Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
I involved in the Southwest Tour of the Peoples Movement Assembly that took off from San Antonio on March 2 and ending March 18.
The tour visited El Paso, Texas and did a follow up to the PMA-ELP that took place 1.23.2010. While in El Paso, I participated in the community meeting of Labor Justice. This is a grassroots effort to get justice for workers not paid by their employers.
The tour visited Carefree, Arizona where I met with the Tribal Council representative of the Havasupai People at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I learned of the struggle for justice against the University of Arizona because of blood samples taken of the Havasupai for DNA research without their knowledge or consent. Additionally, I learned of the struggle against the uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. This mining activity has stepped up since the Obama administration came out supporting nuclear power plants.
The tour visited San Francisco and the SF-PMA on March 13, 2010 at PODER offices in the Mission District. More than 75 people attended a standing room only event. The participants represented very diverse sectors, issues and organizations.
The month of March will also see a trip to New Orleans to participate in the Pick up the Peace event organized by the NOLA Organizers Roundtable. The SWU participation might include youth representatives and also I will facilitate the Sunday PMA.
- Ruben Solis
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Friday, March 05, 2010
Greg Harman, San Antonio Current
What’s a billion dollars of free social services worth? Apparently, not the carefully cultivated anti-Washington rugged-individual political image of Governor Rick Perry. Less than two weeks away from Censusmania, the state’s true hair-care magnate has failed to make any motion to ensure Texas’ consistently undercounted population is accurately recorded.
It was nearly four months ago when state Representative Mike Villarreal wrote to Perry, urging him to “ensure our state government is taking every appropriate step to ensure the highest possible level of participation by Texas residents” in the Census. Response? Dialtone.
As the second-highest undercounted state of the 2000 Census, Texas may be about to flub its chance to not only rake in hundreds of millions in taxes (taxes we have already paid), but also increase the number of Congressional seats we hold, according to Anna Alicia Romero, regional census director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). (You can hear our full conversation below.)
“If we succeed, we will receive more of our own tax dollars back from the Federal government, easing our ability to meet our needs in transportation, education, health and human services and other areas,” Villarreal wrote back on October 13, 2009.
Specifically, Texas should set up a “complete count” committee as 18 other states have done and make use of state agencies to get the Census message to historically hard-to-count populations, such as “elderly, children, minorities, renters and low-income.”
Now, we get that poor folks aren’t exactly Perry’s base, but why would the state throw away $1 billion for social services like foster and child care, substance abuse and treatment, Medicaid payments, and jobs training by risking another undercount? That’s how much the state was estimated to have lost thanks to an undercount of more than 370,000 residents, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Other states haven’t been as shy about working to get the maximum share of their taxes back from the Feds. Complete-count committees have been set up in Alabama, Florida, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Utah, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Ohio, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, and New York.
Romero testified before the House Committee on Redistricting late last year that:
According to the [PricewaterhouseCoopers] report, four states accounted for almost 40 percent of the national undercount, and Texas made the list, placing second after California. An estimated 373,567 individuals in our state were not counted or 1.76 percent of our total state population. The report estimated that every missed person would have yielded approximately $2,913 in federal aid with a total approximate loss of over $1 billion for the 2002-2012 period.
Perry has spent much of the last year endearing himself to the most anti-Washington/anti-immigrant voters of Tea-Party dispositions, suggesting that the Lone Star has a right to secede from the United States (wacko applause meter ringing) and that we don't need those federal funds to extend unemployment assistance as our burgeoning work-hungry ranks swell. Needless to say, he didn’t so much as write Villarreal back on the topic, a staffer confirmed this morning.
Perry’s inaction has pushed the burden of Census organizing back onto the Census Bureau and whatever grassroots community-action orgs care enough to hit the street. MALDEF will focus its efforts along the exploding U.S. border counties, but here in San Antonio Southwest Workers Union will be walking blocks across the Alamo City in a “Count Us Right” drive. And here’s a call-out to area artists: create a new logo for the campaign and earn yourself $1,000. (This Census stuff is paying off already, right?!)
Watch your mailbox mid-month for the bi-lingual forms containing detailed instructions on how to officially celebrate “Census Day” on April 1. Word is we get just a few weeks to mail ’em back before the newly mobilized border mobs seeking expanded political representation and reliable childcare begin the march north to make this registration stuff personal. And, no, your landlord doesn't get a copy.
