Monday, March 29, 2010

Human Rights and Immigration Reform- AFSC Denver Post Guest Commentary

By Jennifer Piper, Jordan T. Garcia and Gabriela Flora

Reforming our obsolete immigration system is a human rights issue that can no longer wait. Our nation needs a clear and workable path toward legal residency for the millions of undocumented workers and families living in this country.

Some proposals, such as the immigration-reform blueprint that Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are spearheading, will only create the needed path after creating a more militarized southern border. Border communities along the U.S.-Mexico border have for generations demanded accountability and respect for their quality of life, not more of the same failed policies.

Adding more patrols, or high-tech surveillance systems, to "secure the borders" does not make us more secure. The tragic deaths of at least 6,000 migrants attempting to cross the U.S. - Mexico border since the mid 1990s are a stark reminder that border control policies have only perpetuated suffering. Migrants are 17 times more likely to die today while crossing the border than they were in 1998.

But, we hear from lawmakers that trumpeting border security is necessary to make immigration reform possible. Then where is the clear proof that the multimillion-dollar wall along the U.S. - Mexico border has curbed migration? Economists say the recession of the past two years has had more of an impact.

Stepping up ineffective border patrols, filling more detention jails like the one in Aurora, and more wholesale deportations would only aggravate the climate of fear and uncertainty under which millions of families live. In fact, the Obama administration deported more undocumented migrants in its first year in office than in George W. Bush's last year in the White House, based on the Department of Homeland Security's own reports.

That is why eighty people from Colorado are traveling via bus, van and plane to Washington D.C. and why tens of thousands of immigrant rights supporters are preparing to converge on the streets of Denver, Washington D.C. and across the country, this weekend to call for just and humane immigration reform, not policies that would expand the current ineffective, overzealous enforcement system.

They and millions of others are calling for an end to policies that split families apart and the beginnings of policies that provide safe and swift paths to legalization. We believe the seven core principles the American Friends Service Committee have proposed in A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy will help achieve that goal quickly, fairly and humanely.

These principles are: create justice with humane economic policies, protect the labor rights of all workers, develop a clear path to permanent residence, respect the civil and human rights of immigrants, demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border, make family reunification a top priority, and ensure that immigrants and refugees have access to services.

As a nation, we should reject appeals to tie the future of millions of families to a broken, unjust system of enforcement. Instead we should respect the human rights and dignity of immigrants through humane and fair immigration policies.

Jennifer Piper, Jordan T. Garcia and Gabriela Flora are with the Colorado office of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace and justice organization. To access A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy go to

Read more:

Photos from 800 person Denver rally for immigration reform on March 21 (by Gabriela Flora)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monseñor Romero’s Legacy Lives On

By: Gabriela Flora, AFSC
Today Salvadorans and people across the world will commemorate the life and legacy of Monseñor Romero on the 30th anniversary of his assassination as we did last night during a snow storm here in Denver.

Many priests (in addition to thousands of civilians) were murdered in El Salvador by the military government funded and trained by the United States. Romero stands out because he was part of the oligarchy, entrenched in the power of the church and state. He was chosen as archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 because it was believed that he would tout the conservative government line, rein in the priests supportive of the working class, and turn a blind eye to the violence in the name of “fighting communism”. Romero’s career was taking off in the conservative hierarchy of the church. But the injustice of what he witnessed led him to risk it all to the point of death to speak out against inequality, exploitation, injustice and extreme violence.

I had the privilege this past January to spend eleven days in El Salvador with students from the Romero House at Regis University. The trip was a pilgrimage exploring the life and legacy of Archbishop Romero, the reality of military rule and support of the U.S. in the devastation and the current reality of an FMLN president and hope for a better future. Woven into all of this was the underlying current of immigration.

Beginning with a visit to Divina Providencia, Archbishop Romero’s home and church where he was assassinated to the site of his tomb, Romero’s spirit accompanied us as we met the Salvadoran people and learned of their experiences in the war and have they have coped since the peace accords.

