Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Struggle in Haiti

Haiti Journal #3

July 30, 2008

It is about 2 am here in Cap Hatien. We are lucky to email when we can. We are six days into our ten day humanitarian trip for Children's Hope. We have now delivered all the medical supplies, except those due to arrive by air tomorrow, which we will over-see. Things were going fairly smoothly, until yesterday afternoon when we got word that our usual companion, friend, and body guard in Cite Soliel was shot at several times.

Now, things have gotten worse. I got word yesterday afternoon that the Mayor in Port au Prince is trying to close Sopudep school again. That is the main school we support that teaches street children and restovek children (those sold into slavery). I was asked to get back to Port au Prince to meet with the Mayor and Sopudep lawyer on Friday, I will keep you posted if further international letter writing, etc. is needed.

Then tonight, as we were going home from Shada, we saw a rush of UN troops. They apparently were behind a number of armed returning Haitian army because after dinner, we saw the leader of the army on a press conference with the old army troops behind him here in Cap Hatien. This is not good news for us. There may be a response from the people tomorrow to their return. This army was disbanded by President Aristide before the coup. Now, this army has not been friendly to Aristide supporters. Since that is about everyone I know, we have some concern. This may explain why when we first landed in the north, the UN troopers would not lower their weapons, and why they insisted I stop taking their picture in return.

Again, there is nothing I ask you to do now...just know that I will keep you posted only when I can. We struggle getting access. Please just keep others informed, in case we ask for email, phone or letter support.

Do not worry. Things are quiet, the people are strong, and they are with us. There is great comfort knowing that we are serving the poor, and that they have not only strength, and unity, but they have generously accepted us to serve with them.

in peace and solidarity, leisa

The streets are quiet at this hour

Children's Hope
c/o Leisa Faulkner
3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

California and Immigration

*You are cordially invited by Senator Cedillo to attend the Senate Select Committee on Immigration and the Economy Hearing on August 5th. This bipartisan hearing, which is the second of an ongoing series on the topic, will provide insight into the impacts of immigrants on California’s economy as it relates to workforce participation. Stephen Levy, Director and Senior Economist for the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy and Magnus Lofstrom, Research Fellow from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) will provide their insights on this very interesting topic. Those who attend the hearing will be encouraged to provide public comment upon the conclusion of the presentations to further enrich the discussion.

Senate Select Committee on Immigration and the Economy
Senator Gilbert Cedillo, Chair

“Workforce Participation and Economic Impacts of Immigrants in California”

State Capitol, Room 113
August 5, 2008
9:30 a.m.

Stephen Levy
Stephen Levy, Director and Senior Economist of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy (CCSCE)

CCSCE works with public institutions and private companies to provide better insight on economic and demographic trends in California. Recently, Mr. Levy has been researching the impact of immigration on the California economy and the implications it has on workforce policy. Stephen Levy has degrees in Economics from MIT and Stanford.

Magnus Lofstrom

Magnus Lofstrom is a Research Fellow for the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The PPIC specializes in providing objective, nonpartisan research on the most urgent economic, demographic, and social issues facing the state. One of the most compelling issues in the current political context is immigration and immigrants, which Mr. Lofstrom has worked on extensively. He specializes in labor market integration of immigrants and has a Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from the University of California, San Diego.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tears of Rage, Hope: Immigration

Tears of Rage, Tears of Hope
by Jane Guskin

Nurses see everything in a day's work. But at the maternity ward of Nashville General Hospital, nurses caring for an immigrant woman in labor broke down and cried when the sheriff's deputy guarding the woman refused to remove the shackles chaining her leg to the bed. The undocumented woman was detained by local authorities because of a cooperation agreement between the county sheriff's department and the immigration enforcement agency, ICE.1

In Seattle, a seasoned community leader couldn't hold back her tears at a press conference as she read excerpts from her organization's report about abuses and indignities suffered by immigrants at a local detention center. Female detainees described strip searches and genital and anal cavity inspections following meetings with attorneys; detainees affected by an outbreak of food poisoning were denied medical treatment for many hours; a group of detainees transferred out of the facility by plane to Alabama -- to clear room there for workers arrested in a raid -- were refused access to the bathroom and were forced to sit in their own excrement for the duration of the flight.2

Following the May 12 immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, court interpreter Erik Camayd-Freixas reported seeing attorneys "weep alongside their clients" as hundreds of immigrant workers were left no choice but to plead guilty to criminal charges.3 At St. Bridget's church in Postville, where staff and volunteers have been providing humanitarian assistance to families traumatized by the raid, Father Ouderkirk quotes Sister Mary as saying: "Once you've cried for two straight weeks, you don't have any more tears. But it doesn't mean you stopped feeling."4

