Thursday, May 26, 2011

Arizona Wins Suit in Supreme Court

In what looks like a win for state based immigration reform and a loss for any federal reform, Arizona today won a supreme court case which will create penalties for the employment of undocumented workers.  The Legal Workers Act, which was passed in 2007, was later challenged by the US Chamber of Commerce.  While the Chamber of Commerce, different civil rights groups, proponents of federal immigration reform, and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed this Arizona law, individuals advocating for stricter regulation of immigration sided with the state of Arizona.

While this legislation is not as controversial as others that have gone to court rulings, it may serve as a benchmark case in the debate over the length of state reach in immigration legislation.  While the Obama administration mourns this Supreme Court ruling, states that have become harsh opponents to recent immigration trends may elect to push more anti-immigration legislation.  At a federal level, we are struggling to set any immigration precedents, so it is only a matter of time before states start overextending their power.  This case marks crucial legislation, in which Arizona attempted to set strict regulations punishing businesses who knowingly employ undocumented workers.  The fact Arizona was challenged by a federal entity and won in the Supreme Court should come as troubling news to those of us who have been waiting for federal action on immigration reform.

As a follow-up to my last post, this comes as bad news to me for a variety of reasons.  I am deeply troubled by the evident lack of power that the Obama administration is showing on immigration issues.  Because this has been ignored throughout his entire presidency, states are lining up to take their piece of the immigration pie.   We see Arizona as the chief precedent setters now, but their landmark pieces of legislation do not go unnoticed by others.  To me, any win for the state of Arizona comes as a debilitating blow.  As this southwest haven for anti-immigrant sentiment grows, I am beginning to lose hope.  What is next?  How many losses must we suffer before we can start conversation about federal immigration reform?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HB12 and the Troubling Trend of State Patches for our Immigration System

Just a few weeks ago, HB 12 or the "Sanctuary Cities Bill" passed through the Texas House and now awaits an upcoming Senate vote.  This pending legislation, lauded by Texas Governor, Rick Perry, would effectively promote Arizona SB 1070-like anti-immigrant sentiment in local policing.  If implemented, this bill would require police forces to check immigration status of ANYBODY that they arrest or detain.  This bill, along with other pending legislation on the table for the state of Texas, requires local law enforcement officials to carry out federal duties in immigration enforcement.

HB 12 is just one of many examples of state effort to patch our federally ignored immigration conundrum.  As immigration reform becomes further overdue, states are taking immigration law into their own hands in attempt to repair the system.  We saw this one year ago, with the very controversial passing of SB 1070 in Arizona, as other states have pushed for Arizona-like anti-immigrant legislation in the wake.  While Texas and various other states tighten the bolts a bit on our immigration system, we must look critically at some of these new bills being proposed.  Is this legislation legitimate, or are we dealing with blatant racism?

As I look through some of the various legislation on the table for the state of Texas dealing with immigration (various bills that mirror SB1070, abolishing of birthright citizenship, requiring public school students to show social security numbers, etc.), I cannot help but get angry at the direction our politicians have decided to go.  This is racism, and while politicians continue to try and remedy our failing system, things are getting worse.  While our country has always relied on the continuous flow of immigrants, our laws and policies have effectively stopped the flow.  We have created a permanent underclass that will continue to live in fear, as now we are putting practices of racial profiling into law.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Welcome to the Border, Mr. Obama

Unfortunately, I can report that my New Year's Resolution never fully came to fruition.  While I vowed to blog more, I actually blogged far less, which resulted in a long period of inactivity on this site.  I apologize for not posting more, but can report that I am committed to making more visits to this blog to share my feelings on my time in El Paso.  

So, my inability to effectively use most current technologies resulted in the loss of this long evaluation that I wrote on Obama's "major speech" he delivered yesterday in El Paso. Perhaps I was ranting a bit too much and the blog gods made effort to filter what I had to say. Who knows...  While it is still fresh on my mind, I will do my best to recall what I just wrote.