If neither the social-responsibilty nor mob-justice stuff hooks you, allow us to trot out the Census Bureau’s Secret Weapon…
By Enrique Lopetegui, San Antonio Current
On February 24, about three dozen vociferous activists gathered in front of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement building on Fourwinds Dr. to demand the closing of the Willacy County ("Tent City") and Los Fresnosï' Port Isabel (PIDC) detention centers.
As part of the "Dignity, Not Detention campaign organized by the Detention Watch Network, the activists - including members of Southwest Workers Union, Texans United For Families, Grassroots Leadership, and the Reverend Lorenza Andrade Smith, of the Westlawn United Methodist Church - accused ICE of serious human rights abuses against detainees. And none of the activists was louder - or more specific - than SWU's Anayanse Garza, who denounced abuses against hunger strikers at PIDC and pointed to the alleged culprit.
"This is the pain," she said, holding a petition, "these are the 243 signatures of the people at Port IsabeI that have been tortured, beaten and humiliated, and these orders were coming from [ICE's field office director] Michael J. Pitts, who is sitting very comfortably in his air-conditioned room, while other people are being tortured and threatened with force-feeding by having a tube inserted through their noses. I don't care if the government says that immigrants have no human rights. Immigrants do have human rights. It's not a crime to hunger strike, it is your right, and that's why [Pitts] should be tried. He shouldn't be allowed to even be there right now."
She broke down in tears and had to be consoled by fellow activists.
The copy of the petition faxed to the QueBlog reads that "the human and civil rights of our families and those who wish to assist us are ... violated." It is signed by 235 names (our count), each with its respective legal resident number and their city of origin.
The activists tried to present the letter to Pitts, but couldn't get past security.
"We were rejected," Grassroots Leadership's Bob Libal told the QueBlog. "They told us to mail it."
According to Amnesty International's "Jailed Without Justice" report, "immigrants and asylum seekers may be detained for months or even years as they go through deportation procedures that will determine whether or not they are eligible to remain in the United States.
"According to a 2003 study, individuals who were eventually granted asylum spent an average of 10 months in detention with the longest reported period being 3.5 years ... Individuals who have been ordered deported may languish in detention indefinitely if their home country is unwilling to accept their return or does not have diplomatic relations with the United States."
Under U.S. law, those in deportation proceedings can secure legal representation but not at the expense of the government. Therefore, according to Amnesty, "84 percent of those in immigration detention do not have a lawyer, and instead represent themselves."
AI's report says that "detainees are often detained in jail facilities with barbed wire and cells, alongside those serving time for criminal convictions. They are not able to wear their own clothes but instead wear prison uniforms. Immigrants are unnecessarily exposed to inappropriate and excessive restraints including handcuffs, belly chains, and leg restraints ... [and] physical and verbal abuse."
"After mentioning that "lawful permanent residents can be placed in 'mandatory detention' with no right to a bond hearing before an immigration judge or judicial body," AI concludes that "conditions of detention in many facilities do not meet either international human rights standards or ICE guidelines."
In September 2008, ICE announced the publication of 41 new performance-based detention standards, but AI was skeptical: "They are not legally enforceable and do not provide adequate sanctions for violations."
Silky Shah, member of board of directors of Grassroots Leadership and Organizing and Outreach Coordinator for Detention Watch Network, agrees.
"[The abuses that are] happening right now," she said, "will outlast any comprehensive reform that [takes place], and we need to continue working together restoring justice for all."
Sarnata Reynolds, Amnesty International's campaign director for refugee and migrant rights, visited Port Isabel in July 2009 in a rare field visit by a human rights group.
"We were there last June, and besides what we told the media we haven't released an official statement [on PIDC]," Reynolds told the QueBlog on Friday. "I don't want to misspeak. I want to review my notes before I get back to you."
In June 4, 2009, a day after her visit to PIDC, she told the Houston Press that AI's preliminary findings confirmed that detainees are "locked up, and you have no right to a bond hearing. You have no right to ever demonstrate that ... 'I'm not a danger to the community, I'm not a flight risk, so let me out while I proceed [with] my removal proceedings.'"
One of the detainees she spoke to was Rama Carty, a native of Congo who has resided legally in the U.S. since 1971, at age one.
