Monday, November 29, 2010

An editorial worth reading

From today's Milford Daily News online:

"Contrary to the claims of opponents, the Dream Act would neither forgive illegal behavior nor open the floodgates to previously illegal immigrants. The "crimes" were committed by their parents. We don't deny citizenship to the children of murderers, rapists and white collar criminals. Why deny it to the children of border-crossers and people who overstay visas? Advocates estimate perhaps 800,000 immigrants could benefit from the Dream Act, but they couldn't, in turn, sponsor distant relatives, and even their parents would have to return to their native countries and wait 10 years before they could legally return.

Even critics of immigration reform agree the U.S. needs immigrants, both to support an aging population and to bring the energy, ambition and entrepreneurial spirit that have enriched America for centuries. The young people targeted by the Dream Act are the kind of immigrants Americans say they want: They speak our language, have demonstrated achievement, want to improve themselves and are already loyal to the country they think of as home.

The Dream Act isn't just about helping young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a country and without a future. It's about opening the door of citizenship to young people America needs."
Also, look to the Dec. 2 issue of the CS&T for Mar Muñoz-Visoso's column, which is an open letter to Congress appealing for passage of the DREAM Act. Muñoz-Visoso is the assistant director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops have been very vocal in their support for passage of the DREAM Act. Click here to go to the bishops' Justice for Immigrants page.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In thanksgiving for the 14th Amendment (and no thanks to Rep. Steve King)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), likely chair of a House subcommittee on immigration in the next Congress, has vowed to take on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship by jus soli ("right of the soil") for the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. In an interview with a columnist for Iowa's Cityview ( King is quoted as saying:

“The framers did not consider the babies of illegals when they framed the 14th amendment because we didn’t have immigration law at the time so they could not have wanted to confer automatic citizenship on the babies of people who were unlawfully in the United States,” King said.

The 14th Amendment was adopted on July 9, 1868 (one of the "Reconstruction Amendments" adopted immediately after the Civil War) guaranteeing (male) former slaves and their descendants the same rights to birthright citizenship as white American men. Setting aside for a moment any other objections to King's comment, let's just consider that a percentage of the population of the undocumented in the U.S. are the victims (and children of the victims) of modern day slavery - human trafficking - and precisely the contemporary equivalent of who the framers of the 14th sought to guarantee citizenship for. The U.S. Department of State reports:
"The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, debt bondage, and forced prostitution ... Trafficking occurs primarily for labor and most commonly in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons, and strip club dancing. Vulnerabilities remain even for legally documented temporary workers who typically fill labor needs in the hospitality, landscaping, construction, food service, and agricultural industries. In some human trafficking cases, workers are victims of fraudulent recruitment practices and have incurred large debts for promised employment in the United States, which makes them susceptible to debt bondage and involuntary servitude ... combined federal and state human trafficking information indicates that more investigations and prosecutions have taken place for sex trafficking offenses than for labor trafficking offenses, but law enforcement identified a comparatively higher number of labor trafficking victims as such cases often involve more victims." (
Moreover, the report states that the primary countries of origin for victims of human trafficking are virtually indistinguishable from the primary countries of origin for non-trafficked undocumented immigrants who have crossed borders or overstayed visas:
"Primary countries of origin for foreign victims certified by the U.S. government were Thailand, Mexico, Philippines, Haiti, India, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. Eighty-two percent of these foreign adult victims and 56 percent of foreign child trafficking victims were labor trafficking victims. " ( estimates that 17,000+ people are trafficked to the U.S. annually, but all sources of statistics agree trafficking is vastly under reported - and sometimes impossible to distinguish from non-trafficked undocumented immigration. Even in King's implied narrow interpretation of 14th Amendment, a determination of trafficked vs. non-trafficked immigration would have to be made before birthright citizenship was denied to a U.S.-born child of an undocumented person - a logistical and financial (and ethical) nightmare.

