Friday, November 14, 2014

Drawing the line

The four Hernandez brothers own and farm small hill side cornfields (‘milpas’), near the tiny village of “Cerro del Aguilar” east of Oaxaca Mexico.  Even when the rain is good they have difficulty growing enough corn, beans, and squash to feed their families for the entire year  Their fields are too small and the rain too little. 
A 'milpa' - corn, beans, squash grown together in one plant community
Their solution is the take turns and each year one of them “goes north” to work in the US.  Its more difficult (and dangerous) each year but the money they send home is essential for the extended family. 
3 of the Hernandez brothers - the missing one is 'north' working this year
To avoid the risks of crossing the border, some workers come and stay without papers for years.  Some marry and have families.  And this creates a different problem.  The children born here are citizens by if this man is sent back to Mexico, it will results in a broken family.  There are also young adults who were born in Mexico, came north with their parents when they were very young childen, they have lived their lives in American communities, gone through American schools – even college… and speak only English and have no knowledge of Mexico… Under current law they too are subject to being returned to Mexico. 

Children harvesting corn from their milpa

I recognize the validity of arguments – There are a limited number of jobs in America… and allowing immigrants to stay only makes it harder for ‘our folks’ to get jobs.  But how many Americans are willing to work for minimum wage doing stoop farm labor or cleaning and packing chickens for long hours?  Right now farmers tell us that they are dependent on immigrant labor. (But they want them to be there when they need them – then to go home).  One myth that we clearly identify as incorrect is the idea that Mexicans are lazy - Judy and I have clearly seen both here and in Mexico, people motivated to work hard for a better life. 

When many men in a village are in the US - women must maintain the family in Mexico
I recognize that granting legal status to just anyone isn’t fair for those who play by the rules and have applied through proper channels for citizenship. To provide some sort of control, quotas have been set for immigrant groups of all nations, and we have limited capacity to allow anyone and everyone who wants to come.  Our schools, medical system, social services, legal system are all affected by vast numbers of immigrants who pay limited or no taxes to support the services.  There is the perception that illegals make for more crime in America (not supported by actual statistics ). Today, crossing the border is largely controlled by gangs - by “coyotes” - who charge exorbitant amounts to guide people across the border and frequently abandon men,women, and children in the desert to die. 

A family displaced from their land - moved to the "city" and are forced to live in abject poverty
Its true that through our history we have a sad story of xenophobia.  The Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Polish and Bohemians, the Chinese, and now the Latino people are  the object of fear and exclusion.  Every group that doesn't speak English or has 'different' skin has appeared threatening to the established order.  Perhaps today some of the fear of “foreigners”  is due to our perceived threat of terrorists … (even though Latinos have no terrorist connections).  A new solution could make  clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals and those who pose national security risks and recent border crossers.
Village girls
 How can we incorporate 'the other' into our “mix” ?  What kind of national dialogue would lead to the a solution both humane and in the best interest of our nation?   Does it strike you as ironic that at the same time we celebrate the tearing down of the Berlin wall – that we now have our own wall preventing people from crossing?   

The town of “Cerro del Aguilar”
So what would a ‘solution’ look like?  Some possible alternatives:

**We could adopt a policy of not permitting families to be broken up by sending back to Mexico one parent or children who have lived here for ‘x’ number of years. Allow them to "join the line" for citizenship.

** People already here now could be permitted to join the line of those waiting to become citizens and issued work permits. Enforce the policy of sending all others back. (obvious problems of enforcing )

A squatter town of displaced village people - desperate people trying to survive

**A Bracero program could be reintroduced to make it possible for workers to legally come north for one growing season and then return  to Mexico – they would provide a legal controlled entry of farm labor and the ability to know who is here.

**Enhanced cooperation between Mexico and the US could focus on stopping the “coyote” gangs and prevented uncontrolled crossings.  Stop the crime and deaths of dangerous crossings through the deserts.

Mother and children - dependent on a husband sending money from the US

The bottom line is : Desperate people seeking escape from abysmal poverty or freedom from the fear of violence will find ways to come north – and right now the only policy we have is a wall of questionable effectiveness and a “catch as catch can” policy of equally limited effectiveness.  Encourage your national leaders to write and enforce a fair solution .