As many know, President Obama made a visit to El Paso yesterday to deliver a speech regrading the immigration system in the United States.  He chose Chamizal National Park as the venue, which holds significant historical relevance in 20th century Mexico/ US relations. This park, once subject to the relative mobility of the southern border through frequent changes in course of the Rio Grande, was created as a symbol of "peace".  While Chamizal is cut into two by a rather boisterous border fence, the monument marks a national boundary, which was not decided by oppressive expansionism through military force, but a peaceful agreement that was sealed by a friendly handshake.  The calm and serenity provided by the green park is a bit of an oddity set in the overwhelmingly brown landscape of El Paso, but created the perfect atmosphere for a speech in which Obama needed to peacefully call for bi-partisan efforts to work towards comprehensive immigration reform.  

The address on immigration was a "closed event", which signifies that only certain groups and individuals were allowed admittance.  Amazingly, by the selflessness of some incredible people (Thanks!), I was able to get a ticket to see Obama speak.  Admittedly, this venue was far different than the first occasion in which I was able to see Obama in public, his inauguration in Washington DC.   The crowd of about 1,500 was dispersed in front of a small, presidentially outfitted amphitheater, which seemed like only a handful compared to the couple million on hand at the "open" inauguration.

In his address, President Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform, while paying tribute to the recent successes of immigrants to this country.  He made clear that the current immigration system is broken and in need of remedy.  While Obama recognized that a constant flow of immigrants has defined the history of the United States, he stated quite clearly that "being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants".  As Obama made efforts to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum, he took extreme caution in not straying too far toward either political extreme.  

Obama was very candid in expressing the struggles that he has encountered throughout his tenure, as the congressional makeup has driven him to make many concessions to the GOP.  While the Republicans have called for strengthened border security, the number of Border Patrol agents doubled and the fence grew both in height and length.  He also jokingly asserted that even if we triple the number Border Patrol agents patrolling the southern border, the GOP will not hesitate to ask for the number to quadruple.  "We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the Republicans."  As we move forward from the "border first" mentality, it is now time to work on a bi-partisan solution for our broken immigration system.

Obama's central argument for immigration reform was based on the revitalization of the economy.  With the current economic recession, the country has developed an overwhelming fear of newcomers, which has become very evident.  He stated that in economic hard times, it is far easier to become comfortable with notions of nationalism than grapple with truths that might be somewhat uncomfortable for us to accept.  Immigration reform on a federal basis is long overdue, and as we have been inactive in repairing this broken system for decades, we have faced the "consequences of our inaction".  

As the President of the United States addressed the broken immigration system to a supportive crowd in El Paso, he touched on a few issues that often do not often find their way into the emotional rhetoric of the national media.  He acknowledged that there are a large number of undocumented individuals living in the shadows, who are subject to removal, but not deserving of deportation.  He affirmed and reaffirmed that businesses need to be held accountable for who they employ, while he expressed extreme disappointment at the recent suspension of the DREAM Act.  Although Obama knows that immigration is often a controversial issue, he stated that we must make efforts to preserve the unified family.

For me, Obama's address to El Paso on Tuesday afternoon was a bit underwhelming.  While he acknowledged that the system is broken and in need of repair, it also became evident that he could not commit to anything with the current complexion of the House.  Although he has made concessions, his bi-partisan efforts to reform our immigration system will probably become further delayed.  His speech was safe, as he acknowledged that we need to take urgent action, yet no promises were made.  The immigration system needs to be fully revamped, starting at a very fundamental level.  The solution needs to come from an analysis of why people are migrating, as we must address flawed systems that the United States has contributed to.  For genuine, comprehensive immigration reform, Obama must reach across party lines, and individuals must be willing to truly "put politics aside". 

President Obama's recent address on the immigration system was a good start.  His decision to come to Chamizal National Park in El Paso and speak to a predominantly Mexican crowd about this controversial issue will hopefully spark some momentum.  This conversation needs to happen not only on the border, but across the nation.  As he ended his address, Obama empowered the crowd by stating that we need to be the ones responsible for fixing this fundamentally flawed system.