I've covered immigration news in a weekly bulletin for over a decade, and co-authored a book about immigration which came out last year. Yet it took me three weeks to write about the Postville raid because I couldn't stop crying as I read about the indigenous Guatemalans and Mexicans, victims of labor exploitation, who were dragged through an incomprehensible legal process in makeshift courtrooms at a cattle fairgrounds and are now serving prison sentences; mothers hobbled with government tracking devices on their ankles as they try to care for their families, now without income; and hundreds of children who are grieving the sudden loss of a parent.5

I can't even skim through our own book without crying. In the chapter on detention and deportation, the "Story of S." still burns me up, unleashing tears of helplessness, as I remember how ICE delayed releasing S. for a few extra days, saying we needed to prove we had arranged a safe place for her to stay, since she was a survivor of abuse. Yet when they finally released her, they dumped her on the street without letting anyone know -- not even her lawyer -- and without any money, even for a phone call, so she had to make her way on foot to a public library and ask to borrow the phone.

Then there's Farouk Abdel-Muhti, a friend and colleague whose case we covered in that same chapter. Farouk would be 60 now, but he died four years ago today -- on July 21, 2004, his 100th day of freedom after two years in immigration detention. It's not even Farouk's death that brings up the tears for me. It's the eight months he spent in solitary confinement, without seeing the sun, or breathing outside air -- in total violation of the government's own rules -- while our protests, vigils, press releases, and petitions were ignored. And the fact that his entire detention was a farce, since the government already knew Farouk was a man without a country who couldn't be deported.

Tears of rage, of frustration, of grief.

And tears of hope, when I see kids in Providence, Rhode Island, leading some 200 people in a noisy protest to support immigrant janitors arrested by ICE just a few hours earlier.6 Tears of hope, when I hear that Jewish and Christian communities are planning to converge in Postville on July 27 for a major demonstration in solidarity with the families affected by the Agriprocessors raid.7 Tears of hope, whenever I see resistance rising.

Hope that we will never get used to the brutality, the human tragedy, that our immigration enforcement system unleashes all around us. Hope that our tears will never dry up, our hearts will never cease to hurt, and our voices will never get tired of demanding justice.

1 Travis Loller, "Pregnant Inmate Shackled to Hospital Bed during Labor," Associated Press, 15 July 2008; Julia Preston, "Immigrant, Pregnant, Is Jailed Under Pact," New York Times, 20 July 2008.

2 Pramila Jayapal, "You Would Too," Hate Free Zone, 15 July 2008.

3 Erik Camayd-Freixas, "Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account," MRZine, 12 July 2008.

4 Samuel G. Freeman, "Immigrants Find Solace After Storm of Arrests," New York Times, 12 July 2008.

5 "Massive Raid at Kosher Meat Plant in Iowa," Immigration News Briefs, 2 June June 2008.

6 "Raids Protested in Rhode Island, Colorado," Immigration News Briefs 20 July 2008.

7 Amy Lorentzen, "Postville Rally to Focus on Immigration Issues," Associated Press, 15 July 2008.

Jane Guskin is co-author of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, published by Monthly Review Press in July 2007. Guskin also edits Immigration News Briefs, a weekly newsletter covering immigration issues. She lives in New York City.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Right to Stay Home in Mexico

By David Bacon
New America Media

JUXTLAHUACA, OAXACA, MEXICO (7/9/08) - For almost half a century, migration has been the main fact of social life in hundreds of indigenous towns spread through the hills of Oaxaca, one of Mexico's poorest states. That's made the conditions and rights of migrants central concerns for communities like Santiago de Juxtlahuaca.

Today the right to travel to seek work is a matter of survival. But this June in Juxtlahuaca, in the heart of Oaxaca's Mixteca region, dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to talk about another right, the right to stay home.

In the town's community center two hundred Mixtec, Zapotec and Triqui farmers, and a handful of their relatives working in the U.S., made impassioned speeches asserting this right at the triannual assembly of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB). Hot debates ended in numerous votes. The voices of mothers and fathers arguing over the future of their children, echoed from the cinderblock walls of the cavernous hall.

In Spanish, Mixteco and Triqui, people repeated one phrase over and over: the derecho de no migrar - the right to not migrate. Asserting this right challenges not just inequality and exploitation facing migrants, but the very reasons why people have to migrate to begin with. Indigenous communities are pointing to the need for social change.

