Thursday, July 30, 2009

Illegal Immigration: A victimless crime?

Right. It's a procedural violation, much like crossing a red light. From the San Francisco Examiner. -Angela

July 27, 2009

San Diego, CA ---In the wake of the murder of Border Patrol Agent and father of two Robert Rosas, the issue of illegal immigration and its impact on all of us is again top of mind. The illegal border crosser is often described by the media as a poor migrant worker, that is just looking for a job and a way to support their families. In some cases that is true however almost daily we hear of unthinkable crimes being committed by people who aren’t supposed to be here in the first place.

Is Illegal Immigration a victimless crime? Not hardly. The men that allegedly murdered Agent Rosas weren’t hard-core cartel members but illegal aliens trying to cross into the US undetected. Yet some illegal immigrants themselves are victims.

This is the first of a four part series on the victims of illegal immigration. In Part II, I will highlight the dangers faced by those seeking a better life in the US as many are raped, robbed, tortured and left for dead by unscrupulous “coyote” guides. In Part III, I will address the impact on the American worker and the economic crisis it has contributed to in California and elsewhere. In Part IV, I will address the crimes committed against American citizens. Crimes like murder and dismemberment, which have left a trail of injured and dead Americans of all ages nationwide.

First, this is not an attempt to demonize any ethnic group. People cross the US border illegally from every country on the globe and for any conceivable reason. This is not a racial issue though some will attempt to play that card, as perhaps it is the only one in their hand. It is not a new phenomenon either. The illegal immigrants of the mid to late eighteen hundreds were largely Irish and Chinese coming here to work on the railroads. The government was as complicit in their illegal entry then as it is today.

On this day however we are reminded tragically of just how dangerous the border area has become. In a 2006 study conducted by the Border Counties Coalition , the twenty-four US counties that run along the border with Mexico were combined into a fictional 51st State and compared against the other fifty. Not surprisingly they collectively ranked #1 n crime, crimes involving drugs, crimes involving children, Federal crimes and lastly, immigration crimes. Additionally these same counties had the nations highest incidence of Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Chagas disease. This suggests with empirical data that you don’t have to be the victim of a crime to be negatively impacted as most, if not all of the cases of these once eradicated diseases in this country can be traced to people illegally entering without proper health screens.

At one point in 2006 it was estimated that as many as 15,000+ illegal aliens were crossing into the US each day. Roughly twenty-percent were criminals. We know this because they had already been deported for felonies in the United States. In fact according to the Center For Immigration Studies , a large percentage of felons in state and federal prison are illegally in this country costing the taxpayer upwards of $1.6 billion dollars per year. Statistics though are pliable and can be bent or “spun” to accommodate most any position. The open borders activists will of course cite another report published by the Immigration Policy Center in which they assert that statistically immigrants, whether illegal or legal, were substantially less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than native born US citizens. Still, the fact remains that whether likely or unlikely to commit crimes, a good percentage of all criminals in prison are illegal aliens.

Routinely, Border Patrol Agents arrest illegal border crossers with gang affiliations like MS-13 ; their colors displayed proudly in the form of facial and body tattoos. Backpacks and clothing with gang symbols are found in remote desert areas across the southwest having been discarded after their owners were picked up by their sponsors and driven to major urban areas around the country.

The alleged killers of Border Agent Rosas were reportedly part of a people smuggling operation working out of Tecate, Mexico. One of the six men charged, Jose Eugenio Quintero Ruiz, was wanted for two murders and rape in the United States. Somehow, at least one of the 26 people involved in the Rosas shooting made it all the way to San Jose before his cell phone betrayed his location and he was arrested. The network of people smugglers in both the US and Mexico is wide and varied in their funding and sophistication. 

In the next article I will address crimes against the illegal immigrants themselves by men and women on both sides of the border who will do almost anything, to anyone, for a buck or a peso. For many, the illegal immigrants dream of traveling to El Norte and living the good life is abruptly and tragically cut short. Most of this could be avoided, if only the governments of the United States and Mexico made illegal immigration and secure borders, a priority.


Suits for wrongful deportation by ICE rise

Citizens who have been wrongfully locked up in immigration jails can't reclaim the months or years they spent behind bars, but some of them are seeking restitution and suing the U.S. government.

Hundreds of U.S. citizens have been detained and, in some cases, deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, The Chronicle revealed in a special report Monday. Legal experts say the numbers have grown as immigration detention has tripled over the past dozen years to 33,000 inmates at a time.

Cesar Ramirez Lopez, a San Pablo truck driver, won a $10,000 settlement in 2007 after he was held for four days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents even after his lawyer convinced ICE investigators that he was a citizen.

"When ICE came and detained me, I told the officer I was a citizen," said Ramirez Lopez, 25. "They told me they didn't want to hear it, that I was going to get deported."

Others - detained for months or years and in some cases even deported - are suing for much more. Among them are:

-- Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled man born and raised in Southern California, who was deported in 2007 to Mexico, where he survived by eating out of garbage cans for three months while his frantic mother searched for him.

"The immigration service has no jurisdiction over U.S. citizens," said San Francisco attorney James Brosnahan, a member of Guzman's legal team.

-- Rennison Castillo, a Washington state man who was born in Belize but took his oath of citizenship while serving in the U.S. Army in 1998, who spent seven months in an ICE prison in 2006. He is suing the government with the help of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.

"Part of the problem goes back to a system that locks people up when they're placed in deportation proceedings and then doesn't provide them with legal representation," said Matt Adams, the legal director at the project.

ICE spokeswoman Cori Bassett said the agency did not track such lawsuits and she could not comment on them. She added that ICE is careful to look at all available evidence of a person's immigration or citizenship status before detaining or removing someone. "There is no national database (of citizens)," she said. "So we're reliant on the person to provide clear and convincing evidence that they are a citizen."

ack of due process

Some longtime observers of the immigration agency say that, while citizens make up a tiny fraction of the roughly 400,000 people who pass through ICE custody each year, such cases occur with some regularity. The problem is exacerbated, they say, by the fact that immigration detainees, unlike those in the criminal justice system, lack the right to legal counsel and other due process protections.

"This is a real problem. You can't deport citizens, and yet it's clear that they have been deported," said Donald Kerwin, vice president for programs at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Some analysts say that the growing practice of detaining people who are in deportation proceedings, whether they are immigrants who committed crimes or those who entered the country without authorization, is an important step toward putting teeth in the country's immigration system.

The deportation process includes ample opportunity for people who may be wrongly detained to make the case that they don't belong in custody, according to Jena McNeill, a homeland security policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"We have to balance the due process rights that should be given to them ... but we also have to look at what's best for the American people: tackling the illegal immigration problem," she said.

But civil rights advocates say immigration agents need to take greater care to investigate detainees' claims of citizenship.

"In my experience, ICE or the Department of Homeland Security doesn't really take these issues as seriously until lawsuits are filed and they are hit in the pocketbook," said Philip Hwang, a staff attorney at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco. "It's an important way to make sure immigration agents are doing things by the book."

Hwang won $700,000 for a dozen clients who sued the immigration agency, including a U.S.-born woman who received a settlement of $50,000 after agents at San Francisco International Airport, who didn't believe her passport and birth certificate were legitimate, shackled her to a chair and held her for hours.

aking a claim

Lawsuits for wrongful detention or deportation are usually brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, or via a so-called Bivens Claim, which names not just the U.S. government but individual government employees. But there are plenty of obstacles - among them: the fact that immigration agents may be sued for wrongdoing but ICE prosecutors have legal immunity.

In addition, lawsuits are expensive and many potential plaintiffs have difficulty finding pro bono legal help, said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

"Even if you can win damages, it doesn't make up for three months or three years in detention, or being deported and spending three months on the streets," she said.

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. citizens wrongly detained, deported by ICE

U.S. citizens wrongly detained, deported by ICE
by Tyche Hendricks, SF Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, July 27, 200

(07-26) 18:37 PDT -- The son of a decorated Vietnam veteran, Hector Veloz is a U.S. citizen, but in 2007 immigration officials mistook him for an illegal immigrant and locked him in an Arizona prison for 13 months.
Veloz had to prove his citizenship from behind bars. An aunt helped him track down his father's birth certificate and his own, his parents' marriage certificate, his father's school, military and Social Security records.
After nine months, a judge determined that he was a citizen, but immigration authorities appealed the decision. He was detained for five more months before he found legal help and a judge ordered his case dropped.
"It was a nightmare," said Veloz, 37, a Los Angeles air conditioning installer.
Veloz is one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who have landed in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and struggled to prove they don't belong there, according to advocacy groups and legal scholars, who have tracked such cases around the country. Some citizens have been deported.
By law, immigration authorities have jurisdiction only over noncitizens. Citizens, whether native-born or naturalized, cannot be deported.
As ICE increased its collaboration with state and local police and prisons under changes to immigration laws and policies in recent years, some detainees who have had a run-in with the law drop through a trapdoor from the criminal justice system into deportation proceedings.
In immigration detention it falls to the detainees to prove their citizenship. But detainees don't have the constitutional protections, such as the right to legal counsel, that would help them prove their case.
And many of those who wind up in immigration custody are frequently those who might have the most difficulty proving their citizenship. Many were born abroad and acquired citizenship through a U.S.-born parent, like Veloz, or a parent who became a naturalized citizen. Some have mental health problems. And frequently they are poor, as those who can afford a lawyer get out more quickly.
"These are people who are the most vulnerable," said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project. "People are being locked up without bond hearings, often for long periods."
A growing chorus of legal experts says these detentions are unconstitutional.
"The constitution is the same that applies to U.S.-born citizens as to naturalized citizens," said Sin Yen Ling, an attorney at San Francisco's Asian Law Caucus. "Detaining these folks is creating a third category of people with a different set of rights."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials insist they would never knowingly detain or deport a U.S. citizen.
Asked about citizens winding up in immigration detention, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees ICE, told The Chronicle: "We're always concerned about that. If there's an error made, we want to rectify it as soon as possible."
In April, after The Chronicle reported on a Modesto man in immigration detention, ICE released him and dropped its deportation case against him. Douglas Centeno was born in Nicaragua but derived citizenship when his father naturalized while he was a boy. He was jailed for four months.
a lack of rights
People charged in the criminal justice system have a range of constitutional rights, including the right to a speedy and public trial before an impartial jury and the right to legal counsel even if they can't afford to hire a lawyer. Criminal detainees have the right to a telephone call, to be brought before a judge, usually within 48 hours, and to be told of the charges against them.
Immigration matters, however, are civil, not criminal, so those protections do not apply. Still, the U.S. Constitution is designed to protect citizens from detention without due process. But citizens in immigration detention are not being afforded that due process, advocates say.
Immigration detainees are routinely shipped to remote jails where free legal aid is unavailable, their families are not notified of their whereabouts, and they are often denied access to telephones, mail and even medical care, according to a March report by Amnesty International and several federal audits.
"Throwing people into a system where they're sitting 3,000 miles away without a lawyer and trying to prove they're a citizen - they're making people make their arguments with two hands tied behind their back," said Nancy Morawetz, a professor at New York University School of Law and an expert on deportation law.
In January, Napolitano ordered a full review of ICE detention and removal operations. ICE spokeswoman Cori Bassett said she did not know when the review would be completed or whether its findings would be made public.
Immigration officials must balance civil liberties against security concerns, some observers say, and wrongful detentions are rare.
"ICE is not going to pursue anyone unless they can really justify the cause for it," said Janice Kephart, national security director at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.
fighting the system
That's not what happened to Hector Veloz.
Before his birth, Veloz's U.S.-born father was sent to Vietnam, so his pregnant mother stayed with relatives in Mexico and Veloz was born there. Months later, the family returned to the United States and has lived here since.
Veloz was automatically a citizen at birth, though his parents never obtained his certificate of citizenship.
In 2006, Veloz was convicted of receiving stolen property after purchasing a car that had been stolen. He served eight months and was about to be released from prison when he was turned over to ICE.
"I said, 'I'm a U.S. citizen, why am I being put through deportation?' " he recalled.
At the ICE prison in Arizona, the paperwork stated that he had entered the country illegally and that his father was a Mexican citizen.
"It was all incorrect information," Veloz said.
Immigration lawyers say locking up Veloz and others like him violates the 1971 Non-Detention Act, which says the U.S. government cannot detain citizens without an act of Congress.
ICE's presumption that everyone in immigration custody is an alien undermines the act, said Holly Cooper, a professor of immigration law at UC Davis.
"The system is set up so even if they believe you, you have to prove it in court. It could take six months to five years to prove it and you're detained in the meantime," said Cooper, who helped Veloz win his freedom on appeal. "You give up your citizenship at the prison door."
tough to prove
A person who is born abroad to U.S. parents, as Veloz was, is a citizen at birth. And a foreign-born child automatically derives citizenship when a parent naturalizes, though they may not realize it. Without documentation at hand, or an attorney's help, however, it can be tough to prove.
"I don't carry my birth certificate around with me and I bet you don't," NYU's Morawetz said. "ICE ought to know the law. Individuals might not, but the government is supposed to. They're the experts."
ICE's Bassett said that officials work hard to ensure that they deport only aliens. In rare instances, she said, the government might detain an actual U.S. citizen because that person claimed to be an alien.
"With somebody who misrepresents their true identity and makes a false statement to an ICE officer, it creates a problem for the government and for themselves," she said.
The number of people in detention has tripled over the past dozen years. Immigration authorities now detain more than 400,000 people a year. Analysts say that is leading to more citizens wrongly detained by ICE.
A study by the nonprofit Vera Institute, conducted for the U.S. Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review, found more than 700 people at several detention facilities between 2006 and 2008 who said they planned to pursue claims of U.S. citizenship.
Jacqueline Stevens, a UC Santa Barbara professor of law and society, said she had identified 160 cases of people in Arizona and California whom she believed had credible claims to citizenship. And several immigrant legal aid groups have helped free dozens of other citizens in recent years.
In addition to U.S. citizens, there are other inmates in immigration detention who may not be deportable, legal analysts say. They include lawful permanent residents who have committed crimes that are not grave enough for deportation, and asylum seekers locked up until their cases are decided.
The fact that citizens are imprisoned in a system designed to deport them points to potential problems for these other detainees, said Chuck Roth, litigation director for the National Immigration Justice Center in Chicago.
"If it can happen to U.S. citizens, you can imagine how few procedural protections are available to everybody else."

