison for each. Judge Patricia Gifford said Marcial-Hernandez deserved a strong sentence because of his criminal record, which included drunken driving and public intoxication arrests last year.

He will start at the Marion County Jail annex. Marion County Community Corrections then will assign him to the work release, daily reporting or home detention programs.

Through an interpreter, Marcial-Hernandez told the judge he was not an active participant in the immigrants' confinement from April 28 to

May 1.

"I am aware that was my apartment," he said. "But I was working."

One man escaped, and an off-duty Marion County sheriff's deputy broke up a fight at the Downtown Indianapolis bus terminal between the immigrant and a suspect trying to recapture him.

Roger Rayl, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said he did not know the three suspects' immigration status. Teresa Hall, the public defender for Marcial-Hernandez, cited attorney-client privilege when asked.


Wednesday, 23 August 2006 =
Remember the Immigrant-Rights Movement?

The case of Elvira Arellano inspires L.A. organizers

Where’s the reform? Elvira Arellano and Saul

Like a persecuted pilgrim out of the Middle Ages, undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano is taking the immigrant-rights movement to divine and desperate new heights. Since August 15, she has been holed up inside the Adalberto United Methodist Church in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago’s West Side, invoking the principle of sanctuary in her standoff with federal officials who seek her deportation. Arellano, 31, would be separated from her 7-year-old son, Saul, born an American citizen. She entered the immigration system after being caught in a 2002 raid at O’Hare International Airport, where she worked.

“I don’t only speak for me and my son, but for millions of families like mine,” Arellano told a Chicago CBS affiliate in stilted English on Sunday. Outside, supporters in the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood chanted, “Luchando mano y mano, Boriqua y Mexicano!” (“Fighting hand in hand, Puerto Rican and Mexican!”)

The government has warned Arellano that she has no legal protection inside Adalberto United Methodist, but officials have also admitted they have no intent to storm a house of God and haul out a single mother who refuses to leave behind her American child. On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in federal court on Saul’s behalf.

Arellano’s case gave a boost to the summertime malaise of the immigrant-rights movement and has sparked a minor media storm with all the echoes of a latter-day Rosa Parks scenario. (Arellano was already a vocal immigrant-rights advocate in Chicago.)

In Los Angeles, Gloria Saucedo of Hermandad Mexicana, an immigrant-advocate group in Panorama City, announced plans for a women-led march in Arellano’s honor for September 2. On Friday, La Placita, the historic church near Olvera Street, declared itself a sanctuary for any undocumented immigrant facing deportation, reclaiming the role it held for the first refugees from war-ridden Guatemala and El Salvador who poured into Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

“Very brave, that woman, eh?” said Saucedo. “She is not the only one who has that problem. Every day families arrive here who have to leave because they are being deported, entire families, with their children.”

Across the country, activists are pointing to Arellano’s case and calling for a moratorium on deportations and immigration raids until Congress settles on its so-called “comprehensive immigration reform.” With elections looming in November, this is an ever-dimming prospect.

Yet the movement, sensing a lull in the public’s attention and seeking to make a pro-immigrant push in the November elections, is regrouping. The various coalitions made up of labor, religious and advocacy groups, and media figures like Renán Almendárez Coello, “El Cucuy,” are launching large voter-registration drives to get hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls. Branches of the movement that were once openly criticizing one another are now talking about unity and cooperation.

Another march is planned in Los Angeles on September 4, and at the closing of the National Latino Congreso, an agenda-minded gathering of Latino leaders from across the country, on September 9. That march is billed as the West Coast version of another massive rally planned in Washington, D.C., on September 7, just in time for Congress’s return from summer recess.

And in Chicago, Elvira Arellano waits. On a Republican-led Congress placating anti-Latino xenophobes with blatantly cynical immigration hearings in border states and districts with endangered GOP candidates. On a mainstream media that will in one instant give airtime to fringe racists railing on immigrants, and in another publish reports on how immigrants are a net benefit to the economy and a critical labor source for many major industries. And on the Democratic Party, wimpy and impotent as ever.

Even after the stirring marches this spring that brought millions onto the streets of dozens of U.S. cities, the Democratic leadership has yet to fully embrace the immigrant-rights movement and advocate for such “American values” as family unity and enterprising work ethics — not to mention solidifying a growing Latino voting bloc before Republicans beat them to the game, as they already have with many assimilated Mexican-Americans. There have been only feeble efforts to counter the Republican congressional hearings on immigration held in places like Philadelphia, San Diego and El Paso.


“That’s our question too,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, after an unofficial immigration hearing put on by the We Are America Coalition at UCLA. “We feel it’s critical [for lawmakers] to hear these stories, in order for it to be on the record.”

Only one congressional representative attended the We Are America hearing held August 14: Grace Napolitano, Democrat of Santa Fe Springs. She heard testimony from labor and civil-rights leaders, religious and academic figures, and immigrants. The entire Southern California congressional delegation had been invited, Salas said.

There have been victories, of course. The spring marches dramatically shifted public perceptions of immigrants. In a Field Poll in April — even before the staggering events of May 1 — fully 75 percent of California voters favored legalizing undocumented workers who learn English and pay taxes.

The Democrats, though, still seem to make their decisions based on expected reactions from the far right, said Angela Sanbrano, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.

“So who loses here in all this political positioning [are] the immigrants,” Sanbrano said. “I think that’s why the action of Elvira Arellano is so courageous, so important, because it really underscores the unfairness of all these laws and the need for immigration reform that unites families.”

Sanbrano said she’s not counting on much progress on the matter, at least not this year. Not even formidable Democratic Latino leaders like New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa dare mention the policy goal at the core of the immigrant-rights movement: full legalization for all undocumented workers.

