Tuesday, February 28, 2006

HR 4437: Passing the Buck on National Security

On February 10, 2006, a van carrying 28 undocumented immigrants hit a
spike strip laid by the US Border Patrol on Rt. 905 in San Diego. The
spike strip flattened at least one tire while the van was traveling at
"close to freeway speed," causing it to jump a guardrail and careen
down an embankment, ejecting and scattering passengers in a scene that
San Diego Fire-Rescue's spokesman likened to "a mini war zone."
Twenty-one passengers were injured, eight seriously. And this wasn't
the first time. According to the The San Diego Union-Tribune, similar
chases of undocumented immigrants have led to more than 50 traffic
accidents in San Diego and Imperial counties since 1993, killing 75
people and injuring over 500.

No one can deny that our immigration policy is broken. Now immigrant
rights groups and armed right-wing militias are engaged in a showdown
over how to fix it. In February, Border Angels and Gente Unida
(People United) crisscrossed the country on a "March for Migrants" in
opposition to HR 4437, the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and
Illegal Immigration Control Act" that passed the House and is expected
to go before the Senate soon. The Minutemen, on the other hand, left
their binoculars and firearms in Arizona and headed to Washington, DC,
to rally and lobby Congress to pass the anti-immigrant legislation
that will criminalize doctors, social workers, and charities that help
undocumented immigrants.

The Border Angels is one such charity that will face jail time under
HR 4437. The organization began in the mid-1980s as an outreach
program of several San Diego religious groups. The gospel is their
motto: "For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty,
and you gave me drink." (Matthew 25:35). Volunteer Angels bring
water, food, and blankets to life-saving stations in the desert in an
attempt to stem the growing number of migrant deaths at the
Mexico-U.S. border. Over 4,000 migrants have died since October 1994,
when the Defense Department's Operation Gatekeeper erected a steel
wall made from landing platforms used in the first Gulf War. Rather
than reducing the number of illegal immigrants, Gatekeeper has shifted
migration flows to the harsh mountains and desert east of San Diego,
resulting in a 500% increase in border deaths.

The Minuteman Project is notorious for its vigilante patrols of the
U.S.-Mexico border. Many Minutemen are armed and some have humiliated
detained migrants or held them at gunpoint. However, the militia's
biggest impact may be in Congress. The Minutemen joined with other
anti-immigrant organizations, and, with the support of racist groups
such as the National Alliance, Ranch Rescue, and English First, they
are lobbying for the passage of HR 4437, which will extend the wall on
the U.S.-Mexico border, increase the penalty for being an undocumented
immigrant from a civil violation to a felony, and potentially
criminalize doctors, social workers, members of the clergy, and
charities for assisting undocumented immigrants.

The criminalization of undocumented immigrants and doctors who treat
them is particularly disturbing. A handful of states passed
legislation in the 1990s that similarly required doctors to play the
role of law enforcement by reporting pregnant drug users' positive
test results to the police for prosecution. The Supreme Court
eventually struck down the laws because they were a violation of
patient-doctor confidentiality, and because the American Medical
Association argued that the laws harmed women and their fetuses by
deterring drug users from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment.
Enrique Morones, the executive director of Border Angels, says that
while the Supreme Court may also strike down this section of HR 4437,
the fact that lawmakers even proposed it is "a tremendous statement in
racism." Furthermore, like the hundreds of pregnant women who
delivered their babies in prison prior to the Supreme Court ruling,
immigrants and doctors will suffer while battles rage in the courts
for years.

The effect HR 4437 will have on asylum seekers is also troubling. It
will lengthen the amount of time those who enter the US illegally are
held in jail and make it easier to deport them before an asylum
hearing. The law also expands the aggravated felony category to
include being in the US illegally (currently a civil offense) as well
as a variety of misdemeanor crimes such as drunk driving. Asylum
seekers convicted of an aggravated felony will be permanently barred
from seeking permanent resident status. Given that asylum seekers
find themselves in grave danger in their home countries, many travel
with fake documents and enter the US illegally, committing an
aggravated felony under HR 4437. Thus, this bill jeopardizes our
obligation to asylum seekers under international law.

HR 4437 is the right's obvious attempt to further capitalize on 9-11
by equating immigrants with terrorists. Daniel Morales from Gente
Unida says that conservatives are using immigration as a wedge issue
in the same way they used gay marriage during the 2004 elections. In
reality, HR 4437 does little to nothing to address the security
failures that led to the terrorist attacks. Congress members who
support the bill, such as Delaware's Mike Castle, like to point out
that the majority of the 9-11 hijackers were in the country illegally.
What they choose to ignore is that most of them entered the country
legally. Existing mechanisms were not enforced when the hijackers
overstayed their visas. Furthermore, as Morones points out, "Had the
wall on the Mexico-U.S. border been 100 feet high, September 11 still
would have happened." HR 4437 is designed to merely make us feel
safer while inflicting further suffering on the Latino migrant workers
who hold up our economy.

HR 4437 does nothing to address the reasons migrants risk their lives
to cross the border. It doesn't stop the US government from creating
conflict zones or funding military regimes, which leads to an influx
of refugees. It doesn't stop NAFTA from decimating the Mexican
economy, causing former farmers to seek work in the US. It doesn't
stop the US from pursuing this failed policy for other countries
through the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Free Trade
Area of the Americas. It also doesn't stop restaurant kitchens across
the country from using cheap undocumented labor, or force
slaughterhouses to improve safety so that more US citizens would work
in them, or close the legal loophole that allows big agriculture to
pay farm workers a fraction of the minimum wage. Would any Minuteman
take a job that pays 45 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes picked
during a grueling 12-hour shift in the burning sun?

Until US employers stop capitalizing on the misfortunes of
undocumented immigrants, start paying living wages, and bring all
workplaces up to health and safety codes, the most virulently
xenophobic bills will not stop the influx of immigrants—it will only
cause more to die trying. Immigrants don't take jobs that would
otherwise be filled by citizens, and they don't depress
wages—capitalists do. Why else would Perdue Chicken oppose HR 4437?
Tyson Foods executives weren't smuggling undocumented immigrants to
work in their plants because of a severe shortage of available labor
here in the US. They did it because they don't want to pay minimum
wage.

In the end, HR 4437 is a racist, xenophobic wolf in a pro-national
security sheep's clothing. Congress should stop labeling immigrants
as terrorists and instead pass earned legalization laws that reward
the full rights of citizenship to the migrant workers who support our
economy. After all, Al Qaeda's roots can't be traced to Mexico. Its
humble beginnings are right here in Washington, DC, on the CIA
payroll.

For more information:
http://www.borderangels.org
http://www.stopgatekeeper.org
http://www.ilrc.org/HR4437.htm

2 comments :

Saimon Fitzyerald said...

Everyone welcome my new unindicted Co-conspirator at La Luchita, Kristin B.

Within hours of posting her piece on House Bill 4437 and the senate immigration debate, our site was visited by the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms or one of his staffers.

CHUCK2222 said...

Has it occured to you why there's such support for the wall? It passed the House with both Democrat and Republican support. Before you drop into an emotional defense, you should consider why.