racism


Today three judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the rights of Baldomero and Hilaria Muñiz, and Pamela Rivas.  Both families live in Los Ebanos and are refusing DHS access to survey their properties prior to building a border wall.  Those arguments can be heard here.

All three judges are white, and all three were nominated by Republican presidents.  Judge E. Grady Jolly and Judge Edith Brown Clement seemed rather unsympathetic to the arguments of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid lawyer Jerome Wesevich, whose voice was shaky, and seemed off balance throughout his argument.  Judge Clement was the most antagonistic and offensive on the three judge panel.  She scoffed at the concern of the landowners that their properties could be severely damaged.  Although DHS’ own language says the government can destroy buildings in the way of survey equipment, she mocked the property owners’ concerns by saying that DHS “might trim some hedges.”  She also invoked the term “illegal aliens.”  And although Judge Jolly later referenced the landowners’ inability to speak English as a reason to sympathize with regular people being bullied by their government, Judge Clement seemed to think their Spanish language was making it unreasonable for DHS to do it’s job (as if we were here to facilitate our government’s attacking us, rather than the government being here to serve its people).  Judge Priscilla Richman Owen, the lone Texan on the bench, did not question Wesevich.

When his turn arrived, DHS attorney John Arbab was quickly cut off by Judge Jolly because DHS’ position is that the 5th Circuit did not have jurisdiction to hear the cases.  His basic sense of fairness was offended by the government’s claim that they could condemn property without the landowner being able to sue and appeal.  But Arbab seemed to me to successfully parry the judge’s questions and argued calmly and confidently.

Judge Clement appeared most interested to know if the Los Ebanos families were basically alone, or whether other residents along the route of the wall were also suing.  According to DHS’ Arbab, there are 250 cases, 193 “footprint cases” and 57 “right of entry cases.” (This number will increase when the Texas Border Coalition processes the more than 120 affidavits of Brownsville landowners who, thanks to the assistance of Border Ambassadors and C.A.S.A., recently started the legal process of suing DHS.)

Graphiti Artist Banksy

Graphiti Artist Banksy

As for Judge Owen, I would guess that of the three, this George W. Bush appointee is our best ally.  She questioned why the pre-suit offer of DHS to landowners was $0.  She also seemed upset that DHS was suing for access to survey when independent of any survey DHS has determined that a fence is needed and has filed a condemnation lawsuit as well, thus getting the cart before the horse, and assuming the outcome of the case being argued while simultaneously making it appear unnecessary for DHS to survey.

During his time for rebuttal, Wesevich performed much better, arguing much more confidently.  Despite a comfortably closed-minded Clement, Wesevich pushed back.  Still, Judge Jolly ended the session with the statement that the landowners “need lawyers, but they don’t need lawyers,” meaning, they need someone who lets them know that they have a right to negotiate for a price, but not someone who is going to sue.  Hopefully that doesn’t mean Judge Jolly wishes to sweep the rights of border residents under the rug.

I’m not a lawyer yet, but I’d guess that these Los Ebanos families will lose their right of access cases, but that the 5th Circuit will claim jurisdiction, ensuring each landowner the opportunity to appeal.

 

The Border Ambassadors, led by Jay Johnson-Castro, passed out fliers for TRLA in Los Ebanos during the Warch Against the Border Wall from March 8 – 16, 2008.  TRLA had already announced their information session to the residents of Los Ebanos before we arrived, and it is impossible to know whether we helped encourage the members of the Rivas or Muñiz families, but I’d like to think we didn’t hurt.  I vividly remember hobbling up to Mike Johnson with his wife Cindy in the distance, also with tired legs and sore feet, handing  out our last TRLA information fliers.  We worked not until we were tired or in pain (we were tired and in pain before we started), but until we were out of fliers.

Jeanette Ruiz and other activists marching against the Border Wall

Jeanette Ruiz and her family marching against the Border Wall

Those are the kinds of selfless acts, passing out fliers after already marching all day in the hot sun, that drive this movement and make me proud of those I work alongside.  The weekend before the Brownsville City Commission met to vote on whether to give city land to DHS to build a wall, another Border Ambassador and I, Jeanette Ruiz, working in conjunction with C.A.S.A., met a tattooed and pierced young man who lives along the fence’s route.  Although he had to work until after the start of the city meeting, he said that he would pick up his mother and come late.  And thank heaven they did.  His witty humor kept me from becoming angry, and his mother, pleading in Spanish for help maintaining the home (not just the house) where she raised her family, broke the hearts of all those in attendance.  She was the heroine of the night. The courageous Dr. Tamez calmly and eloquently conveyed her conviction. Mr. Paz from Sabal Palms also provided necessary support. Mr. and Mrs. Lucio from Ft. Brown made their persuasive and thoughtful argument. Michelle Taylor and her husband were at their courageous best.  Others of us less prominent Brownsvillians made valuable input, speaking truth to power. And we will never know who influenced whom, or what the outcome of the vote would have been without all of these people acting together. But like the widow and her mites in Jesus’ parable, by finding the courage to plead with the commissioners, this humble woman from La Moria cast in more than us all.

For the sake of that woman, for the sake of the Muñiz and Rivas families, for the sake of our beloved borderlands where integration, multiculturalism and bilingualism flourish, please join with Border Ambassadors, No Border Wall Coalition, C.A.S.A., or any other organization you feel comfortable working with (and if that doesn’t work, just find a friend), and go door-to-door along the fence route, in whatever town you live, collecting signatures on the Texas Border Coalition’s Affidavit.  We need your help.

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I gave this speech at last night’s City Commission meeting.