It’s a sign that while Latinos have made progress in the past 30 years, real advancement is still lacking, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute and a main organizer behind the upcoming Latino Congreso.

“Since when did amnesty become a dirty word?” Gonzalez said. “That’s a colossal failure, and it’s our failure. It’s like Voldemort on Harry Potter, the You-Know-Who, the You-Know-What, that’s what we want.”

There is little time for dawdling. On August 8, nine more migrants died in a wrecked SUV near Yuma when their coyote smuggler attempted to evade the Border Patrol, a reminder that the immigration debate is still a very real question of life and death for many. And who knows how long Elvira Arellano can sustain her holy standoff with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Or how many more Elvira Arellanos might be waiting in the wings.


Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006 =
A helping hand along the border
by VICKI ADAME / Vida en el Valle
E-mail to:

TIJUANA, Baja California, México — The statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe sits in a corner in the courtyard at Casa del Migrante.

Placed on the concrete floor below the roughly 3-foot figure are 11 veladoras (candle motives). Dozens of rosaries and escapularios hang from the Virgin's neck along with a few flowers. Two nickels, some photos and several sheets of loosely rolled white notebook paper lay in the basin at her feet.

And tucked away, invisible to only but the curious eye is a round medallion key chain with a single key and Ralph's Club card dangling from it.

The items represent supplications from men who passed through Casa del Migrante in Tijuana on their way to attempt the dangerous crossing into the United States.

Casa del Migrante is a shelter for men who have been deported after being apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol. But in recent months, the shelter's workers have seen an overwhelming influx of men who have lived in the United States for years, some for decades, who have been deported.

The shelter is one of the Scalabrini missions named after Fr. John Baptist Scalabrini who is known as El Padre de los Migrantes (The Father of the Immigrants). There are currently seven casas del migrante throughout México and Guatemala.

"We help the migrant as much as we can," said Héctor Fierro, group coordinator for the shelter.

Tomás Goméz Reyes sat on a bench a few feet away from the statue. He waited with dozens of other men waiting to go into the dining room for dinner.

He had arrived at Casa del Migrante the day before after being deported for being undocumented. Reyes was part of a group of 10 on their way to New York where work awaited. The 19-year-old man from Morelia, Michoacán, crossed at Altar, Sonora and had spent four days walking before La Patrulla stopped the group in Nevada and returned them to Tijuana.

Despite being caught, Reyes was determined to attempt the crossing again. "I'm going to get some money together and try to cross again," he said.

He knows the dangers of crossing through the desert — more than 3,000 people have lost their lives since 1990 when Border Patrol enforcement began on the U.S.-México border

"I don't think about the fear. I think about what I can achieve; after the fear there is something better. If fear makes you weak, you will never become someone," Reyes said in Spanish.

Built in 1987, the shelter serves men 18 and older. Rules require the men to be up at 6 a.m. and leave the shelter by 6:30 a.m. They return by 5 p.m. for dinner. The shelter's volunteers register all the men who walk through the door. It's an attempt to help all who need it.

Men can stay for 15 days on their first visit. If they return, they can stay seven days. Those returning for a third time are allowed to stay three days. Typically, upon arriving at the shelter, the men have very few belongings. If they are planning to cross they'll have two or three pairs of pants and two shirts, Fierro said.

"If they've been deported, it's pretty common to only come with what they're wearing," he said.

Besides meals and a place to sleep, the shelter provides medical care and weekly classes on HIV. When it opened nearly 20 years ago, the majority of men who walked through the shelter's doors were those with plans to cross the border. Today, about 70 percent are men who have been deported. The remaining 30 percent are those hoping to cross, Fierro said.

Casa del Migrante has offices at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings and provides shuttles to the shelter for the recently deported.

Typically the shelter receives four new men per day. On the weekend, the numbers climb to 15 to 20 per day. After May 1 of this year, the house twice reached its capacity of 180 residents, Fierro said. The average age of the men is between 18 and 24.

"This house is not promoting that people go to América. But it's happening and we're here to help them," Fierro said.

And the number of people seeking help grows each year and it's not just people from Latin América, he said.

"These people are not terrorists. They are going to work to earn money. That's it. The only thing these people are thinking about is getting a job. These people are not criminals," Fierro said.

Sitting in the courtyard waiting for dinner on a late Wednesday afternoon, 33-year-old Tomás Alcantara recalled how he left his family and home in Toluca when he was 13. His parents had told him he either had to work or study. He chose to go to work.

"A friend told me, 'Let's go to the other side to work,'" said Alcantara.

So he and a group of friends set out by train to Chicago where he found work. Over the years he traveled back and forth between México and the United States. Eventually he returned to work in Dallas, leaving behind his wife and three children.

"That was the mistake of my life," he said.

While in Dallas he was in an accident which he claimed was the other driver's fault. But because he was in the country illegally and had no license, Alcantara said he was convicted. He served a jail sentence before being deported. As he sat on a wooden bench, Alcantara said he plans to stay in Tijuana.

"I'm thinking to work here. There is a lot of work here," he said.

When asked if he planned to return to the United States, Alcantara said, "No quiero. (I don't want to)."

Unlike Alcantara, Margarito Castañeda Rogel has every intention of returning to California where he has lived for 30 years and has a wife and four children ranging in age from seven to 18. He also owns a restaurant/bakery in Escondido.

He first crossed into the United States with the help of a pollero three decades ago. He found work in the fields and orchards that dotted the landscape surrounding Escondido. Rogel was deported after serving a four-month prison term for unpaid traffic tickets, notices for which he said he never received.

"I endured a lot to have what I have," said Rogel.

And he has no intention of leaving it behind. As soon as can he'll be going back home. But until he can arrange his return, he will stay at Casa del Migrante.




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