Full Speech, courtesy of

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Years Resolution...More Blogging!

I am well aware that in the past few months, this blog has been largely forgotten by both myself and the viewing audience that I had accumulated in the early fall.  Rest assured, my lack of blogging is not the result of stale experiences on the border, rather adventures so exhaustive, that my writing has taken a back seat.

As the days grow colder and northern states welcome the familair obstacle of seemingly endless snow storms, we celebrate the New Year.  January 1st is a time to start anew, to finally start that diet, or perhaps join a gym!  We can throw away all the terrible choices that we made in 2010, and optimistically gaze into the long idealized 2011.  Of course we cannot fully forget about the year past.  Our current lives are composites of cumulative experiences that landed us exactly where we are today.  Some of these experiences we have chosen, while others have been chosen for us.  We are not individually responsible for the current economic state, yet we may have chosen to take a new career path.  Undoubtedly, 2011 will mirror 2010 in many ways.  Some things are reciprocal, and as hard as we try, we will not magically change our feathers each year when the ball drops in Times Square, regardless of what Ryan Seacrest tells us. 

I have found the ability to control ones own life, a luxury of the upper class.  As I look towards my future, and what the year 2011 will hold, I see myself prospering.  Regardless of the job market or graduate school admissions, I am in a position in which I will probably be able to control my own destiny.  I have been given all the gifts to succeed, and I probably will succeed.  This is not a product of any inherent intellect, but of all that has gone right for me.  I have not had to worry about anything, and my upbringing was one that feircely stressed education.  I was supported in all of the decissions that I made, which ultimately positioned me on the border this year to continue my education in a somewhat unorthodox manner. 

As I place myself into the demographic of the community here at Cristo Rey, I cannot help but to feel somewhat out of place.  As I come to events with my limited knowledge of the Spanish language, a gringo accent, and a life of relative ease, I try to understand and learn more about the lives of the individuals I surround myself with.  While my commitment this year to live simply binds my diet to generic brands of salad dressing and cereal, the complexity of others' lives dictate limited spending.  My immersion into this culture has a time limit, a fire exit, that insures my safety.  Many of my new friends do not have this privilege.

My resolution, in addition to blogging more, is to not let these barriers bog me down in my pursuit to understand more about border culture.  I cannot feel ashamed for what I was given, rather I need to use my skills and talents as best I can within the community.  My blog will serve as my tool to broaden awareness.  I will relay what I see in a concise and organized manner, so that my experiences are not confined to El Paso.  Immigration issues will continue to permeate national politics, so there will certainly be much to discuss.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving en la Frontera

This year marks the first year that I will be away from my friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday.  While I would surely sacrifice some of the traditions that I have become accustomed to for an opportunity to spend time with those I love most, I will not be boarding a plane to return to the Philadelphia area this Thanksgiving season.  My Día de Acción de Gracias will be spent on the border, in El Paso, celebrating in a much different capacity than that which I have become comfortable with.  It is so easy to take for granted the aesthetic beauty of the change of seasons at its peak.  As the leaves grow yellow, orange, and seemingly infinite shades of red, the flamboyance of the foliage reminds us that Thanksgiving is on its way.  As we prepare to put an extra notch in our belts, supermarkets take pride in stockpiling turkeys that have grown such abnormally sized breasts, it is impossible to imagine any semblance of a normal life for these genetically manipulated beasts.  Cranberries are pushed to their absolute limits, as many store brand purées still bear the imprints of the aluminum can they were packaged in.