Monseñor Romero’s spirit is a transformative one. The final act that led Archbishop Romero to no longer accept the justification and rhetoric of the government and military was the assassination of his dear friend Father Rutilio Grande, a priest who lived amongst the people and supported them in their daily struggles against violence, both economic and physical (as the two were intimately tied together). After Father Grande’s murder, Romero refused to turn a blind eyeto the violent realities in Salvadoran poor communities; he refused to officiate at any government sanctioned event and became a spokesperson of what the people were witnessing in their communities. On his weekly radio program he described the atrocities experienced by his parishioners and name the murderers; a powerful act in a country where all media was controlled by the economic elite.

Romero’s transformation is central to his legacy. He was a man whose eyes were opened and vowed to give voice to what he saw. The elite tried to dismiss his voice, but the people strengthened their power through his radio programs and outreach to communities and he supported their organizing through communidades de base. While trained and inducted into a very hierarchical perspective on the church, he was transformed by the Salvadoran people and their struggle and came to believe in the walking church- that God rests not in a vested few, but rather in the actions, beliefs and struggles of the common people, that God’s work is not in preparing for heaven, but in ending poverty and working for justice in this life.

During my time in El Salvador I saw Romero’s compassion and grace in the eyes of Jonathan, Rogelio and Angélica among many others. Jonathan went to the mountains at the age of 12 to join the guerillas after his brother was disappeared. He shared how, after the peace accords he worked with all those who disarmed (FMLN and military) to obtain training and access to services. When I asked him if it was hard to work with the former rank and file military men, he said it was at first, but then he realized they were poor like him and in the same situation (although the former military were given prime land and easier access to credit than former FMLN).
Rogelio was nine years old when his whole community was massacre. We sat at the site of his former community and Rogelio shared the horrors he experienced and saw when the Atalcatl brigade trained at the School of the Americas killed 150 people including all his immediate family in front of his eyes. His humble expression of the atrocities was beyond words. Our time at the site ended by holding hands in a circle and praying for peace.

Angelica, our host at the home we stayed at in Papaturro told of why she and her community had to flee to refugee camps in Honduras. She told of the fear they lived in… how a military soldier chased her when she was eight months pregnant, how that same soldier later came to her house and demanded to know if she was feeding the guerrillas. “Yes, I feed the guerrillas” she responded. Continuing she said, “and I feed the soldiers too, God said feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, he did not say kill and slaughter your neighbor.”

Commemorating Romero’s assassination and more importantly his life, is not just to remember the terrible injustices in El Salvador and role the US played, but to carry Romero’s spirit with us as we work to change the current policies, beliefs and institutions that maintain countries like El Salvador at levels of inequality similar to pre-war numbers. Part of what draws me to AFSC, is that our work is based in an understanding that economic injustice is at the root of most violence in our world today and that peace is not the absence of war, but rather is rooted in economic justice and the full respect of all people’s human rights. I am proud to be part of an organization that carries on Romero’s spirit.

The Romero Theater Troupe performing scenes from Archbishop Romero's life at the Denver 30th Anniversary Commemoration of Oscar Romero's Life and Death in Denver on March 23. The event was sponsored by: American Friends Service Committee, Denver Catholic Worker, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Loretto Community, Project Salvador, and Spirit of Christ Catholic Church.

Listen to an interview with Gabriela Flora and Jim Walsh (Gabriela's husband and founder of the Romero Troupe) on KGOAT radio this past Saturday Experiences in El Salvador Shed Light on the Root Causes of Immigration
Listen to yesterday's KGNU interview on Romero's life, death and the current situation in El Salvador with Gabriela Flora, Jim Walsh, Arnie Carter (member of Romero Troupe and AFSC's Area Program Committee) and Christina Stimson (program manager for Project Salvador).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two good Senators

By Fidel "Butch" Montoya

I read with interest the “framework” on immigration reform submitted by New York Senator Charles Schumer and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Once again, I thought my hopes for true immigration reform were about to become a reality.