Deportation sagas: Citizens tell their harrowing stories of detention and deportation by ICE. A9

stories of detention, deportation by ice
mistake on form
When Brian Lyttle got word on April 22 from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala that his brother Mark had been deported to Mexico and bumped around Central America for three months, he was floored.
The family had been searching for 31-year-old Mark and feared he was lost or dead.
Mark Lyttle was born in Rowan County, N.C., and had never left the United States. He speaks no Spanish and has no Mexican ancestry.
But Mark Lyttle suffers from mental illness. He has bipolar disorder, which requires medication, and is also mentally disabled.
He had been living in a group home when he got into trouble for inappropriately touching an employee, said Neil Rambana, an immigration lawyer helping the family. Lyttle pled guilty to a misdemeanor and served 85 days in jail. Instead of being released, he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because a jail form listed his place of birth as Mexico.
ICE did not investigate his citizenship. He spent two months at an Atlanta detention center just miles from his mother, who didn't know where he was.
At one point Lyttle signed an ICE document saying he was a Mexican citizen, but two days later he signed another stating that he was born in the United States. He went before a judge in December 2008 as part of a group hearing and accepted "expedited removal," an uncontested deportation.
Brian Lyttle, who serves in the U.S. Army along with his other brother, Tommy, is furious.
"(We're) an all-American family with two soldiers and a family member who happens to be handicapped," he said. "It's like spitting on my uniform that you would do that to my brother."
suspicious accent
Houston chef Leonard Robert Parrish, 52, wasn't locked up by ICE or deported, but he did run afoul of a law intended for illegal immigrants.
The Brooklyn-born Parrish went down to the Harris County Sheriff's Office in September to clear up a problem over a couple of bounced checks. He wound up in jail on immigration charges. He was strip-searched and spent 12 hours in custody.
"The deputy told me I had a foreign accent," Parrish recalled. "I told him I had an East Coast accent. He said, 'It sounds like a foreign accent to me.' "
A 2008 Texas law required a person's citizenship status be linked to his driver's license. A sheriff's deputy told Parrish he was detained because when they ran his driver's license information through their computer, it said that his citizenship status was "unknown."
"I served on a murder jury in Texas and they can't find out I'm a citizen?" asked Parrish. "I'm still fighting. ... Nobody wants to take responsibility for locking me up for no reason."
sent to honduras
According to her birth certificate, Diane Williams was born in Metairie, La., on Aug. 23, 1974.
So Williams was shocked on Jan. 18 when, hours after she was released from a Houston jail on prostitution charges, immigration agents showed up at her apartment and arrested her, saying she was a deportable alien.
"I had a copy of my birth certificate, but they said they didn't know if it was real or not," she said.
Williams, who has bipolar disorder, was denied medication during her three weeks in ICE detention, according to her Houston lawyer, Lawrence Rushton.
She at first refused to sign a deportation order waiving her right to court review, but did so after agents threatened that she would be jailed for years and deported anyway, Williams said.
On Feb. 9, she was deported to Honduras, where she spent nearly two months, Rushton said.
Eventually, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa issued Williams a temporary passport, after her mother sent documents proving her identity. On March 31, she flew back to New Orleans.
"I've had citizens who end up being detained," Rushton said, "but this is the first case where I've seen someone deported who's clearly and obviously a U.S. citizen."
protecting rights
A bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, seeks to ensure fair and humane treatment of people in immigration detention.
It would codify the policies governing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention standards and would encourage the agency to make wider use of alternatives to detention, such as releasing a person on bond or with an electronic ankle bracelet to track his movements.
The bill would also guarantee that detainees have access to telephones and medical care; require that detainees who do have legal counsel not be transferred to jails far from their lawyers; and that all detainees get legal orientation from an outside group.
In the Senate, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez plans to introduce a bill later this summer intended to protect citizens from winding up in ICE detention.
That bill would require that detainees are screened to identify people with citizenship claims and notify them of free nonprofit legal services; encourage the use of alternatives to detention for people who don't pose a flight risk or a danger to public safety or national security; and create an ICE ombudsman to investigate complaints.
E-mail Tyche Hendricks at

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

US Congress Seeks to Double 2009 Funding for Mexico Drug War

This is another illuminating report. -Angela

Posted by Kristin Bricker - May 5, 2009 at 8:55 pm
Updated on May 11 to include new information about the inclusion of Blackhawk helicopters in the proposed supplemental.
Confusion and Lack of Transparency Prevail in 2009 Supplemental's Mexico Funds

Yesterday Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI), Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, released a statement and a summary of the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Pandemic Flu. The supplemental includes $470 million "to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the Government of Mexico’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking." This supplemental is in addition to the February 2009 Omnibus bill, a domestic supplemental funding bill that included $410 million for the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico.

The supplemental is scheduled to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, and is likely to come before the House of Representatives in a vote sometime next week.

What is unclear from the summary of the supplemental (PDF file), Rep. Obey's statement, and President Obama's proposal for the supplemental is exactly what that $470 million will pay for. A call to the House Committee on Appropriations spokesperson provided no clarification; Narco News was told that more information on the proposal won't be available until Thursday, when the Committee considers the bill. This means that unless the Appropriations Committee decides to release more details before then, constituents will not have the information they need to effectively lobby Appropriations Committee members before they consider the $94.2 billion supplemental.

Obama's proposal, submitted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on April 9, requests $66 million under International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement "for Mexico to combat drug trafficking and organized crime." A fact sheet released by the White House says that Obama requested the $66 million for the Blackhawk helicopters that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to the Mexican government during her recent visit to that country. While Clinton reportedly pledged two Blackhawk helicopters, USAID's justification for Obama's supplemental budget request (PDF file) says the money will be used to purchase three Blackhawks.
Obama also requested half a billion dollars under International Affairs and Stabilization Activities "for other priorities such as economic and development assistance for the people of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Burma; security assistance for Lebanon; funding for heavy fuel oil assistance and to support nuclear dismantlement in North Korea; counterdrug/anti-crime assistance for Mexico." Obama's proposal does not specify how much of that half billion he wants earmarked for Mexico.

Upon releasing the summary of the supplemental, Obey stated, “The supplemental request the committee will consider on Thursday is fairly close to the Administration’s request. The bill totals $94.2 billion, $9.3 billion above the White House request.”

Obey's statement (PDF file) and the summary of the supplemental do not give concrete details as to what the $470 million will pay for, or even what side of the border it will be used. The summary only states that the supplemental will provide "$470 million to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the Government of Mexico’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking."

Meanwhile, Obey's statement says, “In Mexico we are providing $400 million above the President for surveillance planes, helicopters, and other efforts in the war against drugs.” "Above the President" means that the Appropriations Committee says that it has alloted $400 million more than the President requested in his proposal. Obama's only concrete Mexico-specific request was the $66 million for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, which does not provide planes or helicopters.

Nowhere in the summary, the President's supplemental appropriations request, nor Obey's statement is the Merida Initiative mentioned. It is unclear if this money will be considered part of the Merida Initiative, or in addition to it. If this new money for surveillance planes and helicopters is not part of the Merida Initiative, the money will not be subject to the same Congressional oversight and paltry human rights conditions that the Merida Initiative funds are subject to.

This new money, along with February's $410 million for the Merida Initiative ($300 million of which is destined for Mexico), is being pledged despite the fact that Mexico has failed to meet the human rights conditions laid out in the Merida Initiative. Less than 15% of overall Merida Initiative funds are subject to human rights conditions. While the US government is withholding the required 15%, it seems to be more than making up for this loss by appropriating new money to Mexico's war on drugs.

If the Appropriations Committee's new supplemental really does appropriate $400 million more to Mexico than Obama requested, and if it is all destined for the Mexican government, then this supplemental would bring fiscal year 2009 funding for Mexico's war on drugs to $770 million--that is, nearly double last year's funding and over 50% more than former President George W. Bush had originally requested when he proposed the Merida Initiative.

However, again, the lack of details in the available information leave some doubt as to whether all of this money is actually for Mexico. Obama's supplemental appropriations request included $350 million for increased border militarization on the US side of the Mexico-US border. The supplemental summary states that the $470 million will be used to "address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border." This could mean could mean that at least $350 million of the $470 million will be destined for the US military on the US side of the border. At the time of publication, the House Appropriations Committee spokesperson was unable to clarify this confusion regarding on which side of the border the $470 million will fall.

