Sunday, March 26, 2006

Immigration Reform: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

There seems to be a split, not only between members of the Republican party, but across the borders of all political and economic groups when it comes to the issue of immigration reform.

I live in a border state. My family has been here 7 generations. Let me add that the cultural richness that the Latino community contributes to this state is vast. My personal favorite comfort food: enchiladas, queso and Margaritas! There are also religious, familial and social customs Texans embrace that come from a blend of Indian, Mexican, Latin American and Spanish heritage. Immigration reform cannot be fixed without looking at the many issues which affect both sides of border areas.
Deporting people will not stop illegal immigration and the more pervasive cause of immigration, which is lack of jobs and poverty.

Immigration reform is a thorny issue sometimes dividing even those of Latino ancestry. I was in El Paso for a Border Conference a few years ago and visited with some local women of Mexican ancestry. They made comments that puzzled and shocked me in terms of "illegals" coming across the border and into their schools and hospitals, causing overcrowding, taxes and crime to go up. They were angry and resentful.

On more than one occasion I’ve observed that Latinos who are established in this country more than one generation are not always welcoming or tolerant of Latino newcomers. There are, of course, many exceptions to this, Mexican ministers, social workers, immigrant lawers, advocates, promontoras and many others who help. And look a the huge numbers of people who have come to march in solidarity for immigrants in recent days.

There are many problems and hazards for them crossing into this country.

A highway patrol officer told me that some ranchers in west Texas had a policy of shooting "illegals" who crossed their lands and were apt to leave their bodies in the desert as a warning to others who crossed and stole from them to survive.

I know another woman whose parents had adjoining homes and land in a small town on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. Their elderly parents lived in the house next door. They sold their homes a few years ago, homes which had been in their family since the 1920s because every night there were “illegals” breaking into their garages, looking for something to sell to get food. They had reached the point of leaving their garage door open to show that it was empty, it had been broken so many times. They were afraid that their elderly parents would eventually be hurt or killed by desperate, hungry intruders, and so they moved to a region of Texas here they felt safer, away from the border.

Having said that, the root of this problem lies in Mexico, as well as in our public policy. There are not enough good jobs in Mexico. There is as much corruption there as in most countries, however we dwell on their shortcomings while denying our own. The poor on both sides of the border are not cared for. They have forgotten how to grow their own food in many places.

Rootlessness and homelessness are rampant as people crowd toward the border, seeking employment, seeking a better life. Their country and parts of the border is in melt-down mode. Can Americans even imagine how bad conditions would have to get in this country for people to begin crowding into a few metropolitan areas or began crossing over into Canada illegally?

In the maquiladoras, (or maquilas, as they are called locally), factories set up all over the Mexican side of the border, they more often hire women, because they will work cheaper. I heard the women's pay was about $5 a day. This was about 6 years ago, perhaps it is more now, but I doubt it.

There are many indignities that women who work in the maquilas are subjected to. One Mexican woman said that every month her maquila manager asked to see the blood on her Kotex to prove she was not pregnant. Any woman found to be pregnant is fired so the company does not have to provide sick time, or medical benefits. Women are coerced into having abortions they did not want, to keep their jobs. Rape and sexual harassment by American AND Mexican managers is reportedly not uncommon, but is so shameful within Mexican culture that it is not discussed openly, even among women. Women are afraid to report abuse because they will be fired and there are no sexual harassment laws in Mexico anyway. And now some of those factories have closed, outsourcing the jobs to China, so jobs on the border are even scarcer.

In Juarez and El Paso, locals speculate that the rape, mutilation and murder of hundreds of Mexican women in Juarez is happening because men are angry that women are taking their jobs and with it, their masculinity; others in the community think there is psychopathic or cult police involvement in some way. No one is certain, but the atmosphere adds to a jittery edginess one feels along the border.

Some people find a Patron, a wealthy person in the community to work for. Some beg on the street corners from Americans, just like they do in this country. One difference, they often have their small children do the begging. It takes a hard heart to turn away from a hungry, sad-looking child. Others cross the border and find construction jobs. Highways, strip malls and hotels are popping up like mushrooms in the Harlingen/Brownsville area.