We have seen other hopeful pieces of federal legislation that had been proposed in the past, only to read in the details that little were being proposed in terms of how the legislation would affect the undocumented masses. There was plenty in the past pieces of legislation on how to do everything except deal humanely with the people most affected by the legislation. The framework provided by these two good senators is no different.

Again we have little in terms of federal legislation trying to be passed on as “comprehensive immigration reform.” While both senators agree “our immigration system is badly broken,” they also expressed their “belief that America’s security and economic well-being depend on enacting sensible immigration policies.”

Sounds a lot like the same ole, same ole baloney from the past.

So now, both senators are only proposing “draft framework for action on immigration,” not even a full proposal, much less anything to propose to the Congress. Even President Obama agreed that the Schumer/Graham proposal was a good idea, probably because it didn’t commit him to anything.

You will notice that Senator Schumer, the real chief of the “guidelines,” and the “draft framework for action on immigration,” really has nothing to propose at all. It is the same old “secure the borders and make sure we supply enough low paying jobs to the economy.” Nothing in their guidelines to address the injustice and job robbery we have committed against undocumented immigrants in the past.

In essence here is their plan. “Our plan has four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.”

Do you see anything new here? The “biometric Social Security card” proposal is nothing more than a national ID card pipe dream. The Homeland Security Department has tried different ways to impose a national ID card on Americans. Now they think they have a way around our strong objections to a national ID card.

A “biometric Social Security card” has nothing to do with immigration reform, only as a means by which the Federal Government can track workers.. Much like the question recently sent to you by the Census Bureau asking if you own or rent your home. Whose business is that in the Federal Government?? How does that relate to “the count required every ten years by the government?”

We have heard so much good news on how the E-Verify Employee tracking system is working. Wrong, we have heard how the E-Very employee tracking system has not been very reliable and how hard working individuals are being denied good employment because some federal tracking plan is not very reliable or can actually track who should or should not be working in country. Now we are going to be given a “new biometric Social Security card” that is going to be one of the pillars for comprehensive reform.

The two good senators also expect that “fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement” will be key in their immigration proposal. That doesn’t sound very original either.

What these two senators are proposing is ridiculous and only means increasing ICE type enforcement in our country. “Interior enforcement?” What does that mean? It sounds like they are going to continue to separate and destroy families by increased detention and deportations and do it legally under a new comprehensive immigration law.

Our government already detains over 34,000 undocumented immigrants in detentions every single day. Our government continues to contract with private prison vendors to build and manage these jails we have built claiming they will provide us security and safety by eliminating the criminal elements associated with illegal immigration

The Obama Administration in its first year has already deported more than 120,000 fathers, mothers, and children than the Bush Administration did in it last year in power. And now our good senators want tougher “interior enforcement”? Is that something you really want? Do you really think all the people in immigration detention are the bad criminals ICE says they are?

I am not so sure I like the way the two good senators propose fixing the border issues. After spending billions of dollars on a border fence that only covers about half of the 2000 mile border with Mexico, our two good senators want to continue to pour billions more on border security. They propose, “We would bolster recent efforts to secure our borders by increasing the Border Patrol's staffing and funding for infrastructure and technology. More personnel would be deployed to the border immediately to fill gaps in apprehension capabilities.”

Where have these two good senators been for the last ten years? The Bush Administration added thousands of Border Patrol agents to the border. He even assigned thousands of National Guard troops to the border, along with his hundreds of volunteer border vigilantes who stood guard on the border. Now these two good senators feel the billions spent on the Bush border wall was a waste of money and we need to spend more money on border security that only bleeds more illicit drugs and gang violence into our country?

Even I know the tactical strategy for fighting the drug war along our southern border with Mexico should be different than trying to run down undocumented immigrants who come here for a better job. We are facing two different entry strategies – one with good consequences, and the other that has created a violent war zone between Mexico and the United States over illicit drugs.