Such vague language could be intentionally confusing in order to appease the Mexican government's complaints that Merida Initiative money is too little and too slow in coming. An article that ran in Mexican daily El Universal, for example, has published that Obey's statement on the supplemental specifies that all of the $470 million is destined for the Mexican government to purchase planes and helicopters, and to support other anti-drug efforts. Obey's statement never specified that all $470 million is destined for the Mexican government--though it didn't rule out the possibility, either.

However, from the little information that the US government has made public regarding its stated plans to more than double Mexico drug war funding for this year, it appears as though the $350 million is most likely (though not definitely) in addition to the $470 million mentioned in the summary of the supplemental. This is because, as Witness for Peace pointed out to Narco News, the supplemental summary states that the $470 million for Mexico will be allocated through the State Department and USAID. Obama requested that the $350 million for US-Mexico border militarization be allocated through the Defense Department.

Given the lack of clarity and transparency regarding exactly how the $470 million in Mexico drug war funding will be spent, Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy's Mexico City-based Americas Program is call on Congress to convert the Mexico drug war funds into social aid. "Mexico doesn't need more military equipment or a strongman president--it needs peaceful aid that will help create jobs, put the economy back on its feet, and provide quality health care to prevent and confront crises."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Guerrillas, Narcos, Washington, & the Ghosts of 1910

According to this report from the Frontera NorteSur (FNS, the situation involving leftist guerrillas, narcos and federales in Guerrero, Mexico, is getting serious.

I quote from within:

"Congress is considering a $470 million security funding request for the Mexican government, including money for more helicopters, advanced technology and training for the Mexican armed forces. The modern military equipment could used to fight guerrillas as well as narcos.

On May 7, the House Appropriations Committee approved the military assistance package and sent it on for further action. In an action bearing perhaps more than just passing political symbolism, the Mexico aid was approved as part of a larger security outlay for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, even as the new Obama administration retunes its military strategy in Central Asia, Washington could be poised to become more deeply involved in a Mexican civil conflict that has centuries of deep political, social and historical roots."

In approving this funding Congress could very well stir up this beehive even more. Here's a breakdown from another website of how the money will be spent. Here's also another interesting commentary on the situation.

And here is a COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS report on the matter.


Guerrillas, Narcos, Washington, & the Ghosts of 1910
FNS Special Report

A new twist with unpredictable political consequences has emerged amid the shifting battle fronts of Mexico’s narco war. Sometime last weekend and somewhere in the mountains of southern Guerrero state, a group of at least 20 armed men presenting themselves as a column of the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI) appeared before Mexican reporters.

Uniformed and armed with AK-47 rifles, the group was led by Comandante Ramiro, or Omar Guerrero Solis, one of the most wanted men in Mexico and an almost folkloric figure who escaped from a prison outside Acapulco more than six years ago and wasn’t publicly seen again until last weekend’s secret press conference.

In comments to reporters, Comandante Ramiro accused the Calderon administration of not only staging the fight against drug trafficking, but of also protecting the interests of alleged drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The masked guerrilla commander charged Guerrero Governor Zeferino Torreblanca, who was elected with the backing of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and social sectors sympathetic with the guerrilla movement, with also protecting Chapo Guzman and an alleged associate, Rogaciano Alba.

A former head of the Guerrero Regional Cattlemen’s Association, Alba also served as the mayor of the Guerrero town of Petatlan for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Gunmen associated with Alba are responsible for about 60 murders in the conflictive Tierra Caliente and Costa Grande regions of Guerrero, Comandante Ramiro said.

“The strategy of combating the narco is phony,” Comandante Ramiro charged. “Here in Guerrero, for example, the narcos participate in meetings that the army and state government hold to strike at one cartel and protect another, but essentially they are the same, because they murder, kidnap and torture,” he asserted. “Here the cartel of Chapo Guzman is serving the army, and vice-versa..”

The fugitive rebel leader likewise accused Erit Montufar, director of the Guerrero state ministerial police, of involvement in criminal activities in the Tierra Caliente region of the state.

Comandante Ramiro said narco-fueled violence was inspiring young people to join the ERPI’s ranks, which had successfully expelled Alba’s men from some mountain zones. The ERPI, he said, is engaged in active armed self-defense, “striking” and “dismantling” paramilitary groups connected to Alba and the state government.

The guerrilla leader said his troops try to avoid confrontations with Mexican soldiers, whom he called “sons of the people” welcome to join the revolutionary movement.

The ERPI first emerged in 1998 as a splinter faction of the leftist Popular Democratic Revolutionary Party/Popular Revolutionary Army (PDPR-EPR). Two top ERPI leaders, Jacobo Silva and Gloria Arenas, were captured by the Mexican army in 1999, but the guerrilla group survived and reorganized.

The EPR, as well as other spin-offs, remains active. As the 15th anniversary of the founding of the organization’s armed wing neared this month, the PDPR-EPR issued a new communique.

In its message, the underground organization addressed the recent flu epidemic, deficiencies in the Mexican healthcare system, human rights, political scandals, labor movements, the suffering of the mothers of Ciudad Juarez femicide victims, and more.

The group also said its members were reviewing the next step to take in its campaign to force a clarification of the fate of two high-ranking leaders, Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sanchez, who were allegedly disappeared by the Mexican government in May 2007.

Subsequently, the EPR waged a sabotage campaign against gas pipelines to force the appearance of its two leaders. The guerrillas later declared a truce, and a mediation commission was established between the EPR and Calderon administration. The commission, however, recently broke down, with no word on the fates of Cruz and Amaya.

Now 33 years old, the ERPI’s Comandante Ramiro told Mexican media he first joined the Poor People’s Party, a predecessor group of the PDPR-EPR which was founded by the late legendary rebel leader Lucio Cabanas in the late 1960s, when he was fourteen years of age.

According to Comandante Ramiro, the ERPI is organized like Cabanas’ old Campesino Justice Brigade, with units going up and down in size. Claiming his organization enjoys broad popular support in the Guerrero countryside, Comandante Ramiro said he spent the last four years year in the mountains, adding with a half-smile, “without a vacation.” Addressing reporters, he personally challenged President Calderon and Defense Secretary Galvan to come fight against him if they had a beef and stop sending “innocents” to die.

Replies to Comandante Ramiro

Reaction to the rebel leader’s bravado was slow in coming from Calderon administration officials and Governor Torreblanca, but other state officials and well-known political figures in Guerrero had quick words of response.

Dismissing Comandante Ramiro’s allegations, State Ministerial Police Director Montufar contended the fugitive was using the name of the ERPI to cover for crimes including cattle rustling, robbery and rape.

“How is it possible that someone who escaped from the Acapulco penitentiary, a delinquent of that level, assumes the mantle of defender of social causes?” Montufar responded.

Armando Chavarria, coordinator of the PRD group in the Guerrero State Congress and a former state interior minister under Torreblanca, urged the governor to initiate a dialogue with the ERPI.

“Personally, I don’t justify the armed struggle,” Chavarria said, “but I understand it.” The veteran politician said the ERPI’s public reemergence, arising from a grinding poverty trapping hundreds of thousands of people in the state, “makes the situation graver in Guerrero.”

After news of the EPRI’s reappearance hit the press, residents reported stepped-up Mexican military movements, especially in the Tierra Caliente.

While Mexican guerrillas engaged the media this past week, presumed narcos mounted their own publicity campaign by hanging more so-called “narco-banners” in Guerrero, Morelos, Tabasco, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua. Directed at President Felipe Calderon, Federal Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna and other top law enforcement officials, the latest messages were strikingly frank, with the banner signers acknowledging they were not members of a Boy Scout troop but nevertheless protesting alleged Calderon administration retaliations against family members of accused narcos. According the anonymous authors, the global code of conduct mandates that the family “should be respected.”

A New Game for Washington?

Locally, the EPRI column led by Comandante Ramiro adds another explosive element to a multi-faceted conflict underway in Guerrero involving several rival drug cartels, the Mexican armed forces and different police agencies, which often back different crime groups and battle one another. Last month, a fierce battle in the mountains between the army and suspected gunmen from the Beltran-Leyva cartel left at least 15 gunmen and one soldier dead. Along with large-caliber weapons and grenades, 13 suspects were seized by the army.

Politically, the persistence and even growth of the ERPI further signals the collapse of the broad-based political movement spearheaded by Zeferino Torreblanca that swept into power in early 2005 based on promises of change and end to decades of corruption and misrule by the PRI party.

The ERPI’s ability to attract young recruits shows how the guerrilla in Guerrero, like the narco, has become part of the trans-generational landscape. Comandante Ramiro’s column represents at least the third generation of Mexicans to take up arms since the late 1960s.

The existence of a guerrilla group in the heart of the narco conflict zone has national and international ramifications, especially at a time when the Democratic Party-controlled US Congress is considering a $470 million security funding request for the Mexican government, including money for more helicopters, advanced technology and training for the Mexican armed forces. The modern military equipment could used to fight guerrillas as well as narcos.

On May 7, the House Appropriations Committee approved the military assistance package and sent it on for further action. In an action bearing perhaps more than just passing political symbolism, the Mexico aid was approved as part of a larger security outlay for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, even as the new Obama administration retunes its military strategy in Central Asia, Washington could be poised to become more deeply involved in a Mexican civil conflict that has centuries of deep political, social and historical roots.

On the eve of the House committee vote, scores of prominent Mexican human rights organizations wrote the US Congress opposing new military aid. The signatories of a May 6 letter noted that allegations of human rights abuses against Mexican soldiers mainly deployed in anti-drug operations soared 600 percent from 2006 to 2008, reaching 1,230 cases filed with the official National Human Rights Commission last year. In both Guerrero and neighboring Michoacan, complaints against soldiers are on the upswing in 2009.

Juan Alarcon, longtime president of the official Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, said his agency saw an unprecedented 85 complaints against soldiers from last December to the first three weeks of April. The majority of accusations, encompassing alleged violations of search and seizure, arrest and other laws, “have nothing to do with drug trafficking or organized crime,” Alarcon insisted.

Ghosts of 1910

In some respects, the situation in Guerrero and other parts of the Mexican countryside, both south and north, resembles the era before the 1910 Mexican Revolution when armed bands, heavy-handed government forces and insurgent political forces all rose to the occasion. Then, as now, foreign companies commanded key sectors of the economy.

Ironically, the huge copper mine in Cananea, Sonora, which witnessed one of the historic, runner-up battles to the 1910 revolt, has been the scene of a mounting conflict during the last two years between the mineworkers union led by exiled leader Napoleon Gomez on one side and the Calderon administration and owners Grupo Mexico on the other. Internationally, Gomez’s group has received important backing from the United Steel Workers and other labor organizations.

The Cananea strike almost erupted into a bloody showdown just as US President Barack Obama was preparing to visit Mexico last month. Attempting to break the strike, Grupo Mexico announced the firing of more than 1,000 workers. Hundreds of federal police then began saturating the area around the mine defended by miners and a women’s defense force.

In solidarity with the Sonora strikers, mine and metal industry workers blockaded shipments of containers scheduled for export from the Pacific Coast port of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, near the border with Guerrero.