About 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca live in the US, 300,000 in California alone, according to Rufino Dominguez, one of FIOB's founders. These men and women come from communities whose economies are totally dependent on migration. The ability to send a son or daughter across the border to the north, to work and send back money, makes the difference between eating chicken or eating salt and tortillas. Migration means not having to manhandle a wooden plough behind an ox, cutting furrows in dry soil for a corn crop that can't be sold for what it cost to plant it. It means that dollars arrive in the mail when kids need shoes to go to school, or when a grandparent needs a doctor.

In Oaxaca the category of extreme poverty encompasses 75 percent of its 3.4 million residents, according to EDUCA, an education and development organization. For more than two decades, under pressure from the World Bank and U.S. loan conditions, the Mexican government has cut spending intended to raise rural incomes. Prices have risen dramatically since price controls and subsidies were eliminated for necessities like gasoline, electricity, bus fares, tortillas, and milk.

Raquel Cruz Manzano, principal of the Formal Primary School in San Pablo Macuiltianguis, a town in the indigenous Zapotec region, says only 900,000 Oaxacans receive organized healthcare, and the illiteracy rate is 21.8%. "The educational level in Oaxaca is 5.8 years," Cruz notes, "against a national average of 7.3 years. The average monthly wage for non-governmental employees is less than 2,000 pesos [about $200] per family [per month], the lowest in the nation. Around 75,000 children have to work in order to survive or to help their families."

"But there are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it's not economically possible to plant a crop anymore," Dominguez asserts. "We come to the U.S. to work because we can't get a price for our product at home. There's no alternative."

Without large scale political change most local communities won't have the resources for productive projects and economic development that could provide a decent living. Towns like Juxtlahuaca, don't even have waste water treatment. Rural communities rely on the same rivers for drinking water that are also used to carry away sewage. "A typical teacher earns about 2200 pesos every two weeks [about $220]," says Jaime Medina, a reporter for Oaxaca's daily Noticias. "From that they have to purchase chalk, pencils and other school supplies for the children,"

Because of its indigenous membership, FIOB campaigns for the rights of migrants in the U.S. who come from those communities. It calls for immigration amnesty and legalization for undocumented migrants. FIOB has also condemned the proposals for guest worker programs. Migrants need the right to work, but "these workers don't have labor rights or benefits," Dominguez charges. "It's like slavery."

At the same time, "we need development that makes migration a choice rather than a necessity -- the right to not migrate," explains Gaspar Rivera Salgado, a professor at UCLA. "Both rights are part of the same solution. We have to change the debate from one in which immigration is presented as a problem to a debate over rights. The real problem is exploitation." But the right to stay home, to not migrate, has to mean more than the right to be poor, the right to go hungry and homeless. Choosing whether to stay home or leave only has meaning if each choice can provide a meaningful future.

In Juxtlahuaca Gaspar Rivera Salgado was elected FIOB's new binational coordinator. His father and mother still live on a ranch half an hour up a dirt road from the main highway, in the tiny town of Santa Cruz Rancho Viejo. There his father Sidronio planted three hundred avocado trees a few years ago, in the hope that someday their fruit would take the place of the corn and beans that were once his staple crop. He's fortunate -- his relatives have water, and a pipe from their spring has kept most of his trees, and those hopes, alive. Fernando, Gaspar's brother, has started growing mushrooms in a FIOB-sponsored project, and even put up a greenhouse for tomatoes. Those projects, they hope, will produce enough money that Fernando won't have to go back to Seattle, where he worked for seven years.

This family perhaps has come close to achieving the derecho de no migrar. For the millions of farmers throughout the indigenous countryside, not migrating means doing something like it. But finding the necessary resources, even for a small number of families and communities, presents FIOB with its biggest challenge. This was the source of the debate at its Juxtlahuaca assembly.

Gaspar Rivera-Salgado says, "we will find the answer to migration in our communities of origin. To make the right to not migrate concrete, we need to organize the forces in our communities, and combine them with the resources and experiences we've accumulated in 16 years of cross-border organizing." Fernando, the greenhouse builder and mushroom farmer, agrees that FIOB has the ability to organize people. "But now we have to take the next step," he urges, "and make concrete changes in peoples' lives."