Applying the same amount of federal dollars “securing our border” should have different distinct strategies trying to prevent the hard working immigrant from crossing the border, and preventing the Mexican cartels from delivering billions of dollars in drugs to the American consumer. Maybe better interior enforcement of selling illicit drugs and human trafficking would solve a big part of the criminal element the two good senators want to capture?

I wonder if the two good senators have ever heard of the “system of supply and demand.” The only reason these drug cartels are killing innocent men, women, and children is for the right to export illicit drugs to the American consumer. Yes indeed, the user who lives in the belt way, the high end condos and apartments, the rich neighborhoods, and who have the billions to spend on drug related trips away from reality?

While I may partly agree with the zero tolerance strategy to capture, detain, and deport criminals, we have seen how this policy has not worked very well under the Obama Administration. In fact, interior enforcement is stronger today than under President Bush. It is just good politicking to be for “zero tolerance.”

Our two good senators are trying to sell this “new enforcement strategy” under the guise of a new proposal on immigration reform. Here is what they propose, as a way of securing “our interior.” “Other steps include expanding domestic enforcement to better apprehend and deport those who commit crimes and completing an entry-exit system that tracks people who enter the United States on legal visas and reports those who overstay their visas to law enforcement databases.”

Did you know that over 50% of the undocumented immigrants in our country over stay their legal visa? It is not the scene ICE likes to paint. ICE likes to portray their job as tracking down hundreds of thousands crossing the border every day and thus the need for more Border Patrol agents, more high tech surveillance, and miles more of a fence proven to be inadequate for the job.

Most of the people who fall into the category of “illegal alien,” and “overstay their visas” are good people who want a new life here. They are not criminals as the two good senators would have you believe. We all are for “a zero-tolerance policy for gang members, smugglers, terrorists and those who commit other felonies after coming here illegally.” The problem is the agencies involved in enforcement cannot tell the difference between “gang member, smugglers, and terrorists who commit other felonies after coming here illegally.”

You have heard the expression, “Well, they all look alike.” So under that false premise, ICE fills the detention centers with “criminals,” in other words, just using a criminal and racial profiling kit to detain and deport hundreds of good fathers, mothers, and families under a zero tolerance that does not allow for questioning who ICE may have in their jails. I would challenge you to see what the “criminal profile” looks like in your local ICE and privately contracted detention center.

If they intend is to track down people who overstay their legal visas, and create a new “entry-exit system that tracks people who enter the United States on legal visas and reports those who overstay their visas to law enforcement databases,” then look out for the need for more privately controlled detention centers that have forgotten the United States Constitution is still the law of the land.

Then look for more enforcement raids at the homes of people who have overstayed their visas. Look for local enforcement to bemoan the fact that they must now stop, detain, and report to ICE any good hard working individual because they may have overstayed their visas.

Please stop and consider for a moment. More momentum being built by the “framework or guidelines” for immigration control by these two good senators is only going to create a more suspicious and hate filled political environment in our country. Now everyone will be suspect….and trust me, this will only give law enforcement a free rein on racial profiling.

Their proposal to create a new process for allowing low income workers, I mean temporary workers, into the country, means a “new Bracero problem, I mean program.” We have seen how manufacturing, farming, and the service industry have treated temporary workers. By providing a new process for allowing these low income workers in the country, will that include protections against abuse, robbery, housing, and assurances of a living wage? Or does this new process just mean more of the same?

Read the incentive for doing a good job, “Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position; allowing more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs and fewer in a recession; and permitting workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, the chance to earn a green card .”

I must admit I find it humorous that the two good senators would propose a “tough but fair path forward” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants still in our country. They are quick to show that 1 million have left the country in the last year, but can’t conduct an American census without first overspending more than 14 million dollars so far (and still don’t have a reliable count).

The undocumented immigrants would have to admit they are criminals for crossing the border. They would have to pay back taxes, which I thought millions were already doing, and still not being able to apply for medical or social needs?

They would have to perform hundreds of hours of community service, or just another way to allow them to continue to work for free or low end wages.