Back in Sonora, miners took over a highway toll booth. At one demonstration, the Cananea strikers cried out: “If there is no solution, there will be revolution!”

As the Cananea strike approached its second anniversary, Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours appealed to the federal government to find a solution amicable to all parties.

This article originally appeared on May 14, 2009, reprinted here with permission from FNS.

© Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ending the devastation caused by the Obama Administration's 287G program

>From: Roberto Lovato
>Groups across the country are mobilizing to put pressure on Department
>of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama to
>end the devastation caused by the Obama Administration's 287G program.
>Denounced by l(some) police chiefs, several government officials and
>many, many community groups, 287G is the program that allows local and
>state law enforcement officials act as enforcers of federal
>immigration law and provides the legal means for the racial profiling,
>mass and arrests and other violations of the most basic civil and
>human rights. The program enables the widespread and illegal practices
>of notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
>Join the increasing numbers of Latinos, civil and immigrant rights
>groups and others who are growing impatient about what they consider
>the hypocrisy and duplicity of President Obama with regard to racial
>profiling. In light of the massive amount of racial profiling taking
>place under his recently expanded 287G program-a program Obama and
>Napolitano recently expanded- many find lees-than-credible President
>Obama's statements concern about how the recent arrest Professor
>Louis Gates reflects "a long history in this country of
>African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement
>Please stay tuned as activists are asking groups and individuals to
>undertake several actions including:
>For Immediate Release // Excuse Cross Postings // Please Forward
>Contact (Engish y Español): Loyda Alvarado, (323) 434- 8115
>What: Press Conference, Rally, and Demonstration
>Why: To Urge Bill Maher to Ask Secretary Napolitano about DHS
>Racial Profiling Practices, 287(g), Joe Arpaio
>Where: 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (Near corner of Beverly
>and Fairfax)
>When: Friday, July 24, 2009
>Time: 5:30 to 7 pm

>(Los Angeles) Immigrant, civil, and labor rights advocates will hold
>a rally and press conference outside the taping of Real Time with Bill
>Maher on Friday at 5:30 pm. Protestors will urge Mr. Maher to ask
>tough questions of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about her
>relationship with the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

> Specifically, Secretary Napolitano should be asked why DHS has not
>severed its contract with Arpaio (Napolitano's hometown sheriff), and
>why DHS opted last week to expand a failed experimental Bush
>immigration enforcement policy that has demonstrably resulted in mass
>racial profiling.

>During his press conference yesterday, President Obama used very
>strong language to denounce racial profiling practices by local
>police. However, last week week, Department of Homeland Security
>Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the
>widely-criticized 287(g) program, which outsources federal
>immigration enforcement authority to local sheriffs. In recent
>years, Joe Arpaio has become a symbol of the program's failure, as his
>use of 287g has resulted widespread allegations of racial profiling.
>The Department of Justice recently launched a high-profile
>investigation of Arpaio's practices. Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio's
>relationship with neo-nazi's has been noted by Phoenix Mayor Phil
>Gordon; Arpaio himself has said it's an honor to be called KKK; and he
>has even posed for photos with high-profile neo-nazi's. The New
>York Times has published several editorials calling for the
>termination of the 287(g) program in general and Arpaio's contract in
>particular. Those editorials are available here, here, here, and
>most recently, here.

>Salvador Reza, a community leader in Phoenix, issued the following
>statement: "Secretary Napolitano has the legal authority and the
>moral obligation to end Arpaio's reign of terror in her hometown of
>Phoenix. Instead, she is expanding the 287(g) program and intends to
>make the country look like Maricopa County. We hope Bill Maher has
>the courage to ask hard questions of Secretary Napolitano."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

California Ballot Measure Targets Illegal Immigrants

Jul 16, 2009 5:00:00 AM

As California wrestles with its worst economy since the Great Depression, illegal immigrants are becoming part of the debate. It's not unlike what happened the last time the state was having money problems.

Outside the Home Depot in Los Angeles' Pico Union neighborhood, a group of day laborers wait for construction and gardening jobs. Among them is 40-year-old Justo. He came to California from Guatemala 13 years ago.

The government is always accusing immigrants of draining money, he says, adding "they look to us as scapegoats." There's not much work these days for men like him. He scrapes by on a part-time job as a security guard downtown. Justo says he got hired using a phony Social Security card number.

"I pay taxes," Justo says. "I pay FICA, federal and Social Security."

Like nearly 60 percent of all undocumented immigrants in the country, Justo doesn't have health insurance, so he relies on the county hospital emergency room. His young children were born in California and are U.S. citizens. They go to public school in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich says such situations are, unfortunately, all too typical.

"It is catastrophic," Antonovich says. "We cannot be the HMO to the world."

One of the greatest burdens in L.A. County, he says, is welfare for children whose parents are undocumented.

"We're talking about half a billion dollars. And then you add the cost of criminal aliens in our jails — it was exceeding half a billion dollars. Then you add the delivery of health services — that's over $400 million a year. So we're talking about over a billion dollars — that's a fiscal impact just to one county in California," Antonovich says.

As the state tries to dig its way out from under a massive deficit, some say cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants should be part of the solution. One proposal would stop welfare payments even to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

It echoes California's last big financial crisis in 1994. That's when 59 percent of California voters passed Proposition 187, a ballot measure that outlawed education, health care and social services to illegal immigrants and their children.

Many Californians still remember the powerful TV commercial with pictures of frightened immigrant families running across freeways after illegally crossing the border.

"Three-hundred thousand illegal immigrant children in public schools, and they keep coming. The cost: $1.5 billion a year," the announcer says.

Even though Proposition 187 passed, the measure was declared unconstitutional in federal court and was never enforced. Since then, several other states have crafted similar measures that have passed legal muster.

Legislative Analyst Dan Carson says California now spends about $4.6 billion yearly to provide services for — or to incarcerate — illegal immigrants.

"It's clear in the aftermath of Prop 187, our ability to balance the state budget by reducing that $4.6 billion is limited. It's probably more realistic to expect savings to the state in the hundreds of millions, in the short term, not in billions," Carson says.

Weighing the costs versus the benefits of unauthorized immigrants is tricky, says Jeff Passel, a researcher with the Pew Hispanic Center. They don't get paid much, and many don't report their earnings — but they still end up contributing billions of dollars to the state's economy. Regardless of their impact, the sheer number of undocumented immigrants in California is huge — around 2.7 million by Passel's estimate.

"California has had the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the country for at least 25 years, and during those years, the state's had budget difficulties but also ran huge budget surpluses," Passel says.

Back in Pico Union, Justo, the day laborer, wonders how California has gone from boom to bust so quickly.

"California was very, very rich. My question is who take this money? The illegal, the immigrants? I don't think so," he says. Copyright 2009 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Mexican drug cartels expand abroad

This is bigger than anything I had ever imagined. Not good news for Mexico, the U.S. or the continent. -Angela

Mexican drug cartels expand abroad

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan drug boss Juan Jose "Juancho" Leon was summoned by Mexican traffickers for what he was told was business. Instead, dozens of attackers ambushed his entourage with grenades and assault rifles, killing Leon and 10 others in a brazen demonstration of power.

Mexican drug traffickers are branching out as never before — spreading their tentacles into 47 nations, including the U.S., Guatemala and even Colombia, long the heart of the drug trade in Latin America.

The expansion comes amid a military crackdown in Mexico and the arrests of major Colombian suppliers and poses a new challenge for efforts to stop the flow of drugs into the United States.

In dozens of interviews with officials and experts in seven countries, The Associated Press found that the Mexican mobs increasingly buy directly from the cocaine-producing Andes and have begun using countries as distant as Argentina to obtain the raw material for methamphetamine. Mexican gangsters have been arrested as far away as Malaysia as they seek new markets for cocaine and "meth" supply sources.

"There are more Mexican drug traffickers in South America today than at any time ever, period," said Jay Bergman, the Andean regional director for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help Colombia dismantle its major cartels but may have actually helped the Mexicans gain traction in South America in the process.

In the past two years, Colombia extradited 14 warlords to the U.S. on drug-running charges and another six major traffickers have been killed or arrested. Mexican emissaries and money are flowing into the country to fill the void.

"The belief is that the Mexicans are trying to get closer to the source of supply and take over the transport," said Jere Miles, chief of the unit that tracks trade-based money laundering for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mexican traffickers have turned up in many Colombian cities and are working to get cash in the hands of peasants to boost coca production, said Colombian police director Gen. Oscar Naranjo.

"We have evidence of Mexicans sitting in Medellin, sitting in Cali, sitting in Pereira, in Barranquilla," he told the AP.
In neighboring Peru, the world's No. 2 cocaine-producing country after Colombia, Mexican traffickers are bribing customs officials at airports and seaports and laundering money by investing in real estate. At least four major Mexican cartels now buy cocaine directly in Peru, said Sonia Medina, chief public prosecutor for drugs and money laundering.

In the last three years, 40 Mexicans have been arrested in Peru on drug-trafficking charges, mostly low-level couriers smuggling 22 to 44 pounds (10 to 20 kilograms) of cocaine in suitcases, said Col. Leonardo Morales of Peru's anti-narcotics police.

Traffickers rent homes in Lima's best neighborhoods for weeks at a time. One suspect, Saulo Mauricio Parra Tejada, was arrested there in June after police found four suitcases with 234 pounds (106 kilograms) of cocaine in his car. A second man with Parra commandeered a taxi and fled in a shootout with police.

"We presume he was headed for the airport," Morales said.

Drug-related killings — with the sudden appearance of Mexican cartel-contracted hit men — are also on the upswing. Three Mexicans believed involved in the drug trade and 15 Colombians were murdered in Lima in the past two years.
"When Peru's mafias dealt pretty exclusively with Colombians, you didn't see that," said Eduardo Castaneda, a Peruvian anti-drug prosecutor.
Other Latin American countries have started playing a role as transshipment points for the chemicals used to make methamphetamine, a highly addictive street drug.

Mexico supplies 80 to 90 percent of the methamphetamine sold in the U.S., according to the DEA. The drug is made from pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, commonly found in cold and flu medicines and typically obtained in bulk from India and China.

In 2007, Mexico banned the import and domestic use of both chemicals. So the problem spread abroad. Last year, the United Nations identified, for the first time, the manufacture of methamphetamine and other illicit synthetic stimulants in 10 nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and Honduras.

In Argentina, ephedrine imports rose from 5.5 tons in 2006 to 28.5 tons the following year, according to the DEA. Half the 1.2 tons of ephedrine Argentine authorities seized last year was bound for Mexico in a shipment of sugar.
Also last year, police took down a methamphetamine lab in Buenos Aires linked to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel. In all, 23 people — including nine Mexicans — were arrested.

Court papers say the cartel exploited Argentina's lax financial oversight and plodding judiciary to set up shell companies to import ephedrine from India and China. The papers say employees then ground up the ephedrine, liquefied it and shipped it in wine bottles to Mexico.

In another case, three young entrepreneurs were found in a ditch, hands bound with plastic. Investigators say they were pumped with bullets in a gangland-style killing for crossing Mexican mobsters.

Two of them, Sebastian Forza and Damian Ferron, apparently tried to shortchange Mexicans who were buying in bulk from them.