Historically, Thanksgiving has been viewed as a somewhat devotional holiday.  We were to give thanks to God for a bountiful harvest.  Blessed with a bounty, we felt compelled to share with those whom we loved the most, the family and close friends.  All were invited to give thanks together during this ritual meal provided by the elements of nature.  The roots of this day may be traced through popular culture, which elicits the traditional image of the "Pilgrims and Indians" coming together at Plymouth Rock in joy and harmony, while history suggests that the conquest of the "new world" was not characterized by peace and harmony, rather massive bloodshed and exploitation.  But how can we celebrate amidst such a violation of human rights?  We most certainly cannot disregard the plight of the American Indian, yet the contemporary idea of Thanksgiving transcends this bloody history.  When we join with our friends and family we are not celebrating the conquest of the new world, but the simple beauty of our valued relationships.  We cooperatively give thanks that we care and we are indeed cared about.

So what does Thanksgiving look like on the border?  Stripped of any real change of seasons, El Paso looks much like it did in the heat of the summer.  It has not rained in the past couple of months, so it becomes impossible to conceive of any bounty, with the exception of green chilies.  This is not a holiday widely celebrated by the Mexican culture, yet El Paso's "gingro" roots provide for a reportedly very impressive Thanksgiving Day Parade.  While I am accustomed to my hands numbing because of the frigid Thanksgiving morning air at the Philadelphia parade, surely the short sleeve appropriate desert climate will come as a culture shock.  The Thanksgiving feeling just is not the same when the symbolic change of leaves I am used to has been replaced by the continued presence of ice cream trucks.  Further, the traditional Thanksgiving spread is unattainable to a considerable number of families on the border under the poverty line, living in the shadows.  I never imagined the presence of a 20 lb. turkey on the dining room table as a luxury, yet in parts of El Paso, a turkey becomes somewhat of a status symbol.

Without my family, closest friends, autumn colors, and brisk weather, Thanksgiving will undoubtedly feel different this year, yet sulking would be ignoring the very essence of the holiday.  We are invited to give thanks for our surroundings and all we have been given.  This Thanksgiving, I have an incredible amount to be thankful for.  I am surrounded by a support system which will ensure my safety and well-being, while I am able to truly value my family and friends at home.  I am thankful that I will be with new friends this year, while being able to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving dinner spread that I have become so comfortable with.  Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful regardless of whether the leaves are red or green, whether the temperature is 20 degrees F or 75 degrees F, or whether you are enjoying a deep fried turkey or Dietz and Watson slices.  This is a time to truly cherish those whom we care most about.

Monday, October 4, 2010


As the immigration debate continues and comprehensive immigration reform seems further and further delayed, we saw a glint of hope a couple weeks ago as the DREAM Act reached a vote in the Senate.  Unfortunately this hope was stifled once again as it failed to pass through the Senate.  The DREAM Act was included in the National Defense Authorization Act which also housed a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Since the bill was first introduced, expectations have been lofty, but frequent defeats have unfortunately demoralized young individuals looking for a desirable future in this country.  As we near mid-term elections, we must look at the voting histories of individuals like John McCain, who previously supported the DREAM Act, but recently voted against it.  Surely this idea is not as polarizing as the current Senate vote suggests.  As the bill failed to receive any Republican support, I am wondering whether this is simply political posturing, or if it is truly a single partisan idea.

What is the DREAM Act?
The DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would allow a path to documentation for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants that would qualify.  The DREAM Act has been proposed to offer individuals who meet certain criteria the opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college.  As it is difficult seek a college education with undocumented status, the DREAM Act would alleviate the stress brought on to good students who need to end their education after high school because of their legal status in the United States. 

Who qualifies for the DREAM Act?
-The individual must have entered the United States before the age of 16
-The individual must be present in the United States for at least 5 years before the bill is enacted
-The individual must have graduated from a United States high school or obtained a GED
-The individual must be between the ages of 12 and 35
-The individual must have "good moral character"
(DREAM Act Portal)

What would passing the DREAM Act mean?
Passing the DREAM Act would mean that students of good academic and moral standing would no longer have to live in the shadows.  The DREAM Act would reward students for their achievements, just as students with documentation are rewarded.  It would pave the way for new leaders of tomorrow.  Those who claim that undocumented immigrants do not contribute to society should embrace a bill that will allow them to seek higher education.