But wait; here is what really shows me these two good senators have no grasp of reality. They propose, “These people would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence.”

They must pass a background check, after spending years in the United States doing whatever was necessary to destroy any documents or evidence they were living in the shadows of America illegally.

Must be proficient in English? Does that mean being able to say, “Wait a minute? I worked 56 hours this week, and you owe me for 56 hours of work?” “Or you promised to pay me $12 an hour to do this work, now you want to pay me $8 because you think I will not report you to the authorities? Or probably the most classic question being asked today, “What do you mean you are not going to pay me for the work I did for you because you know I am undocumented immigrant?”

If the two good senators added up all the work not paid or underpaid to today’s hard working undocumented workers, they would be adding to their framework proposal for repayment to undocumented immigrants for work well done, not more community service or more in “back taxes.”

I trust our Latino Evangelical leaders will not fall in the false trap of “immigration is at hand.” It is not, if we are to follow the two good senators “framework for immigration reform.”

As far as I am concerned, the proof is in the details. I have seen no reason to celebrate a proposed guideline for reform, one from a New York Senator, and the other from a Republican Senator. Show me the money should be our cry. Show me the details.

If our Evangelical leadership does not stand up against this false pretense that immigration is at hand, and condemn the lies of this Administration and United States Representatives and Senators, they please don’t show up on the stage on Sunday, March 21st and claim immigration reform is at hand. Please don’t join the liars from the government. And yes, we will be watching and listening to your speeches. Be fair, but don't lie about immigration reform being at hand, because it is not!

You know what the facts are back home in the barrio, in the local Evangelical church, in the schools back home, or on the job situation. Reading the guidelines proposed by Senators Graham & Schumer, and supported by President Obama should be enough to call for the immigration reform train to stop right now.

We will not accept your piecemeal approach to comprehensive immigration reform. We do not accept your premise that our people are bad people and thus must pay fines, do community service, and deny their culture by making them stop using Spanish to become American citizens.

I suppose if we closed the southern border tight, and allowed immigrants seeking a better life to pass by the Statue of Liberty, they would be worthy to be American citizens. Then they too could say, “¡Gloria a Dios! Hemos llegado a la tierra donde fluyen leche y miel. Siento un inmenso orgullo y es un grab honor estar aquí. Me siento como un ciudadano estadounidense, muy orgulloso. Nuestro hogar está ahora en la tierra de la tranquilidad, la justicia y la paz.”

( "Glory to God, we have arrived to the land of milk and honey. I am so full of pride and honor to be here. I feel like an American proud. We are home to a land of tranquility, justice, and peace." )

Butch Montoya

Monday, March 22, 2010

Please Join Us: Commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Romero's Life and Death in Denver, March 23

“… may my blood be the seed of liberty and the sign that hope will soon be a reality.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Assassinated March 24, 1980

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was gunned down as he celebrated the Eucharist. One day before, in an impassioned plea, he called on soldiers and members of the security forces to obey their consciences and the law of God that says, “Do not kill!” and to end the repression.







Sponsored by: American Friends Service Committee, Denver Catholic Worker, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Loretto Community, Project Salvador, and Spirit of Christ Catholic Church.

Contact person – Anna Koop 303 296 6390 or

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day:

As a descendant of Irish immigrants, I always wonder how many of the people dressed in green and drinking beer today have ever looked at the history of Irish emigration. Irish people were driven out of their homeland by the English colonization of Ireland, subsequent linguistic and religious persection, the famine, and poverty.

Once in the US, some small number of these Irish immigrants made a choice based on their faith and their love for justice, not on nationality. I thought I'd share a story of common cause and allyship, the story of Saint Patrick's Brigade.

Saint Patrick's Battalion: Tyranny, Treason and the American Mexican War

Many Irish immigrants faced discrimination in the United States of the mid to late 1800s. Signs of the time stated "No Irish or Dogs", we were seen as less than human, uneducated, dirty and prone to being disloyal due to our "allegiance" to the Pope.