They owned pharmacies and "adulterated the ephedrine, thinking they'd take advantage of the Mexicans' stupidity," said Tony Greco, who recently retired from the DEA after six years in Argentina.

A month later, Argentina began to tightly restrict sales of ephedrine. Greco said Mexican gangs in Argentina have since returned to trafficking cocaine from Bolivia, where the U.N. says coca production is up for a third straight year and whose president, Evo Morales, expelled the DEA last year. Greco said the cocaine is shipped from there to Europe, Africa and Asia.
In the meantime, the sale of drugs used to make meth has also spread. In Honduras, authorities seized 3.5 million pseudoephedrine pills from smugglers last year, arresting four Mexicans. In El Salvador, police are investigating the disappearance of 2 million pseudoephedrine pills from a 2008 shipment, and cough medicine purchased in bulk has been sent north. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have now all passed laws prohibiting most uses of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

Peru, where the drugs remain for sale, is among countries where traffickers routinely take a group of people, hit as many retail outlets as possible and buy the maximum amount of pseudoephedrine they can get, in what police call "smurfing."
In Malaysia, three Mexicans were arrested last year and charged with trafficking 63 pounds (29 kilograms) of meth. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.

Guatemala is struggling to combat the Mexican crime invasion with loaned helicopters from the U.S. and organized crime investigators from the U.N. Guatemalans feel their country, wedged between Mexico and Colombia, has become like "the meat in a hamburger," then-Interior Minister Francisco Jose Jimenez said last year.

The U.S. State Department has warned that a weak criminal justice system and pervasive corruption make it difficult for Guatemala to address the rise in drug activity.

In late November, 17 people were killed in an apparent battle between Mexican and Guatemalan gangs, reportedly over a stolen drug shipment, said Guatemalan Police Director Marlene Blanco.

Four months later, police discovered a training camp for the Zetas, one of Mexico's fiercest gangs, a few miles south of the Mexican border in Ixtcan. They also found 500 grenades and thousands of bullets believed stolen from the Guatemalan army, and in mid-June, Guatemalan authorities confiscated nearly 10 million pseudoephedrine pills in a shipping container in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala's main port on the Pacific. It was the country's biggest seizure of the substance.

President Alvaro Colom, the national police chief and the interior minister all say they have received death threats from traffickers in recent months.

Since the Juancho Leon murder in March 2008, 33 Zetas have been captured and are behind bars, said Giulio Antonio Talamont, the country's prisons chief. They include senior Zeta commander Daniel Perez Rojas, a former Mexican soldier charged with orchestrating Leon's killing.

Drug lords are infamous in Mexico for their jail breaks.

So nervous Guatemalan authorities recently doubled the number of soldiers ringing the prison where Perez, alias "El Cachetes" or "Puffy Cheeks," and the other Mexicans are held. They jam cell phone signals and periodically rotate Perez from cell to cell for extra security, Talamont said.

The authorities are so nervous that they plan to hold Perez' trial later this year in a makeshift courtroom inside the prison.
Associated Press writers Alexandra Olson in San Salvador, El Salvador, Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Mayra Pertossi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report. Frank Bajak reported from Colombia and Peru.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Multimedia: An interactive look at Mexico's drug cartels is in the _international/mexican_cartels folder. Moving on general news and financial services.)
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Interesting comment on Tejano Ethnicity

Interesting comment on Tejano Ethnicity by Jorge Haynes. -Angela

The name "Texas" comes from a Caddoan Indian word? It is a Spanish corruption of the Caddo word Taysha, which means "friend." The Caddo were not the only native people of this region, however.

The original tejanos were:
The Apache tribes
The Bidai tribe
The Coahuilteco and Carrizo tribes
The Caddo tribe
The Comanche tribe
The Jumano, Suma, Piro, and other eastern Pueblos
The Karankawa tribe
The Kiowa tribe
The Kitsai tribe
The Tawakoni tribe
The Tonkawa tribe
The Wichita tribe

After the europeans arrived we saw the following tribes come to tejas also:
The Alabama tribe
The Cherokee tribe
The Coushatta tribe
The Kickapoo tribe
The Tigua Pueblo tribe

Just want to keep the whole tejano thing in perspective.


Haynes, Jorge
Senior Director, External Relations
401 Golden Shore, Suite 633
Long Beach CA 90802
tel: 562.951.4822
fax: 562.951.4837
mobile: 562.305.7698
Want a signature like this?
From: Foro de comunicación para Latinos del suroeste de los EEUU [mailto:LARED-L@LISTSERV.CYBERLATINA.NET] On Behalf Of Rudy 'Tejano' Pena
Sent: Friday, July 03, 2009 11:26
Subject: [LRL] Tejano ethnicity / culture

Someone suggested for me to approach you and ask for your opinion, perception, interpretation and views of the Tejanos / Tejanas, who were born and live in Texas and other parts of the United States. Bear in mind that many Tejanos and Tejanas linage dates back to the 1600's period. The original Tejanos were citizens of La Provincia De Tejas de la madre patria Espana.
What exactly do they stand for and represent? Why do Tejanos and Tejanas simply choose to identify themselves as Mexican or Mexican-American instead of who they actually are based on where they were born?

Thank you and I look forward to read your response.
********************************************************************** Welcome to the La Red Latina WWW Network "LaRed Latina" WWW site: "LARED-L" Discussion Group: http// Roberto Vazquez, President, CEO, ************************************************************************
********************************************************************** Welcome to the La Red Latina WWW Network "LaRed Latina" WWW site: "LARED-L" Discussion Group: http// Roberto Vazquez, President, CEO, ************************************************************************