And how many Americans are even aware of the colonias, clusters of squatters' housing all over border states; there are some right outside Austin. Thousands of poor live in these shantytowns, scattered in rural areas, often without water or electricity, in cardboard, scrap lumber wired-together shacks.

There are no jobs in the colonias and not enough transportation, little or no education for the children living there. So how do the unmarried women survive? There are always the inevitable cantinas that spring up around or near the colonias. Promontoras (aid workers in the colonias) say some women feel that they have only one option, which is to become prostitutes in the cantinas to survive.

I could stop at this point and add a few pages about the human trafficking problem along the border, women who are sold for prostitution, men who are sold for mostly cheap labor, and we don’t even know the extent of the child sex industry. This is a slavery issue, as they are often held incommunicado, threatened with violence, bound, beaten, etc. I sit on a community task group for Trafficking victims and have heard from the counselors about the layer upon layer of trauma that is the result of forced prostitution. Not only illegal Mexican women are subjected to this, but the Feds have busted trafficking prostitution groups involving Vietmanese women, Somalians, Costa Ricans, etc, trafficked into the Texas ports and also trafficked from Eastern Europe and Asia to Mexico and then across into Texas.

Another item: I met with an AIDS service agency in the Harlingen area, which is a border town, about 30 miles north of South Padre Island. The AIDS agency reported that the three-county area had over 10,000 cases of HIV-positive individuals or full-blown AIDs. Prostitution, particularly male prostitution was rampant in he parks, and AIDS workers were going into the parks at night to distribute free condoms. Most of the Johns were reportedly white American males, many of whom were married. How many are bringing this disease home to their wives? And why isn’t this front page news, an AIDS rate that is almost as prevalent as some places in Africa?

I don’t have the answer to the complex immigration problem, but compassion is a place to start. Are we going to round up tens of thousands of people and deport them to starve? How many billions have we spent on a worthless war in Iraq while the face of dire hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and disease exist in our very backyard.

Brother, can you spare a dime?


At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are also religious, familial and social customs Texans embrace that come from a blend of Indian, Mexican, Latin American and Spanish heritage. Immigration reform cannot be fixed without looking at the many issues which affect both sides of border areas. Deporting people will not stop illegal immigration and the more pervasive cause of immigration, which is lack of jobs and poverty.

I'm going to have to chime in here regarding my hometown and the border more generally.

My father was born and raised in El Paso, and our family moved back in 1972. My parents are still there. Now I don't know what El Paso was like in the 1930's, but by the 70's the Rio Grande was a fairly stark dividing line between 55% anglo El Paso (the "haves") and 95% latino Ciudad Juarez (the have not's, at least from the perspective of El Pasoans). Now, in 2006 with El Paso 85% Latino, the area seems like one large 1.75 million person metroplex, "Ciudad El Paso del Norte a' Juarez", with the Rio Grande running through the middle more than it does two cities.

All the problems of the maquiladoras have moved from Mexico (70's) to the United States (00's) where the desire for cheap labor has come to outweight the ability to pollute freely, but the reality is that nobody is stopping in El Paso for work. There isn't any. And the "real" border is no longer the Rio Grande but elsewhere. Is it a 100 miles further South? 200 miles further North?

This is the salient issue. The "one country, one culture, one language" crowd would no doubt prefer the latter. "Isolate the US from the poverty. Seal it off." God knows Texas has treated El Paso like a Mexican backwater for as long as I can remember, but this will just keep people moving north for opportunity. The real solution is to push opportunity south. Embrace the multi-culturalism of the border and nourish it. No other solution is workable.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger glenda said...

Your right, cheap labor and the ability to pollute. I was in Brownsville last month on business and the haze in the air is getting worse, also the rio Grande is terrible, coming from the maquilas. Thanks for commenting.
FYI: My French/Irish mother, fluent in Spanish, danced in el Baile Folklorico for a decade. Her red hair caused quite a few eyebrows to go up at their performances.
Diversity and multi-culturalism are KEY.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger CTB said...

Nice to meet you Glenda! I know Kvatch. Thanks for coming by. I posted on immigration at my other blog Lose The Noose- tough questions. I think we need to face some realities with this.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

Wonderful post. It is a Republican trait to ignore poverty, and the rich folks does get annoyed when the darn poor people make a nuisance, don't they?