The US government began to recruit and forcibly conscript recently arrived immigrants into the US army as the American-Mexican War began to heat up. As the recent immigrants marched upon Mexico with the US army they were treated poorly by the citizen members of the army and they began to discuss amongst themselves whether they belonged on the American or Mexican side of the war. They noticed some common cause with the Mexicans they met:

  • Anglo Saxon Protestant controlled countries attacking Catholic countries in order to gain their land

  • The mistreatment by the US and English armies of the Irish and Mexican populaces post-victory

  • Shared cultural alienation

Over 200 of them deserted the US army, formed St. Patrick's Brigade and enlisted with the Mexican Army. Joining them were also handfuls of Canadians, English, French, Italians, Poles, Scots, Spaniards, Swiss and African Americans who had escaped slavery. Not being able to directly battle the oppression these groups suffered in their homelands, they joined with the Mexican cause to battle a similar oppression here.

The story of Saint Patrick's Brigade is unsung here in the US, where they were considered traitors and those which were caught, were hung. In Mexico, the story is more well-known.

A New York Times Editorial today marks their story. And these two YouTube videos do the same:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Over 200 organizations appeal to President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to Suspend Immigration Enforcement Activities for Census 2010

Encouraging hard-to-count populations to participate in the Census means reducing the climate of fear and distrust in immigrant communities
Oakland, CA: As Census 2010 gears up to count all residents in the United States, immigrants are at risk of being undercounted due to the climate of fear and distrust stemming from immigration raids and other enforcement actions. With Census forms due to arrive in all households in the coming week, more than 200 concerned organizations nationwide have joined with the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to ask President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to halt enforcement activities for the Census. Not only are many immigrants not familiar with the Census, but many households will be reluctant to return their Census forms or talk with outreach workers for fear of detection if they or someone in their home is undocumented.
The letter asks the Administration to "follow precedent" to suspend enforcement activities, including the "287g" program that facilitates local police involvement in immigration enforcement. In 1990 and 2000, steps were taken to suspend numerous enforcement actions. However, with the peak activities for the Census just around the corner, the Administration has not yet announced any significant action.
While the purpose of the census is to count everyone residing in the United States, immigrants, along with a number of other population groups, have been historically undercounted. However, with the distribution of some $400 billion in federal funds at stake to support infrastructure and services based on population, an inaccurate count of immigrants will have an impact on all areas of the country.
The letter cites more than a dozen immigration enforcement programs. " As you know, enforcement activities have reached an unprecedented breadth and depth, resulting in higher numbers of detentions and deportations than even the past Administration, and utilizing strategies that are less visible than raids but well known and feared in immigrant communities throughout the country."
According to NNIRR Executive Director Catherine Tactaquin, "While many community-based organizations are working to support the Census effort, we are genuinely concerned that the climate of fear will seriously impact the census form return rate of immigrant households -- and if people do not return the form, they will be reluctant to open the door to a follow-up visit from a Census worker." She continued, "We believe it is the right of every person to be counted in the Census, but we really need the leadership of the Administration right now to make a difference in the success of the Census among our diverse immigrant populations."
Despite the benefits being counted brings to communities, immigrants are among several communities known to be significantly undercounted by the Census; in New York City, heavily-immigrant areas have had less than a 40 percent census response rate, compared to the citywide average response of 65 percent.
The letter also notes that, "Numerous officials have themselves expressed grave concerns about the challenges faced in convincing immigrants to participate due to persistent enforcement activity by the same government now seeking their information. Immigrants have raised doubts about the confidentiality of the Census. While officials have repeatedly stated that the information obtained will not be shared with other departments, immigrants well recall similar assurances about the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service; today, the data obtained from these agencies has provided the fuel for many of this Administration's enforcement operations. "

For a copy of the full letter to President Obama and DHS, please go to:
For more detailed information and resources please go to NNIRR's We ALL Count - Census 2010 Campaign