> 011-5255-5510-1213 X102
> 206-419-7957 (after July 18th)
> Blindman's Buff #250
>MEXICO CITY (July 16th) - Nine years ago on a
>sultry July morning, Mexicans woke up and
>discovered to their great amazement that the
>Dinosaur that had hunkered down at the foot of
>their beds for 71 years was gone. This July 6th,
>when Mexicans rose in the morning, the Dinosaur
>was back.
>In the famous short poem by Augusto Monterroso,
>the Dinosaur is the PRI - the Institutional
>Revolutionary Party - once the longest-ruling
>political dynasty in the known universe that
>controlled the destiny of Mexicans from the
>cradle to the grave for seven interminable
>decades until it was dislodged from power by the
>right-wing PAN party in the July 2000
>presidential elections. In its unslakable
>thirst for power, the PRI committed unspeakable
>crimes against the Mexican peoples, stealing
>elections from the most humble city hall to the
>presidential palace, jailing and torturing and
>executing those who stood in its way, and
>emptying out public treasuries in an unmatched
>kleptocracy that was a legend throughout Latin
>America, "the perfect dictatorship" Latin
>American novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once dubbed
>it (for which the PRI had him tossed out of the
>"Have we Mexicans lost our memories and our
>minds?" asks Sylvia Insulza from behind the
>counter of her newspaper dispensary in the old
>quarter of the capital. Tears of frustration
>crystallize in the corners of her eyes.
>The depth and breadth of the PRI victory July
>5th is nothing short of stunning. From a
>distant third place finish in the 2006
>presidential fiasco in which the rightist PAN
>stole the election from Andres Manuel Lopez
>Obrador (AMLO) and his left-wing PRD party by
>.57% of the popular vote, the PRI ("proven
>experience and a new attitude" is its current
>campaign slogan) took 37% of the total ballots
>cast, nearly doubling its votes three years
>back, and taking control of congress for the
>first time since 1997. The once-upon-a-time
>ruling party's alliance with the so-called
>Mexican Green Environmental Party (PVEM - see
>sidebar below "THE GREEN PRI") will give it 259
>seats out of 500 in the lower house, an absolute
>majority. In nine out of 31 states, the PRI won
>every office up for grabs - federal
>congressional representatives, local congresses,
>and municipal officials, a "carro completo" or
>"full car" in the Institutionals' curious
>The Dinosaurs also proved triumphant in five out
>of six governors' races, winning two statehouses
>in which the PAN had resided for 12 years. Only
>in the northern border state of Sonora where the
>PRI governor was seen as complicit in the tragic
>incineration of 48 babies in a Hermosillo day
>care center a month before the election, was the
>PAN able to squeeze out a victory in an election
>in which the PAN and PRI candidates were
>Moreover, the PRI won cities like Naucalpan, an
>upper middle class Mexico City suburb the
>right-wingers have controlled since the 1980s,
>and the nation's second city, Guadalajara, which
>the PAN has owned since 1995. In alliance with
>the Mexican Green Environmental Party, the PRI
>won its first elected office in Mexico City
>since 1994. Although the left PRD maintains
>control of the nation's capital, the Party of
>the Aztec Sun does so by a greatly reduced
>margin. Whereas the PRD registered 51% of the
>vote in Mexico City in 2006, three years later
>it weighs in with just 29%.
>But Sylvia's tears of frustration may soon dry.
>Whether the Dinosaurs are really back or just
>staying overnight (in Jurassic time) is not yet
>clear. Mid-term elections are referendums on
>the sitting president and his administration's
>management of the country and July 5th
>represented a crushing vote of no confidence in
>Felipe Calderon on whose watch the economy has
>tumbled into freefall - "growth" in 2009 will
>measure a negative 8%, the worst slide since the
>Great Depression of 1929-32. Calderon, who
>campaigned as the "President of Employment" has
>presided over the loss of 2,000,000 jobs. The
>president's ill-advised war on the drug cartels
>has soaked the country in blood - over 12,000
>lives have been lost - and fueled corruption and
>human rights abuses on the part of the military
>and the police. Calderon's panic-driven
>handling of this spring's Swine Flu "PAN-demic"
>kicked the bricks out from under the tourist
>industry, the nation's third source of dollars,
>and his arrogant imposition of candidates in the
>July 5th vote-taking angered and turned many in
>his own party against him.
>Ceding the PRI a 10-point advantage (37% to 27%)
>in the national vote and the loss of congress to
>the Institutionals' absolute majority
>effectively shuts down Calderon's legislative
>agenda. Indeed the PANista may be the weakest
>president in a century - no Mexican president
>since the 1910-1919 revolution has ever ruled
>with the opposition holding an absolute majority
>in the lower house. Felipe Calderon will be a
>lame duck for the next three years - in real
>terms, his presidency ended July 5th.
>One of the first casualties of the debacle was
>PAN party president German Martinez, a creature
>of Calderon, who tossed in the towel the morning
>after his party's most devastating defeat since
>its founding in 1939. Similar demands for the
>resignation of PRD president Jesus "Chucho"
>Ortega, who orchestrated the left party's worst
>showing since 1991, are legion.
>The Party of the Aztec Sun plummeted from 38% of
>the national vote in 2006 when Lopez Obrador was
>at the top of the ticket, to just 12% three
>years later and its congressional delegation was
>decimated, retaining only 71 seats out of the
>126 it held in the outgoing legislature. Cities
>in the misery belt girdling the capital such as
>Nezahualcoyotl, Chalco, and Ecatepec with a
>total population of 6,00,000 that have been in
>the PRD's pocket for years fell to the
>Despite hanging on to its hegemony in the
>capital, the PRD lost four out of 16 delegations
>or boroughs for the first time since it took
>power here in 1997 although the leftists still
>have a commanding advantage in the local
>legislative assembly. In the battles for the
>delegations, the PAN picked up three of the
>wealthiest enclaves in the city and the tiny
>Party of Labor won the megalopolis's biggest and
>poorest demarcation - Iztapalapa - by ten points
>after Ortega and his co-conspirators persuaded
>the nation's top electoral court to substitute
>their candidate at the last minute for one
>supported by Lopez Obrador.
>AMLO responded by mobilizing his considerable
>base, including the "Adelitas", hundreds of
>working women dressed in the outfits of women
>soldiers during the Mexican revolution, who last
>year fended off the privatization of the state
>oil monopoly PEMEX with a campaign of civil
>disobedience. "Adelitas" like Berta Robledo, a
>retired nurse, descended on Iztapalapa walking
>the precincts day after day to expose the
>flimflam and support Lopez Obrador's candidate,
>a local soccer coach everyone knows as
>"Juanito." Now, with Iztapalapa under his belt,
>AMLO, the once-wildly popular Mexico City mayor
>who still styles himself as "the legitimate
>president of Mexico", has forcibly demonstrated
>that he is still very much a factor in Mexican
>electoral politics.
>Despite the PRI Dinosaur's big numbers, it was
>the Party of No that was the hands- down winner
>July 5th. Absenteeism hovered between 55 and 60%
>in the south and center of the country and in
>northern states like Chihuahua and Baja
>California where Calderon's drug war rages, only
>25 to 30% of the electorate went to the polls.
>A national movement to cast protest votes or
>deface ballots with no-holds-barred slurs
>against all the political parties, gained
>resonance throughout the country. The number of
>"votos nulos" cast doubled from 3% in 2006 to a
>shade under 6%, and in Mexico City, the "votos
>nulos" multiplied by 400% to 10 to 13% of the
>vote. This reporter observed one disgusted
>voter in a neighborhood polling place here in
>the old quarter of the capital angrily ball up
>his unmarked ballot and cram it through the slot
>in the "urna."
>Because a recount must be ordered when the
>number of votos nulos exceeds the margin of
>victory between the first and second-place
>finishers, ballot boxes had to be opened and
>counted out vote by vote in as many as 27,000
>out of 140,000 polling places. Indeed, the
>number of votos nulos - 1.8 million (a half
>million cast in Mexico City and Mexico state
>alone) - establishes the Nulos as the fifth
>electoral force in the country behind the PRI,
>PAN, PRD, and PVEM but ahead of the PT,
>Democratic Convergence, New Alliance, and the
>Social Democrats (who, failing to win 2% of the
>national vote, lost their registration.)
>On the Mexican political calendar, the
>conclusion of mid-term elections signals the
>kick-off for the next presidential race three
>years down the pike in 2012. The big pro-PRI
>turnout puts the Dinosaurs in the driver's seat
>to recover Los Pinos, the Mexican White House,
>which it held hostage from 1928 through the new
>At this fledgling stage, the PRI frontrunner is
>Mexico state governor Enrique Pena Nieto, a
>short, pretty boy politico with deep pockets, a
>trademark pompadour, and a glamorous soap opera
>star (Angelica Rivera AKA "The Seagull") on his
>arm - Pena Nieto, who Lopez Obrador labels "a
>male Barbie", is a darling of Mexico's
>two-headed television monopoly, Televisa and TV
>The governor's resounding sweep of Mexico state
>municipal (97 out of 125 city halls) and federal
>elections in the nation's most populous and
>economically active state puts him double digits
>above his closest rival, Manlio Fabio Beltrones,
>the leader of the PRI's senate delegation, and a
>Mafia-like political boss who is often mocked as
>"Don Beltrones." The "Don" is a longtime crony
>of the much-reviled Carlos Salinas, the former
>president who fell into public disgrace after
>his brother was imprisoned for masterminding the
>gangland execution of a political rival. The
>return of the Dinosaurs marks a possible revival
>of Salinas's fortunes. The bald-pated,
>big-eared former chief of state was pictured
>depositing his ballot in a large, front-page El
>Universal photo July 6th just to remind readers
>who exactly was back.
>Also in the mix for the PRI nomination is the
>voluminous party president Beatriz Paredes, a
>Dinosauress whose wardrobe contains a different
>hand-made Indian huipil (a loose-fitting
>muumuu-like gown) for every day of the year.
>To add to Felipe Calderon's woes, the PAN has no
>"bueno" or fair-haired boy in the pipeline to
>succeed him as president - his young protégée,
>Juan Camilo Mourino, the recently-appointed
>Interior Secretary, was killed last November in
>a mysterious Mexico City air crash after
>returning from overseeing drug war operations in
>the north. The PAN's affairs are managed by a
>council of aging elders who appear reduced to
>recycling bland party hacks like Senator
>Santiago Creel, hardly one of the premium
>numbers on Calderon's cell phone dial.
>Who the PRD nominee will be depends largely on
>how long Jesus Ortega's chokehold on the party
>is allowed to continue. Bloodied by the July
>5th debacle, the chief Chucho seems determined
>to compound his party's misery by expelling
>Lopez Obrador from the PRD on the grounds that
>he violated the by-laws by backing the PT in
>Iztapalapa. AMLO remains the most popular - if
>polemical - politico in Mexico with powers of
>convocation that far exceed any other party's
>front-running candidates. Having insured that
>the PT and Democratic Convergence retained their
>registration by endorsing their candidates,
>Lopez Obrador guaranteed himself a place on the
>2012 ballot even if Ortega is successful in
>expelling him from the PRD.
>El Peje as he is affectionately called will no
>doubt face-off against his successor as Mexico
>City mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, a strapping,
>well-spoken but distinctly uncharismatic
>politician, for the votes of Mexico's leftists
>in 2012.
>Despite its abysmal showing July 5th, the
>Mexican Left by whatever initials it shows
>itself is hardly down for the count. The PRI's
>overwhelming win at the polls only represents
>16% of 77,000,000 registered Mexican voters when
>absenteeism and votos nulos are factored into
>the July 5th results. The Dinosaurs staged a
>modest congressional comeback in 2003 mid-term
>elections only to be steamrolled by AMLO and
>Calderon in 2006. Failure to cope with
>continuing economic and social turmoil and the
>predictably polluted performance of PRI elites
>like the Salinas clan that seem to exult in
>political mayhem and armed thuggery, are bound
>to revive left fortunes in the next three years.
>According to evolutionists, the dinosaurs went
>extinct 60,000,000 years ago either because a
>giant asteroid plunged into the Atlantic Ocean
>off the Yucatan peninsula lowering world
>temperatures by ten degrees, or because climate
>change so thinned out the oxygen count that the
>dinosaurs' huge respiratory systems no longer
>functioned. As climate change once again
>threatens Planet Earth, the comeback of the PRI
>dinosaurs will, no doubt, be short-lived.
>Sidebar -- Sidebar -- Sidebar -- Sidebar--
>The Mexican Green Ecologist Party or PVEM, which
>will partner with the PRI to form an absolute
>majority in the lower house of congress (259 out
>of 500 seats), is a wholly-owned subsidiary of
>the Gonzalez Torres family. Founded by father
>Jose Gonzalez Torres, a wealthy construction
>tycoon, with ample investment from brother
>Victor, the king of the largest chain of generic
>pharmacies in Mexico, the party is presided over
>by Jose's young scion, Jose Emilio Gonzalez,
>dubbed "El Nino Verde" or "The Green Child."
>Although the PVEM touts its roots in Mexico's
>growing environmental movement - the elder
>Gonzalez Torres was a player in the failed fight
>to shut down Laguna Verde in Veracruz, Mexico's
>only nuclear power plant, and active in protests
>against Mexico City's killer smog in the late
>1980s - the Gonzalez Torres clan soon discovered
>that juicy government subsidies to Mexican
>political parties could pump up family fortunes.
>First aligned with the leftist PRD and
>subsequently with the right-wing PAN, Gonzalez
>Torres had his sights set on becoming
>environmental secretary after the election of
>PANista Vicente Fox in 2000 but when he was
>passed over for the post, he delivered the PVEM
>to the PRI with which he has lined up ever since.
>Having abandoned its environmental pretensions,
>the only green the Mexican Green Environmental
>party has pursued in recent years is the long
>green of filthy lucre. In 2004, the Nino Verde
>was secretly filmed soliciting a seven-figure
>bribe from developers keen on trashing the
>coastline of Caribbean Cancun. Scant days
>before the July 5th shakedown, a PVEM senator
>was nabbed at a Chiapas airport with a million
>pesos bundled up in his carry-on baggage.
>The centerpiece of the Green Party's July 5th
>campaign was the restitution of the Death
>Penalty, which earned it the condemnation of
>European-based environmental parties and the
>PVEM has been excommunicated from the Global
>Greens Network. During the run-up to the recent
>elections, political cartoonists substituted a
>vulture for the party's colorful emblem, a
>As the PRI's partner in crime in the new
>legislature, re-introducing the death penalty
>will be the big enchilada on the PVEM's plate.
>The "Greens" are also expected to lobby for
>rescinding electoral reforms that deprived
>Televisa and TV Azteca of millions in political
>advertising revenues in the prologue to the July
>5th mid-terms - the reforms were introduced
>after the broadcasting giants abused the use of
>television and radio spots in the 2006
>presidential election. To this end, Ninfa
>Salinas Pliego, daughter of the owner of TV
>Azteca, has been named to head the PVEM bench in
>the incoming congress.
>John Ross will present IRAQIGIRL, the diary of a
>teenager growing up under U.S. occupation in
>northern Iraq, July 30th at Modern Times
>Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street in San
>Francisco's Mission District (7 PM.) Ross
>developed and edited the Haymarket Books volume.
>These contributions will be issued at 10-day
>intervals while the Blindman is in California
>for medical tests.

Same People, New Context: The African Presence in Mexico

Same People, New Context: The African Presence in Mexico
By Claire Light | Jul 07, 2009

In a multiracial country, and especially in the multiracial Bay Area, we commit the act of race-spotting many times a day. We may not admit it, or even be conscious of it, but out on the streets, our understanding of ethnic affiliation is constantly tested by the hue of a person's skin, their facial features, their dress, hairstyles, language, gait and stance. But we can only work with the stories we've been told; when in doubt, we default a person to identities we've already been told exist. We give ourselves no latitude for the unknown.
A large section of The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present (at the Oakland Museum through August 23) is a deliberate exercise in race-spotting. After laying out the five-century history of Afro-Mexicans, the exhibition presents us with three galleries of photo-portraiture. In this we are challenged to look at images of people we might otherwise uneasily dismiss as "Mexicans," a category we breezily equate with "Mestizo," or mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry. Is that an African eye, mouth, or cheekbone? What is the origin of that headdress, that skirt, that stance?
Thoroughly ensconced in fascination -- and an undefined guilt -- we move into images of culture: carnaval celebrations, dancing, music, masks and costumes. And then we go a step further, into increasingly sophisticated self-querying art: blockprints, lithographs, sculpture and painting. What here is Mexican? What is African? And is there a difference?
Originating at Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art, The African Presence in Mexico was inspired by the decreasingly cordial relations between Mexican American and African American communities in the US in the past two decades. Played off one another through demagoguery, through anti-labor policies that impact undocumented immigrants, and through welfare reform policies that impact historically oppressed groups, the two communities slide into more distinct identities, discouraged from remembering or investigating common histories.
To counter this alienation, the exhibition reveals a parallel universe south of the border in which black oppression wasn't so much justified as it was erased, and for well over a century. Featuring significant populations of European settler/conquerors, indigenous "Indians" battling migrant waves and devastating disease, and African slaves, Mexico had similar opportunities to build a racial hierarchy like that of the States. But early laws forbidding the collection of racial data, an absurdly fractured racial caste system, and a revolution centered around (among other things) the uplift of the Mestizo group, led to the disappearance of Afro-Mexicans as a mainstream concept, and the subsuming of oft-substantial African cultural contributions into the mainstream of Mexican culture. It was only with the Quincentennial 1992 that Africans were recognized as the "third root" of Mexican culture.
By turns a historical exhibition, an art show, and a political treatise, The African Presence in Mexico displays no embarrassment at its own inconsistency. It makes sense: this is a history and a culture most viewers do not know at all. All this material must be presented so that we understand. And to its credit, the exhibition only shows its hem in the last section, connecting African Americans with Mexico. While the histories of the underground railroad to Mexico, the Seminole/escaped slave colonies in Mexico, and Harlem Renaissance sojourns to the south are fascinating and meaningful, the exhibition fails to make of these disparate moments a strong history of African American/Mexican cooperation.
But the central point comes through loud and clear: the African component in average Mexican families, mores, arts, and language is incalculable, and much greater than recognized. The lens it turns back on US society -- a distorted twin -- is startling. We are not finished with our racial history. And no viewer will be finished with the images of this challenging exhibition until long after they've left the museum, and the day, behind them.

