Saturday, January 14, 2006

2005: The year hatred went mainstream along the border


EDITOR'S NOTE: Christian Ramirez is the director of the American Friends
Service Commitee in San Diego, a human rights organization offering job
placement, legal advice and housing leads to undocumented people crossing
into the U.S. On Dec. 31, 2005, he was interviewed by Cliff Parker and
Carolyn Goossen, who work for New America Media, a collaboration of over
700 print, broadcast and online ethnic media organizations.


Q: Describe growing up three miles north of the U.S./Mexico Border.

Christian Ramirez: I grew up knowing that the border was a place where I
could take a nap. It wasn't until I traveled to other places that things
started to click. As a kid you ask yourself, why can't my grandma come
visit me, and why do I have to wait in line to go visit her?

Q: What does the border mean to you?

CR:I cannot imagine myself not living in a border community, where you can
be in a new place within seconds or hours depending on the border wait.
It's a place of great artistic expression, especially in Tijuana. It is a
place of violence and a place of inspiration.

You have to live here to see the many stories that go through this border.
People wishing to go north because it's their only hope, and people going
south because it's the only form of entertainment. A border is place where
all these different ways of thinking meet for an instant. You have a bunch
of Navy guys going south to get drunk, and bunch of migrants coming north
with all they have, just to find a little bit of hope. Where else in the
world can you see something like that?

Q: What are the differences you've felt along the border before and after
the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)?

CR: Throughout the history of the border, we've dealt with the Dept. of
Treasury (DOT) or customs, and the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), the INS and the
U.S. Border Patrol.

With the DOT, there was always a very cold relationship, but with the DOJ,
particularly the INS, there was an openness, a willingness to sit down and
dialogue about important tactics.

When 9/11 happened, and we began to hear the discourse about the border as
a national security concern, there were long waits at the border, there was
a stronger presence of border patrols in border communities and advocates
started being detained and beat up.

The DHS has refused to speak to border communities and border residents.
This is a different border, a police state, with border patrol enjoying
more impunity than ever before.

Q: How have you responded?

CR: After the DHS came into existence, we knew we needed to invest time in
building leadership in the border areas. We felt the only way to change
policy in Washington was to create a strong base of people who were
impacted on a daily basis by immigration policies and that they would
themselves would become advocates in the long run.

Q: How would you characterize the past year in terms of the immigration

CR: In 2004, the mainstream media began covering border issues, and the
language turned to "broken border" "alien invasion." We began to see a very
violent discourse, a justified use of violence.

2005 was the high mark for this. Suddenly, in 2005, the vigilante groups,
paramilitary formations that have always existed here, became mainstream.
The groups that were once on the fringes of our society became folk heroes
for mainstream America.

This has been a year of mainstream hate and mainstream violence at the U.S.
Mexico border.

The border patrol now operates with full power, above the constitution, and
with no judicial review. Not since the McCarthy era have we seen something
like this. If it continues, it will not stop here. The Mexico-U.S. border
will not simply be an imaginary line -- it will expand to the rest of the

Q: What needs to happen in the debate on immigration?

CR: We have heard the voices from the Minutemen, from policy makers, from
presidents, but the one voice that has not spoken, and will speak, is the
border communities.

Q: What issues do the immigrant voices bring to the debate?

CR: We are tired of counting the dead. We want a new reality. We want
family unification, to be treated with the same rights and dignities as
products. We want to have the right to drive a vehicle, so we can drive
from home to our place of employment. We want the possibility for our
children to go on to higher education if they have the ability to do it.
This is what border communities are calling for.

Q: What happens if the Sensenbrenner bill becomes law?

CR: It means that anyone without documents in this country would turn into
a federal criminal. And it means that anyone who aids and abets
undocumented people would also be criminal -- like a church that provides
shelter, clinics for women fleeing domestic violence and organizations like
us. If it passes, we will be forced to go underground.

Q: What is the main cause of death on the border?

CR: The main reason is the climatic conditions. Most people die because
they are cooked to death in the desert, or they freeze to death in the
mountains. And it happens, because the U.S. government under Clinton pushed
the migrant flows away from the urban areas and into the most remote and
inhospitable terrains along the U.S.-Mexico border. This, they said, would
deter the migrants. But they failed in their analysis.

Two million people were undocumented in 1986, and currently, the official
number is 11 million. This policy has only been successful in pushing
people to the deserts and mountains where they are going to die.

Many Americans don't know this. If they knew that innocent people were
being killed, there would be a different reaction to border policies. The
Minuteman project would not be a welcome group.

Q: And how does the year 2005 end?

CR: Today, a young man was shot by border patrol trying to cross the
border. It is a common occurrence here. This is how the year will end on
the border. Just the way it began -- with shooting, with violence, with

Arnoldo Garcia
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados
310 8th Street Suite 303
Oakland, CA 94607
Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305
Fax (510) 465-1885

1 comment:

samrocha said...

I have been oposing Gov. Tim Pawlenty's "illegal immigration reform" as he spearheads the republican wedge issue for the 06 elections... Fascinating dialogue and nice blog... I mentioned in another post that I would love to add you to my reciprocal link, let me know if you are interested