Also according to Cityview:
"King wants Congress to pass a ban on 'anchor babies,' place it in statute, and wait for the other side to challenge the prohibition in the courts. If King and his forces lose, they’ll move for a constitutional amendment to change the practice, he said."
I'm moved to think about this as the nation is about to celebrate Thanksgiving - a holiday that commemorates our nation's history of uninvited and undocumented immigration. I have no idea of King's heritage (nor do I care) but unless he is a registered member of one of the Native American/American Indian nations, he doesn't get to use the term "anchor baby" without acknowledging the irony and sheer hubris of it. The vast majority of us are the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of "anchor babies." Yes, even charter members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and those who trace antecedents to the Mayflower, the Nina, Pinta and Santa María or any of the European sailing vessels that landed on the shores of the "New World." Jus soli is the only reason many Americans can claim citizenship.

The photo at the top of this post is from one my family's Thanksgiving dinner prep several years ago. I wrote back then how significant it was to me that at that dinner, the family who sat around the table included Britons and Americans born in Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand and New York; the children of Bengali and Guatemalan immigrants; the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of Greek, German, Welsh and Spanish immigrants.

My own father was what King so disrespectfully calls an anchor baby. My grandparents were in transition from Greece to Cuba to Colombia when my father was born. Who knows what my grandparents' documentation status was - things were done differently then and what I've seen of the official correspondence between my grandfather and consulates leaves much in the dark. But my father was born in Chicago, Ill. - as we say in Spanish, a mucha honra - to his great pride. An American citizen. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War. A Northwestern U. graduate. The CEO of a multinational corporation. A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. A man who contributed to building up the nation in countless ways.

I'd put my father's
bona fides up there against King's any day. And yet, were my father to be born after King takes up the chairmanship of the House's immigration committee, the Iowa representative would propose to deny my father his right to citizenship.

I'm no constitutional scholar (nor even much of a historian) but it seems to me that King's desire to rescind birthright citizenship for a certain "kind" of person born on this soil directly contradicts the intent of Abraham Lincoln and others who sought, through the 14th Amendment, to prevent two types of existence in our nation - one free, the other enslaved.

This Thanksgiving when my immediate family gathers around the long, scarred farm table that holds our board, I will pray in memory of my forebears and in hope for my daughter and her children, that in years to come we come to recognize that not all gifts come wrapped in familiar paper.

And that some don't come with papers at all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life is a carnival

As we race toward the end of the year, we're racing also toward the end of the decade.

What were you doing when the calendar rolled over to 2000? How much has your life changed in the ensuing 10 years? (I'm really asking, by the way.)

I rang in the year 2000 with my husband, daughter, parents and Wally Reinhardt, a good family friend, on beaches of the Mexican Riviera - dancing on the sand to live music and watching a "torito" of fireworks burn the first few minutes of the 21st century away. There seemed nothing, nothing at all, that would make a better beginning.

A week or so later, my family would troop to Mexico City for my daughter's belated baptism and the subsequent party - notable for its food and the canary who picked my daughter's fortune from a basket. "You will be happy," my daughter's fortune read. "And although destiny has made you pretty, do not be conceited. Work to keep a noble heart." We were all happy. I remember it on our faces. And around the table, some very noble hearts.

My husband, daughter and I returned from Mexico to our snowy cabin in the woods outside of Hamilton, N.Y. It was - and still is - the little corner of the world best loved by my heart. Coy-dogs and wild turkeys and deer were our closest neighbors. We awaited the yearly crop morel mushrooms, gem-studded puffballs, mayapples and trout lilies on the ground; the crayfish, little jeweled frogs and brown trout in the stream; and the tiny hummingbird nests hidden halfway to the sky.

We settled back into our routines, the day-to-day lives that now, in retrospect, stand as the best of times. Then, little more than a month into 2000, my mother died.

It was the opening salvo of a decade that when it comes to an end on Dec. 31, will have included more sorrows than joys, more destruction than creation, more heartache than heart's ease.

I miscarried a child. And then another and another. We moved away from our beloved woods. My father got sick, suffered, died. Friends I thought I'd never lose, I did. My husband was unemployed for half the decade. We went from poor but solvent to poor and insolvent and worried about just making it from week to week. Depression, PTSD-like effects of childhood sexual abuse, health concerns, surgeries. It seems like the litany of darkness might go on until the end of time.

And yet.