Task Force to Recommend Overhaul of U.S. Immigration System

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009 12:10 AM

A bipartisan task force will recommend today that the United States overhaul its immigration system in response to national security concerns, saying that the country should end strict quotas on work-based immigrant visas to maintain its scientific, technological and military edge.
"The continued failure to devise and implement a sound and sustainable immigration policy threatens to weaken America's economy, to jeopardize its diplomacy, and to imperil its national security," concluded an independent Council on Foreign Relations panel, co-chaired by former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) and former Clinton White House chief of staff Thomas V. "Mack" McLarty III.
The report comes as President Obama and Congressional Democrats say they expect to begin debate on a comprehensive immigration plan within a year. But key Republicans -- including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and co-sponsor of previous overhaul legislation -- have said a plan must include expanding temporary-worker programs. [Š] <>

"Illegals" of the World Unite? an interview with David Bacon

THIS INTERVIEW WAS conducted on April 10, 2009 by Star Murray and Charles Williams on behalf of the Against the Current editorial board. Photojournalist David Bacon spent 20 years as a labor organizer and immigrant rights activist. He hosts a show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, CA, and his writing and photographs are online at His book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants was published by Beacon Press in 2008.

ATC: Why don't we start with the title of the book?

David Bacon: Well, I debated with the publisher a lot about it. I knew it was going to be kind of a controversial title, because I've been an immigrant rights activist for over 30 years and all that time we've been trying to get people to say "undocumented people" instead of "illegal aliens." And the reason for it is a very good one, which is that the word "illegal" is used to demonize people and to excuse denial of rights and second-class social status.

So putting the word illegal in the title, especially saying "illegal people," I anticipated that people would say "Well, okay, you're doing what you have tried to get people not to do." The reason I did so is because writing the book made me really think more concretely about where illegality comes from, and there is a part of the book that traces out the development of the social category.

It doesn't really have much to do with the law. It has to do with the creation of a social category for people who are denied equality with those who live in the community around them, and who don't have the same set of rights and don't have the same social and political and legal status.

So the book traces this history all the way back to the origins of this country and the colonization of North America, and specifically to slavery. Slavery established the idea that the society that was created here was going to be divided, that people were going to be divided between those that had rights and those who had no rights.

The purpose of this was economic really. The labor of slaves was what was desired by slave holders, and the whole system was built and developed in order to allow for the maximum extraction of that labor. And then that inequality got not only written into the Constitution and into law, but applied to other people too. There were simultaneous debates in the Americas about the status of indigenous people.

What I'm trying to say is that illegality is real. It's a real status of people. And that it has an economic function, and this system creates illegality for very specific reasons. Today, in a globalized world, we have the use of neoliberal economic reforms, including free trade treaties, that in countries like Mexico displace people and send them into motion, and then those people are forced to come to the United States looking for work and survival and, at the same time, are forced into a social category, illegality, which already existed before they get here.

Basically the book's argument in the end is that this is obviously a very brutal system, and if we don't like illegality we have to change the social reality. It's not enough to just say "Well, let's not demonize people by not calling them illegals and instead using the word undocumented." I believe very strongly that we should use the term "undocumented people," but we have to face the fact that undoing illegality requires a social movement and social struggle, and we have to be willing to do that.

ATC: As you discuss in your book, there have also been programs that create a legal position for immigrants, but again with the intention of establishing a system of labor exploitation. So could you talk a little bit about the Bracero program and the H-2 visa system and the purposes behind those programs?

DB: Well, the Bracero program and the H-2 visas are the use of our immigration laws as a labor supply system for employers, a very overt one. Both the Bracero program and H-2A and H-2B visas basically say people can come to the United States to work, but only to work. If you're not working you have to leave. And in some cases the way in which people get that work and come and go in the United States is very systematized and organized.

Under the Bracero program people were actually given written contracts when they were still in Mexico, and when they crossed the border they were assembled in big barns and fumigated and then given contracts, and they could stay only as long as the contract lasted. And in order to stay any longer they had to get a new contract to work for another grower.

The H-2A and H-2B visas work a little bit differently, but the purpose is identical, which is to supply labor to agricultural and nonagricultural employers. They allow employers to recruit labor outside the United States, and then people are brought into the country in an immigration status which basically allows employers to exploit their labor at very low wages and to impose pretty awful working conditions.

The Bracero program lasted from 1942 to 1964, and the end of the program in 1964 was a victory of the Chicano civil rights movement, of people like Ernesto Galarza and Bert Corona and Cesar Chavez, who over many years of struggle finally convinced Congress to end the program.

In 1965, Congress passed another immigration bill that was in large part the product of the ideas of those people who had fought against the Bracero program. This set up the system of family preferences. The people who lived in the United States could petition for family members living in other countries and bring them here under the family reunification system.

So it's true that everybody who moves to the United States pretty much has to work. In fact, we need to make sure in the current debate around immigration that people's right to work is protected and that we don't start denying people the right to work because of their immigration status, like employer sanctions. But the ideas of Corona and Galarza were that we needed to set up a system that was not controlled or manipulated by employers for the purpose of supplying labor.

That's still basically the problem that we are debating around immigration policy today: "Who should it benefit?"

Status and Rights

ATC: Can you elaborate a little on current debates?

DB: First of all, there's a debate about status. Should the people who don't have any legal status get legal status and, if so, under what circumstances? What kind of status should it be?

You have proposals that range all the way from no change at all, just deport everybody - an enforcement-only kind of approach - to proposals like the big Senate bills of the last few years that said "Well, if you wait a long, long time, like 11 years or 18 years and you pay fines and you work all this time, you can get some kind of temporary status that may at some point lead to permanent residence."

Then you have the proposals by more progressive immigrants' rights advocates, who say that the way you resolve the status problem is simply to give people permanent residence status, the same thing that happened in 1986.

But the other debate is over this question of should our immigration system be used more and more as simply a labor supply system for large employers. So you had proposals from the American Meat Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and growers' associations for developing vastly expanded versions of an H-2A and H-2B program, in which they would bring maybe 300- or 400- or 500,000 people a year into the United States as basically contract workers.

In fact, Bush at the end of his term proposed doing away with family reunification altogether and said it was archaic and obsolete and instead what we needed was a point system in which people would be allowed to come to the United States and get visas based on how employable they were here. Your job skills and the desire of an employer to give you a job would enable you to rack up points and get a visa, and whether or not you were a relative of somebody living in the United States would really count for nothing.

So we're still debating that issue. Again, it's not a question really of whether or not migrants and immigrants should have the right to work. It's really a question of status. What are the political and social and labor rights of people going to be? To what extent are people going to be able to be part of the communities that they live in here, instead of being isolated from them and treated simply as beasts of burden? Same questions over and over and over again.

ATC: Essentially many of the proposals are just trying to find other ways of achieving a marginalized labor supply?

DB: Yes. The big bills for the last few years are three-part bills. They all have basically the same architecture. They set up contract labor programs, guest worker programs. They have increased enforcement, especially workplace enforcement, involving things like E-Verify or no-match letters or the use of Social Security numbers as a way of ensuring that only people here as contract laborers have the right to work - basically in order to force people to migrate using only that system.

Then the third part is legalization programs. But the legalization programs are not the same that we had in 1986, where if you could prove that you had been here since 1982 you could apply for a green card and get a card relatively quickly.

In fact, when you look at what the legalization proposals actually are and how they function, it's clear that in many cases most people would not qualify, and you would have to wait a very, very long time before you got any kind of permanent residence status. But they would also immunize employers from any legal consequences of having an undocumented labor force.

In other words, their real purpose is to sort of grandfather in the existing workforce of large employers like meatpacking plants, so that while they are making the transition to a work force of contract laborers they don't get punished under employer sanctions for having an undocumented workforce. These are really very employer-oriented proposals.

ATC: Shifting directions a little bit, how did your own background lead you to write this book?

DB: Well, I have been writing about immigration and work and the impact of the global economy on working people for a long time, since I started working as a journalist, which was about 18 years ago. Before that, I was a union organizer.

In a way I took my experiences as a union organizer, almost all among immigrant workers in industries like agriculture or the garment industry, and when I began working as a writer and photographer, I started documenting what I already had been seeing from the perspective of a labor organizer. The book grew out of that history, both the organizing and the writing, so that's why, for instance, the book concentrates very much on the problems of migrants as workers.

The second reason I wrote it was that I think that it is important for us to be able to see the way in which the global economy operates as a system that on the one hand produces displacement and displaced labor, and on the other hand puts that labor to work in industrial countries. For example, the fact that NAFTA displaced people in Mexico has led to the migration of maybe six million Mexicans to the United States. That is not a side product; it's not a side effect. It's part of the way the system functions.

The industrial countries like the United States or Britain or Germany or France or Japan need the labor. They need a surplus of labor, both in the countries to which they have sent production, the maquiladoras in Mexico for instance, but they also need the labor of migrants here. So the kinds of economic changes that are forced on developing countries have the effect of producing favorable conditions for those companies to operate - low wages in Mexico, say - but because they produce low wages, they also produce the conditions that force people to leave by making it harder and harder for people to survive.

Our immigration policy is not somehow distinct from that. It's part of that system, because the criminalization of those people as they cross the border and come into the United States makes their labor available to employers here in the United States at a very, very low price, and it creates a great deal of vulnerability among people who have very few political and social and labor rights.

That's a very important thing for us to understand right now, because it affects the kinds of proposals around immigration reform we support. There's a part of the book that tells the story of the last few years. It tries to connect this systemic analysis of the global economy, displacement, migration and criminalization with the actual on-the-ground proposals that get made in Congress and what attitude unions and immigrant rights organizations have to them.