John Bruciak isn’t the only one “caught in the crossfire,” to quote Commissioner Atkinson.  All of Brownsville is ducking for cover as racism, xenophobia, and hatred, spit from the lips of Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs are aimed at our beloved borderlands.  Even our city commission has become wounded with rancor.  Who among us will have the courage to stand up amidst the fray and fight for our land and our way of life?  I will tell you who: over 98% of the residents along the border wall route, that’s who.

 

This week, members of Border Ambassadors, CASA, and the No Border Wall Coalition have met with 123 landowners along the route of the fence and 121 of them (over 98%) signed the Mayor’s declaration, deciding they aren’t going to act scared anymore.  Given the will of the people, will this commission continue to capitulate, or will it stand up and fight for what it claims it wants: No Border Wall!?

 

And who among us will be the peacemakers, for as Jesus said, they will be called the children of God?  This wall was started by those who think the United States and Mexico are enemies, and it will be stopped by the peacemakers who recognize the brotherhood of mankind.  This wall is motivated out of fear, but as John said, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  Who here is willing to love this country enough to stop it from building its own Berlin Wall?

 

I urge this commission to find the love, forgiveness, and courage to join the people of Brownsville.  Put aside your animosity and unite in our common fight.

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Today, I gave this speech to the Brownsville City Council Meeting during the public comment portion.  The Brownsville Herald ran an article on Sunday that said that the Mayor was betrayed by the City Council who went behind closed doors to allow the Army Corps of Engineers onto city land to survey for the wall.  It is in response to that that I wrote this speech-on the back, and in the margins of the agenda.   

Yesterday, Princeton University recognized five of my 8th grade students for essays they wrote on the topic “What would Martin Luther King say and do about immigration?”  Princeton opened this year’s essay contest to my students because they used my blog, nonviolent migration, as a resource for their contest.  These five students, Melissa Guerra, Yessenia Martinez, Abigail Cabrera, Vanessa Trevino, and Blanca Gonzalez were the only five students who had the faith to submit an essay and all were recognized by Princeton. 

I asked the rest of my 121 students to speak honestly about why they had decided not to write for the contest.  The overwhelming number of students responded that it wasn’t worth trying because they felt that because Princeton is in the North, they would prejudge their work since they live on the border.  This experience reminded me once again just how excluded these children feel.   Even though this wall will be South of most of my students, my students are smart enough to know that the same motive behind this wall is also shouting at them, saying, “You are not us; keep out!” 

These students, who started with such enthusiasm when the contest was announced, lost hope and they let their fears overcome their faith.  This broke my heart because I love my students, but your capitulation is something other than heartbreaking because you are no longer 8th graders.  We expect you to hold out hope.  We expect you to keep the faith.  We expect you to work for us, and let us fight this fight. 

At this time, we want to express our love… and forgiveness… to all the members of the commission.  However, as a result of your action, we must now find a legal way to undo what you’ve done so that my 8th graders don’t come to learn that you prejudged them too. 

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Once again, I have to point you in the direction of a friend of mine who wrote an excellent article entitled, “Duty Free.”

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Here is another excellent video discussion by Ron Whitlock at Valley Newsline.

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Today, at a public hearing for the Enviornmental Impact Statement for the proposed border wall, I read this statement:

 

As a military veteran who served four tours of duty to the Middle-East, I would like to address the Department of Homeland Security about the topic of security. While I was a sergeant, I was honored to serve with young men and women who sacrificed greatly for this country.  Like me, most came from humble homes of modest means where they learned how to work hard, get along with others, and sacrifice for the greater good.  While we were not the wealthiest or most educated, I feel that our platoon included some of the best people I had ever known.  Specialist Muñoz-Marin was not yet a citizen of the United States.  Sergeant Munguia, the greatest soldier I have ever known, was the son, brother, and cousin of family who had crossed the border illegally

            But regardless of family background, the common thread among the best of these soldiers was the reason for their service.  It affected the way they served.  These were the soldiers who volunteered for the tough assignments, even for the extra tours of duty.  That reason was this: they weren’t mainly trying to protect their own interest, their home land, or even their family.  Instead, they were trying to protect the idea and aspiration of America itself.  They were protecting what America means, what it is.  They weren’t guarding Betsy Ross, apple pie, or baseball; they were protecting something even more American than those things.  They were protecting liberty, equality, and democracy.  And while I have since come to understand the futility of war as a tool of liberty and democracy, I acknowledge that our best soldiers are serving with the understanding that what it means to be an American soldier is to sacrifice personal security in order to preserve liberty.

            So as someone who repeatedly made that trade, because that is what it means to be an American soldier, learning that my government would so cheaply surrender our liberty in favor of security is terrifying.

            I say terrifying because of the idea of terror and tierra—earth.  This wall, we are told, must be understood in a post-9/11-world.  It is, they say, a proper defense against terrorism.  But tumbling towers are not the only causes of trembling tierra.  Terrorism is not the only thing that threatens to pull the rug out from under us.  The very liberty which our soldiers are defending will erode from under their feet if we build this wall this way.

Indeed, nothing could be less American.  This wall this way erodes our bedrock values by changing us from one of the liberating allies of West Berlin to the Communist isolationists of East Berlin.  This wall this way erodes our fundamental identity by changing us from post-Martin Luther King America to pre-Ming Dynasty China.

            When you next see him, please tell Mr. Chertoff that the more zealously he pushes this forward, the more quickly he advances, the more responsibility will fall on his personal shoulders.  No lie can live forever and when truth crushed to earth has risen again, his zeal may earn him a legacy like Bull Connor of Birmingham.   As fellow humans, we extend to Mr. Chertoff our love and forgiveness.  Please, sir, do not trample our rights.

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