My brothers both married in this decade, as did one of my brothers in law. I have six nieces and nephews now - all amazing little beings as distinct from one another as the leaves I see changing outside the window today. My daughter has grown from an amazing 5-year-old to an amazing 15-year-old and guess what? She's survived my parenting just fine. My husband is employed at a job he loves. Friends I never thought to seek have made their way into my life. I've discovered social media in this decade, and rediscovered every kind of writing I ever loved and had set aside - from journalism to poetry.I also rediscovered the peculiar joy of seeing my words paid, and in print.

Rediscovery has, in fact, been the hallmark of this decade for me.

The social justice activism I set aside after college has re-emerged in advocacy for immigrants. The religion I also wholly set aside is now part of my everyday life. The assimilated Latina gave way to something just a little different - a woman in community. A mucha honra.

I don't think my ups and downs are unique to my decade. We need only look at the highs and lows of the economy; the ways both the best of the American Dream and the worst have taken center stage in our collective lives; the ways we have lived, in Dickens' words, the best and worst of times.

Not too many months ago my family attended the carnival at St. Joe's Parish in Downingtown. Yes, the ferris wheel photo at the top of this post is from that outing. I have always been an adrenaline junkie - no person in news business can be otherwise - and have done my share of facing down fears. Scared of snakes? Then, let me drape myself in them while on a trip to Thailand. Scared of heights? Let me jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet with nothing but a thin tissue of nylon to stop my fall. And still, at the parish carnival, I refused to go on the ferris wheel.(My husband went on it with my daughter.) I had to be coerced, in fact, to go on a horrid pirate ship ride that pitched me forward and backward, with my eyes firmly shut. I'm told the child in the seat in front of me laughed through the whole ride. So, the question is, has this decade birthed fear in me?

The answer is undeniably, yes.

And yet.

I was working on my novel a few days ago (I'll post some other time about how this decade also swallowed whole my last novel). One of the characters is like I was before the calendar page turned in 2000 - seemingly fearless. She climbs as high as she can to get close as she can to the stars. Her explanation? The stars cast their light on us without regard for whether we deserve the illumination or not. Without regard for our fears, or our small, brave stands. Without regard for whether we have become what we imagined, oh say, a decade ago.

This decade has also birthed a sort of awareness of the significant synchronicities in life. The way, if you want (and I do), God sheds light on us. The way, for example, as I'm writing this, my eyes fall on the words of one of columnists in our Catholic newspaper this week:
You know the number of the stars and call each of them by name.

It is a line from the psalms intoned in Morning Prayer - the Divine Office prayed across the globe, every day. I like the rest of the psalm, too. The way it speaks, the way it illuminates the step that bridges closure and beginning:
Heal hearts that are broken, gather together those who have been scattered....
No canary could pick a better wish for a new decade than this. No person could pray for better.

Friday, November 12, 2010

You may say that we're DREAMers

But we're not the only ones ...

DREAM Act Panel Discussion
Wednesday, Nov. 17
7:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Barton Hall Classrooms, Room 109, at Temple University

The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation that would legalize the status of thousands of undocumented youth in the United States. The bill would apply to students in both public and private schools, including Catholic schools. Young persons would become eligible for permanent legal status upon completion of two years of college or two years of honorable service in the military. Approximately 65,000 youth per year would benefit from the DREAM Act.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the DREAM Act:
"On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I write to express our support for S. 729, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). This legislation would make a difference in the lives of undocumented youth who were brought to the United States by their parents and now, because of their lack of legal status, face obstacles to their future. By removing such barriers, the DREAM Act permits immigrant students to pursue a promising future through college education or military service."
-- USCCB letter to legislators, April 6, 2009

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flying with the Dead

Guatemala. Mexico. The United States.

Immigrant. First generation citizen. Second gen.

What we carry from our parents and for our parents.

Across borders that separate nations and worlds and human hearts.

In communion with saints, in remembrance of souls, and in praise of what persists - beyond all odds.

My short fiction "Flying with the Dead" is on line at Crossed Genres magazine here.
Please read it and comment at that site. Good, bad, semi-indifferent - I welcome, appreciate and look forward to all of your comments.

And if you can see your way to it, please consider purchasing a print or ebook version of the magazine. Small, independent presses and magazines are vital to those of us who write fiction - and for those of us who love discovering new and emergent writers.

Or, purchase the Crossed Genres Year Two anthology, available in December, which also has my story - along with many other fine short stories.