The book is making an argument here. It's saying that if our goal is justice for working people, especially for migrants, first of all we have to look at the production of migration just as much as we look at U.S. immigration policy. If we look at the way the whole system functions, we can propose alternatives that will actually correspond to the reality that exists, and will have the effect of promoting equality and a better standard of living and less competition among workers, and social and political rights for people. That's why, at the end of the book, we talk about what some of those alternatives are.

The Labor Movement's Stand

ATC: Where do you see the current labor movement in relation to the struggle for immigrant rights?

DB: In 1986, the AFL-CIO supported employer sanctions because it was part of a certain Cold War nativist set of politics that dominated especially the leadership of the labor movement at that time. The argument for employer sanctions in the '86 bill was that if people can't work, they'll leave.

This was an "us and them" argument. The labor movement belongs to us, "us" being native-born people in the United States or people who have some right to be here, and "them" being migrants. There were people in the labor movement, myself among them, who argued and fought against that position at the time. And we lost.

Afterwards, we spent a long time fighting to change the position of the AFL-CIO, and actually the book tells that story too. We were trying to convince the labor movement to reject employer sanctions, to call for their repeal, as well as to call for the legalization of people who were here without papers, and the protection of family unification and other kind of progressive ideas. But the heart of it was employer sanctions.

Ultimately, in 1999, the AFL-CIO had a convention in Los Angeles and we had accumulated enough strength by that time that we were able to win the debate and force the adoption of a new position that called for the repeal of employer sanctions. And that was a big, big victory.

The reason why the labor movement changed its position was partly self-interest. We convinced unions that immigrant workers were some of the people out there who most want to organize and who need unions the most, and that in order to do that we have to remove the law that makes it a crime for people to work, because it gets used against those workers whenever they try to organize.

Also there was a human rights argument that these are violations of the fundamental rights of workers. We have a right to support our families and we need to protect and defend workers, rather than getting on the side of the government or the employers in trying to remove people from their jobs.

The other thing that helped us was that unions had been organizing immigrant workers, and some of those workers have become leaders in different unions in the labor movement. So we had a different voice at a much higher level in 1999 than we did 13 years earlier, and we won that debate.

But I think the reality was that we were not able to take that position and popularize it and make it the property of the rank and file of the labor movement in union after union after union. There were some unions in which there was strong support for that position, and some unions in which we never really convinced people. So that's one problem that we've had since then. There are some unions that have become much more active in opposing what we won.

Now, for instance, there are calls, especially in the building trades on a national level, saying that we should support again the idea of what is called work authorization, which is essentially saying that if people don't have legal status they shouldn't be able to work, and therefore they should be fired or not be allowed to get jobs to begin with - in other words, returning to the employer sanctions position of 1986.

Then there was another set of unions that fought very hard for the change of position in 1999, and afterwards began to get sucked into an alliance with employers in support of these comprehensive immigration bills in Washington. Basically they were arguing that the only way to get legalization for undocumented people was to agree with employers that they could have guest worker programs, and agree with the enforcement lobby to accept increased enforcement of sanctions.

I think that happened partly because, although the change in position in 1999 was sort of a bottom-up movement, the way in which unions go about their legislative work in Washington isn't necessarily under the control of rank-and-file union members. So it was very difficult to oppose those moves from down below.

So we had a split over the last three years in which there were some unions, the AFL-CIO, that continued to support the position that we had won in 1999, and argued against guest worker programs and employer sanctions. And then there were some of the unions that broke off to form the Change to Win federation that supported those comprehensive immigration reform bills.

Currently there is a huge debate over the change that we made in 1999, but also over the relationship that we should have with Congress and the Obama administration, and what's winnable. The question is whether our strategy should be based on what we can win in Congress this year, or whether we should have a longer range movement-building strategy that seeks a much more radical political program, but would take longer to achieve.

ATC: You put forward an alternative vision in the book, the formula "Blacks plus immigrants plus unions equals power," that would challenge the compromise tendencies of the labor movement.

DB: Absolutely. The compromise position - these comprehensive immigration bills - is the result of a certain political alliance: big employers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and so forth; the enforcement lobby, which has gotten stronger in the last few years, especially in Washington; and also Democratic party lobbyists, working for organizations like the National Immigration Forum in Washington. And they crafted these positions. That's why they work the way they do - they represent that set of interests.

So that formulation of "Blacks plus immigrants plus unions equals power" is a way of saying that if we want an alternative, we also have to have a different political alliance that fights for it. The immigrant rights movement and the labor movement need to build an alliance at the bottom among people of color, among workers, among unions.

The chapter takes a look at those instances where that political coalition has been organized and developed and basically says "Take a look, this is what actually creates strength and power for workers rather than an alliance with our employers." As long as we have an alliance with the American Meat Institute, Walmart, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we are never going to have immigration proposals in Congress that are going to do what we want, which is to increase the rights of workers, to help people boost their incomes, to provide real legal status for people, and to prevent employers from turning our immigration system into simply a system for supplying them with cheap labor.

The chapter talks about Sheila Jackson Lee's first immigration bill [member of the House of Representatives from Houston], which said, on the one hand, that anybody who doesn't have legal status should be able to apply for it and get it, like an instant amnesty, and also that the fees that are paid by people when they apply for legal status should be used to set up job creation programs in communities with high unemployment. This is a way of saying that if you pass a bill like this, both African-American communities with high levels of unemployment and undocumented workers are going to get something out of that bill and support it. In other words, an alliance.

I also talk about the alliance in Mississippi between African-American state legislators, who are the most progressive political force in Mississippi, and the immigrant rights organization that they started, the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance. They are looking at the change in demographics in Mississippi and seeing an electoral coalition that combines African Americans, who make up about 33% of registered voters in Mississippi now, plus immigrants, who make up as much as 10% in the next ten years, and unions, who can bring even progressive white workers into an alliance like that.

You can actually create an electoral alliance that would be a majority in Mississippi, which means you could knock out Trent Lott and the current racist power structure that's held power in Mississippi since Reconstruction.

Again, what kind of alternative immigration proposals do you have to make in order to make an alliance like that possible? And also, by implication, what kind of proposals are the killers for an alliance like that? For instance, guest worker programs just drive a wedge into that alliance right away, because people who are unemployed start saying "Hey, wait a minute. Why should employers be able to bring workers in while I don't have any job?" Especially at a time of a recession.

It's very interesting that the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance is not only looking at this electoral alliance, but they also have become, on the one hand, the leading opponents of guest worker programs in Mississippi, and there are a lot of them in Mississippi - and also a big defender of guest worker rights. And they have actually had organizing efforts among guest workers themselves in pursuit of their rights.

ATC: Following on from that, what do you think the current economic crisis does to these kinds of movements? Do you see hopeful signs of organizing efforts that build on the marches in 2006, or on things like the recent sit-down at Republic Windows and Doors?

DB: The economic crisis is both a danger and an opportunity. Economic crises in the United States often lead to very nativist reactions by workers here, and that's the danger, that people who are already here look at migrants and see job competitors and say "You're the enemy out there. We need more deportations, more enforcement" and so forth. You certainly hear that. That's what Lou Dobbs makes a living off of.

But I think that economic crisis also can force the consideration of political alternatives that are written off under normal circumstances - things like jobs programs. If you had tried proposing federal job programs two years ago, people would have told you "Well, that's such a violation of the rules in the free market that it will never be considered by Congress."

Yet here we are with the Obama administration proposing these economic stimulus packages, which in some ways are indirect jobs programs. And I suspect that these stimulus packages are not going to work, so the administration is either going to have to begin developing direct job creation programs as the government did during the New Deal, or move to the right, so there is a big fight coming up for us about that.

But that also has real implications around immigration, because we can say that if everybody has the right to work, we don't need to be afraid of each other and to view each other as competitors. And to have a real right to work we have to remove the law that says that working is a crime for some people.

In terms of hopeful things, I think that first of all there are things happening on the ground that show that workers are willing to fight for something better, even in bad economic times. Republic Windows and Doors was a really good example. In this country, occupying the workplace is still viewed as something that is a very traumatic and drastic step, and so the fact that we had workers who were willing to do that is good.

Then I think there are organizing drives in which you can see a political alliance developing between African Americans and immigrants, which I think is very important. One I'm really thinking about is Smithfield, and the organizing drive that went on there for 16 years. Workers finally won because of their ability to reach across those race lines and national lines and form a common alliance which brought the union in.

I also think that in some ways when Obama announced the other day that he was willing to put immigration reform on the table in Congress this year, that's a good sign too. It's like saying "Let's face reality. This is a real social problem we have here. We have to deal with it."

I think that what the administration is supporting right now is very negative, because they are still stuck in that comprehensive immigration reform context, and so the challenge is to see if we can't break them out of it, build an organized movement for something better, but that's an opening that I think we have to learn how to use.

An Upturn in Struggle

ATC: Would that be more likely if there were another wave of immigrant rights marches?

DB: That would certainly help. We have to make the demands visible. And the marches certainly did that. And it would be a really good sign this year if the May Day marches were widespread and had a lot of people in them. But I don't measure the strength of any movement just on the basis of how many people go out into the street on one day.

I also think we'll see how sophisticated the immigrant rights movement is in terms of being able to propose an alternative to what is coming at us from Washington. We already know now what the proposal is from Washington and surprise, surprise it's the same as the one that's been on the table for the last three years.

But I see a growing unanimity and a growing maturity in the immigrant rights movement and in certain sections of the labor movement about what an alternative really is. Legalization, repeal employer sanctions, end the militarization on the border. We'll see whether or not that alternative becomes an actual bill in Congress. But I think it's possible. I think that there is enough support for it around the country. It's just going to take a lot of fighting to do it, that's all.

ATC: As a final question, one of the really powerful things about Illegal People is the personal accounts of migration and work experience and political activism. How much was that a starting point for how you wrote the book?

DB: Well, that's what I do as a journalist; I go out there and I interview people, I try and tell their story. And I think the challenge for doing the kind of journalism I do is to listen really carefully to what people say, and to help people tell the stories of what has happened to them and what they have done about it. I think that people are not just passive victims. They also have very creative ideas about how to act in a way that fights for rights and social justice.

Then I try to connect that with these larger questions, and so the book has both of these elements in it. It kind of goes back and forth the whole time, so we'll tell the story of Luz Dominguez, at the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Emeryville, and then talk about employer sanctions and how employer sanctions works and where it came from and who wants it.

In a way, the part of doing this that I really enjoy the most is being able to talk to people and to hear what they have to say, and trying to reflect that in the writing. It's closest to what I used to do as an organizer, because that's what good organizers do. You spend a lot of your time listening to people and then trying to figure out how to interact with what people are telling you in a way that helps to build organization to change people's situations.

And I also like hearing about people's family history, because ideas come from somewhere, right? For example, Luz's compañera, Marcela Melquiades, talked about her father having been a union activist in Mexico City, and about where she got her ideas on social justice. Those are the kinds of things I try and listen for, and that also help to give people multiple dimensions.

It's hard to do that as a journalist, because you are always fighting against space limitations. I really enjoyed the book because there was space to present people as the more complex human beings that they are, even within the context of having a book that's essentially about politics.

Just given the C.L.R. James Award for best book of 2007-2008 by the Working Class Studies Association:
Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants
From Beacon Press:

For more articles and images on immigration, see

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)

David Bacon, Photographs and Stories