At 2:39 PM, Blogger pinkfem said...

Hey, Glenda! Nice post.

You might mention that the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. provides free legal services to indigent residents of South and West Texas and to migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger eProf2 said...


Your analysis is an excellent read from both a professional and personal account. The demonstrations in the past two or three days and the postings on the Internet on this topic are contributing to the discussion and debate long overdue. Crawfordslist and Cafe Politico and many other blog sites are awash with comments on this important issue. I've been working on my own position for some time now and can't decide exactly what to think and say about it all other than I chose people first and I'm absolutely against the criminalization of undocumented workers and the walls between our two countries and our many cultures.

I should have a few answers to your earlier question on SES of fallen military personnel in Iraq later today.

Again, your thoughtful and insightful post today was excellent. Thanks.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger PTCruiser said...

Outstanding post, Glenda. You really brought up a lot of important sub-issues intertwined with the main issue of immigration. Of particular interest were the AIDS epidemic taking place down there and the murders in Juarez. Thank you.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger glenda said...

Thanks, all, for your encouragement. Being in a unique position to attend unusual conferences, I went to one a two years ago on Immigrant issues. it as hosted by women immigration lawyers and was quite an eye-opener. Quite a selfless, dedicated group.

Thanks, Prof, I will be checking on your blog later this evening. I'm very appreciative that you are so kind to research those figures.

At 6:58 PM, Blogger enigma4ever said...

Your blog is wonderful....
and I love the post on Illegal Immigration..I will lurk for a bit..hope you don't mind...
thanks for stopping by Watergate Summer

At 1:10 AM, Blogger MadProfessah said...

Good catch on the surprising prevalence of HIV among undocumented immigrants. This is only now starting to get the attention of some AIDS service organizations in Los Angeles County. Interesting to see whether AIDS orgs starts to recognize that immigration issues are also their issues.

And of course the U.S. has a ban on HIV+ individuals from becoming permanent residents AND there is an exclusion ban on HIV+ people from even visiting the country--although it is seldom enforced. The consequences of a positive HIV test can be devastatiing for an undocumented (or documented, but non-naturalized) immigrant.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Jess D'Zerts said...

Thanks for a great post. I appreciate your perspective on this subject. Enjoyed some of your earlier posts as well.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger LadyCelticFire said...

Amazing post Glenda.

Having grown up, born and raised, in Las Cruces NM, which is only a 45 minute drive to El Paso, I know first hand about that region. I grew up on the Rio Grande and can remember stories my grandfather would tell about the illegals he would find camped out in the back yard.

It is a problem that we must solve. I want a culturally diverse nation and I to LOVE the hispanic culture. The heritage, foods and culture are part of my blood and I am a silly lil white girl. Poverty is what brings them here, we have poverty here as well. There is NO reason for poverty... NONE... It is time we all realize that it isn't a brown or white issue, or a black or pink issue... or any race related issue, it is a HUMAN issue. and as long as we allow the rich white men to keeping making the rules, we ALL lose.

Thanks for coming by my post. Am working on a LONG blog LOL

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Gazetteer said...


Thanks for coming by my place.

This is fantastic stuff.

I really enjoy the detailed observations and p.o.v. of someone who lives, works and plays in a specific locale that we rarely hear, read or see in detail.

Thanks again.


At 1:49 AM, Blogger glenda said...

I love Austin, a lot of Texans can now actually read, since Bush implemented that no child left behind gig,so it's even better.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger charliegibson said...

Austin has always been your home?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger charliegibson said...

Austin is a killer town. Would be better to get out to round rock or new braunsfuls but they say we got wireless and we can go to Paleface and the guadelupe is not too far off for tubin so it still has charm.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger glenda said...

Charlie, I've been here 30 years, but born in Texas, and seen a lot of change. Although my home is out near the lake, I also have a small ranch (well, it does have about a dozen cows on it!) out in Manor, and we have, believe it or not, cable and wireless internet right on my road. My land is only 15 east of the capital, beautiful forested and hilly with water year round on the back of it.

Paleface and Pedernales Falls are among the most exquisitely beautiful places on earth.

Thanks for visiting.

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:36 AM, Blogger glenda said...

Damn spammers. Grrr!

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