My take
Although I understand that I am fairly biased, the DREAM Act makes very good sense to me.  The individuals that would benefit from this act came to the United States as children, often not by their own will.  These individuals have demonstrated that they would like to succeed in an academic environment or in the military.  The DREAM Act makes it possible for these students who have undoubtedly already overcome much adversity to no longer live in fear and fully embrace a future in the United States.  Our current system allows for individuals to live almost their whole lives in the United States while attending public or private schools, yet when it comes time for college, an undocumented immigrant is the first to be closed out.

This is not the first time that the DREAM Act has come to a vote in the Senate and will not be the last time.  Please learn more about this bill and make an educated decision for yourself!  Passing the DREAM Act requires political participation from all those who support it, so if you are in favor, please urge your Representative or Senator to support the DREAM Act.

Friday, October 1, 2010

La Violencia

By this point, everyone has heard of Ciudad Juárez.  If this were a discussion, I would probably attempt to start with everyone throwing out what they had heard of Juárez and making some form of comprehensive list on a white board.  Common sense would lead me to debunk some of the myths of violence occurring in Juárez, in attempt to paint a more optimistic image of the infamous city than the media.  I scan several news sources a day, and regardless of their political slant, all of them are riddled with stories of violence on the border, most often violence in Juárez.  While I might like to be able to paint an optimistic image, I'm not sure that I have the artistic prowess at this point in time.  I am writing from the perspective of an onlooker, someone that only sees the violence from a distance.  I am close enough that shootings in Juárez are covered in the local news, yet I am far enough to not have to fear about violence penetrating the border or any stray bullets.   I certainly do not claim to be an expert on any of this; I have never even been to Juárez.

The number that keeps being thrown out in articles that I have read is 28,000 murders in Mexico since Felipe Calderón has assumed duties as President of Mexico in 2006.  This somewhat right leaning president came into office with a clear intent of cracking down on the drug trade into the United States.  The overall attitude towards drugs changed when Calderón took office and militarized many of the border cities in Mexico.  It is fairly common to see a military presence in Ciudad Juárez, the city now known almost exclusively for its violent drug trade.  As Calderón shifted the federal focus from a generally apathetic stance in effort to take a stand against the drug trade, federal troops swarmed the cities, and a war broke out in Mexico.  Although the violence in Juárez really started to increase with the onset of NAFTA in 1994, the border city has reached a new level of infamy in recent years.  The cartels are no longer fighting exclusively with each other for control of valuable turf, but now with the largely corrupted federales.  While the federal police should signify safety for citizens of Juárez, it is best to avoid them.

Juárez is a very real part of the culture here in El Paso.  The two are connected in many more ways than the bridges that link the two urban areas.  The two cities form the largest bi-national metropolitan area in the world, and while culture easily permeates the porous fence, violence does not.  Many of the individuals currently living in El Paso have roots in Juárez and have given El Paso a very Mexican feel.  Pockets of El Paso can certainly be mistaken for Juárez as signs have restaurants and roads have adopted Spanish language names.

Migration takes a ne focus for people living in Juárez.  While we do not typically reckognize refugee status of our neighbors living in Juárez, many are forced to cross for sheer safety, for fear that the future of their family is in danger in such a violent city.  With such a safe place a stone throw away, the decission makes sense.  We have to look at immigration a bit differently in these border areas, especially as cartels continue to murder thousands a year.  As maquiladoras are now pulling out of Juárez in search of even cheaper labor in Asia and continuing violence threatens the life of all residents, we must recognize the fact that Juárez remains home to over a million people.  While we only read about all the atrocities on CNN and in the New York Times, Juárez is much more than a news story for many people.  The vast majority of the people living in Juárez are good, decent people, whose names have unfortunately been tainted because of the ongoing violence.  To make matters worse, they are forced to look at a fence, which reminds them that safety is just around the corner.  I am not sure that I would be able to resist the temptation.