He was detained in Maine in May of 2006 for a drug offense he claims was fabricated. After serving less than two years of prison time, he was held at ICE detention centers in Main, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana, before arriving at PIDC in December 2008.
With two other detainees, he organized a hunger strike at PIDC on April 15, 2009, to expose to the media the conditions of detention.
"We got at least 70 other detainees, maybe 90, but it went down quickly after the authorities started applying pressure on us," he told the QueBlog. "Some people did three weeks [of hunger strike], but they threatened me with cutting me the access to the law library. I needed that, so I stopped."
On June 3, the day he said he was supposed to meet with Reynolds for the second time, at 5 a.m. he was awaken by guards who told him to pack because he was leaving.
"I told them I shouldn't be leaving, since [the Department of Homeland Security] was negotiating with AI to meet with us and I wasn't done with my interviews," Carty said. "I smelled something fishy immediately."
That's when he was attacked, he says, but the guards accused him of assault. On that same day, Carty was transferred to an ICE detention center in Louisiana, but couldn't be deported because no country would recognize him as a citizen.
"I was going to be in limbo until who knows when," Carty said.
In the fall of 2009, Carty successfully sued ICE and obtained a $100,000 unsecured bond that allowed him to walk free in December 2009. After spending time in Massachusetts, he's now back in Texas since February 22, under home arrest at a hotel in Brownsville, awaiting his March trial for the assault
"If I'm a flight risk, why did I come back?" he said. "They offered me [to plead guilty to] a misdemeanor, but I'm not going to do that. I want to go to trial, I didn't do anything."
He also won't go on the record with details of the attack, but wants to set the record straight.
"I don't want to publish specifics that will need to be divulged at trial," he said. "But I do want to let everyone know that I was assaulted, not the other way around. When I could not be deported, I was wrongfully indicted [for supposedly attacking the guards,] in order [for them] to leverage against a possible civil action."
He says he was shaving when the guards jumped on him, and now they're saying that he used a razor to attack them.
"The missing video and the missing razor are two of the most glaring pieces of missing evidence," Carty said. "It's clear in the very little bit of video that the government has produced, which shows my being hit when I was on the floor at the very end of the incident, that the entire video should have been available. The entire video would have made it clear that I should not have been indicted in the first place. But of course, there is no video, because if there is a video, they have no case.
"Everything happens at [PIDC]: Everything from sexual harassment of male and female detainees, assault, pitting black detainees against Hispanics and vice versa, in an attempt to divide and conquer. It's a terrible situation and it has been going on for decades."
"In all my years, I've never seen immigrants raising a hand against guards," said Tony Hefner, a guard at PIDC from 1983 through 1990. "It's always been the other way around."
Hefner, who says he was fired in 1985, got his job back in 1987, and was fired again in 1990, spent years gathering information about abuses at PIDC and will publish his findings, "real names and all," in the book Between the Fences: Before Guantanamo, there was the Port Isabel Service Process Center, due out in May. Some of those names, documents and pictures a la Abu Ghraib can be seen in his website, torchlake.com/hefner.
"The very same thing that happened [in my time] is happening today [at PIDC]," said Hefner. "Stealing money from detainees, beating detainees up ... If detainees from two different countries were fighting, they would handcuff them together and push them into each other and take bets on them."
Hefner will be a witness for Carty during the trial.
"They're framing this young man claiming that he did something that he didn't do," Hefner said. "That's the standard policy there: If you stand up against them, they nail you. What Rama [Carty] is going through is nothing unusual."
Nina Pruneda, spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio, said the QueBlog's information "is not correct information."
"Torture? That's the first time I ever heard of that," she said Friday. "There are a lot of rumors in the community but, believe you me, there's nothing of that nature going on.
"We need the names of those detainees. For security purposes we don't obtain information like that [letting the activists into the building], they have to mail it. That's the process."
So if we get you the names ...
"Names, dates of birth, and A [resident] numbers," she said. "And Monday we'll get back to you with the other information you requested."
"The other information we requested included whether ICE's 41 new performance-based detention standards have already been implemented, what happens if a detention guard violates those standards, what is ICE's policy in regards to hunger strikes, whether force-feeding is ever used with hunger strikers, and, finally, what actions - if any - Pitts ordered to be taken against the hunger strikers.
We'll be waiting ...