Organizing FIOB's support base in Oaxaca means more than just making speeches, however. As Fernando Rivera Salgado points out, communities want projects that help raise their income. Over the years FIOB has organized women weavers in Juxtlahuaca, helping them sell their textiles and garments through its chapters in California. It set up a union for rural taxis, both to help farming famiies get from Juxtlahuaca to the tiny towns in the surrounding hills, and to provide jobs for drivers. Artisan co-ops make traditional products, helped by a co-operative loan fund.

The government does have some money for loans to start similar projects, but it usually goes to officials who often just pocket it, supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Oaxaca since it was formed in the 1940s. One objective debated at the FIOB assembly was organizing community pressure to win some of these resources. But any government subsidy is viewed with suspicion by activists who know the strings tied to it.

Another concern is the effect of the funding on communities themselves. "Part of our political culture is the use of regalos, or government favors, to buy votes," Gaspar Rivera Salgado explains. "People want regalos, and think an organization is strong because of what it can give. But now people are demanding these results from FIOB, so do we help them or not? And if we do, how can we change the way people think? It's critical that our members see organization as the answer to problems, not a gift from the government or a political party. FIOB members need political education."

Political abstention isn't an option, however, warns Juan Romualdo Gutierrez Cortez. "We aren't the only organization in Oaxaca - there are 600 others. If we don't do it, they will." But for the 16 years of its existence, FIOB has been a crucial part of the political opposition to Oaxaca's PRI government. Gutierrez, a school teacher in Tecomaxtlahuaca, was FIOB's Oaxaca coordinator until he stepped down at the Juxtlahuaca assembly. He is also a leader of Oaxaca's teachers union, Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union, and of the Popular Association of the People of Oaxaca (APPO).

In June of 2006 a strike by Section 22 led to a months-long uprising, led by APPO, which sought to remove the state's governor, Ulises Ruiz, and make a basic change in development and economic policy. The uprising was crushed by Federal armed intervention, and dozens of activists were arrested. According to Leoncio Vasquez, an FIOB activist in Fresno, "the lack of human rights itself is a factor contributing to migration from Oaxaca and Mexico, since it closes off our ability to call for any change." This spring teachers again occupied the central plaza, or zocalo, of the state capital, protesting the same conditions that sparked the uprising two years ago.

Gutierrez himself was not jailed during the uprising, although the state issued an order for his detention. But he's been arrested before. In the late 1990s he was elected to the Oaxaca Chamber of Deputies, in an alliance between FIOB and Mexico's leftwing Democratic Revolutionary Party. Following his term in office, Gutierrez was imprisoned by Ruiz' predecessor, Jose Murat, until a binational campaign won his release. His crime, and that of many others filling Oaxaca's jails, was insisting on a new path of economic development that would raise rural living standards, and make migration just an option, rather than an indispensable means of survival.

Despite the fact that APPO wasn't successful in getting rid of Ruiz and the PRI, Gaspar Rivera-Salgado believes that "in Mexico we're very close to getting power in our communities on a local and state level." He points to Gutierrez' election as state deputy, and later as mayor of his hometown San Miguel Tlacotepec. Other municipal presidents, allied with FIOB, have also won office, and activists are beginning to plan a FIOB campaign to elect a Federal deputy.

FIOB delegates agreed that the organization would continue its alliance with the PRD. Nevertheless, that alliance is controversial, partly because of the party's internal disarray. "We know the PRD is caught up in an internal crisis, and there's no real alternative vision on the left," Rivera Salgado says. "But there are no other choices if we want to participate in electoral politics, so we're trying to put forward positive proposals. We're asking people in the PRD to stop fighting over positions, and instead use the resources of the party to organize the community. We can't change things by ourselves. First, we have to reorganize our own base. But then we have to find strategic allies.
"Migration is part of globalization," he emphasizes, "an aspect of state policies that expel people. Creating an alternative to that requires political power. There's no way to avoid that."
For more articles and images on Mexico and immigration, see

Coming in September, 2008, from Beacon Press:
Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Obama and the School of the Americas

Obama and the School of the Americas
by Nikolas Kozloff, NACLA

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama likes to employ soaring rhetoric when discussing human rights. But he has failed to take a strong position opposing the infamous School of the Americas, which trains Latin American militaries. When pressed, the candidate praised Congress' revision of the school's curriculum but said that he wanted to continue to evaluate the institution.

>>> Click here to read the entire article

To register your opinion about this with the Barack Obama Campaign Headquarters, please call (866) 675-2008, to reach Senator Obama's Washington, DC office, call (202) 224-2854, Click here to contact the Obama campaign online.