Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fear is Your Only God

I have been living in Brazil for over 4 years, and I never once was made, by the news media or the reigning political powers, that this country, rich in so many things, grwoing at a rate of almost 6% a year, was being overrun by illegal immigrants, or any type of immigrant. Now, of course, Brazil is a developing country, and does not have the "land of milk and honey myth" that the US has held onto, whether it wanted to or not, for so long. But Brazil does have immigrants, like me, and thousands of illegal aliens, like the majority of Bolivians. Some of them work in Bauru, the city I live in these days. I work with an Argentinian, who may or may not be legal, and a woman from Uruguay, as well as an Equadoran, who teached me Spanish.

They have never had it easy, what with documents, red tape, and headaches, but they don't seem to live in fear.

After another humiliating example of "justice" for illegal immigrants in the land of the free, Postville, Iowa found its way into the news in May for the arrest of 400 undocumented workers at the Agriprocessors plant.

Erik Caymad-Freixas, Spanish professor and translator, witnessed the procedures, and could not stay quiet about what he saw. Today's New York Times op-ed page, with the article, The Shame of Postville, Iowa, discusses what he saw, and the excesses that have been carried out by the Federal government, specifially, ICE, in the name of the law.

Here is an excerpt:

The essay chillingly describes what Dr. Camayd-Freixas saw and heard as he translated for some of the nearly 400 undocumented workers who were seized by federal agents at the Agriprocessors kosher plant in Postville in May.
Under the old way of doing things, the workers, nearly all Guatemalans, would have been simply and swiftly deported. But in a twist of Dickensian cruelty, more than 260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers, and most were sentenced to five months in prison.

What is worse, Dr. Camayd-Freixas wrote, is that the system was clearly rigged for the wholesale imposition of mass guilt. He said the court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids’ hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

Dr. Camayd-Freixas’s essay describes “the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see” — because cameras were forbidden.

“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.”

He wrote that they had waived their rights in hopes of being quickly deported, “since they had families to support back home.” He said that they did not understand the charges they faced, adding, “and, frankly, neither could I.”

The American populace, frightened by the Mexican worker on the corner, the local politician stumping about the end of jobs for "Americans," and the reality of recession and $145 a gallon gas, has become easily influenced. Fear sells, whether that fear is of Al-Qeada or hordes of poor immigrants running rampant through "our economy." These workers in Iowa were not identity thieves, or hackers. They were not coyotes, trafficking in lives. They were not Mexican mafia, or El Salvadorean gangbangers. They were poor family breadwinners, who risked everything to make some cash to send back to Guatemala.

As the Times wrote:

No one is denying that the workers were on the wrong side of the law. But there is a profound difference between stealing people’s identities to rob them of money and property, and using false papers to merely get a job. It is a distinction that the Bush administration, goaded by immigration extremists, has willfully ignored. Deporting unauthorized workers is one thing; sending desperate breadwinners to prison, and their families deeper into poverty, is another.

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