Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Obama is to Blame for the Failure of Immigration Reform

Interesting analysis by Charles Kuck passed out by Anotonio Gonzalez of the Latino Voter League.

There has been a lot of casting of blame for this last weekend's vote against a sensible and compassionate immigration bill that would have given hope and a future to hundreds of thousands of immigrant children. Most of the pointing fingers direct blame at the Republicans for their "filibuster" of the DREAM Act. Without dispute the Republicans have, in fact, adopted a virulent anti-immigration position that will ultimately lead to minority status for the party. But Republicans are not the reason the DREAM Act failed. Everyone knew that Republicans would not vote for the DREAM Act. The only three Republicans who did vote for the DREAM Act either are leaving Congress or do not have a concern about the right wing of the party. So, if the Republicans are not to blame, who is? President Obama and the Democrats. Really.

Here are 5 reasons why President Obama is to blame for the failure of immigration reform.

1. Five Democratic Senators abandoned the party and voted against the DREAM Act. One other Democratic Senator was attending a Christmas Party. There is no evidence whatsoever that the White House made a single call to these Senators to secure their votes. The DREAM Act was 5 votes short of breaking the "filibuster" and passing cloture. That math is simple enough, no? If these Senators did what their party wanted and needed them to do, the DREAM Act passes. It appears someone dropped the ball.

2. If Democrats were serious about the DREAM Act, why not MAKE the Republicans actually conduct a filibuster? Make than talk ad nausea until the end of the session or until the American public grows tired of the obstructionism?

3. How many speeches did President Obama give endorsing the DREAM Act? None as near as I can find. Yes, he mentioned the DREAM Act on a couple of occasions in other contexts and his Spokesman Robert Gibbs referred to it in press briefings. But, we all saw that when President Obama wants something passed he ADVOCATES for it. Take the Health Care bill for example. How many times did President Obama give speeches urging, demanding, cajoling for passage of the Health Care bill? Oh, about a jillion. Every day in the months leading up to the vote in the Congress there was President Obama on CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, giving a speech surrounded by uninsured people in urgent need of health care. He was constantly meeting with wavering Senators. Don't you think that had something to do with the passage of the bill? Where was he on Immigration Reform in the fall? One speech! Where has he been for the last two months on the DREAM Act? Missing in action.

4. Enforcement priorities--President Obama has deported more people than President Bush. Period. The theory for the Obama Administration is that if we just enforce the law enough the Republicans will support comprehensive immigration reform. And, advocacy groups allowed President Obama to get away with this strange, irrational theory of enforcement. President Obama is bringing Secure Communities to a police station near you. President Obama is putting employers out of business for not properly dotting all their "i's" and crossing all their "t's " on the worlds most complicated form, the Form I-9. President Obama is opening more private prisons and putting non-criminal foreign nationals in detention centers far removed from their families, lawyers and the real world in an effort to get these folks to give up and not fight their removal. President Obama is unwilling to put forward a working plan for immigration reform, leaving it up to the anti-immigrant crowd to provide Congress draft legislation for doing so.

Had enough? Not yet? Okay

5. Adjudicatory Processes--President Obama is allowing USCIS to adopt crazy, unrealistic, anti-business, extra-regulatory requirements for visas which have long served America well, such as the H-1B, the L-1B, the E-2, and even the EB-5 Investor Visas! USCIS is ramping up the "FDNS" or the "fraud unit," in an attempt to FIND fraud where none exists. These fraud units, which operate without the ability to prosecute actual perpetrators of fraud, appear to trying to find work to do, rather than actually addressing a real need. Meanwhile, USCIS delays adjudication of cases such as the H-1B to force employers to pay the "premium processing" fee of $1,225, which is nothing short of extortion. USCIS raises fees without raising the quality of services, or shortening the adjudicatory process. USCIS continues to delay the processing of FOIA requests and continues to withhold relevant information in direct contradiction to President Obama's first executive order on government openness.

I could go on, but why? President Obama and his administration has shown no desire to actually fix the immigration system America suffers under at this time. He has shown no leadership on the immigration issue. President Obama has not lived up to his campaign promises to immigrants, and Latinos specifically. And yet, President Obama and the Democrats keep coming back to the immigrant well asking for their support in the next election with the promise that if they get reelected they will finally "fix" the broken immigration system.

The reality is it is time for voters who want the immigration system fixed to better serve America, make legality the norm, create greater national security, and reduce illegal immigration to either hold the Democrats and President Obama directly responsible for their failures to date, or somehow get the Republicans to withdraw from their current anti-immigration position. Otherwise, Hispanic, Asian, African and other new immigrant voters may have no one to carry their views on immigration to successful legislation for many years to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fields of tears

TERESA VEGA’S first son was two when a flood carried rubbish, dead animals and disease through the canals of Oaxaca, her desperately poor home state in southern Mexico. The boy started vomiting, got diarrhoea and ran a fever. There was a doctor a few hours’ walk away, but Ms Vega and her husband, Marco Lopez, had no money to pay him. They could do nothing, she says. They watched their son die.

Ms Vega now says this event is the reason for everything she and her husband have done since. When they had another son, Erminio, they decided that they had to make money in case he also fell ill. But Oaxaca offered them no jobs, save for a bit of maize-harvesting every July. Teresa’s younger brother Felix had already left for America to find work in California’s fruit and vegetable fields. In 2005, seeing no alternative, Ms Vega and her husband set out to follow.

Little Erminio would not have survived the journey, so Ms Vega and her husband had to leave him behind, in the care of Mr Lopez’s father. Erminio was one at the time. That was the last time Ms Vega saw him. Now 26, though she looks a decade older, she knew she was running another risk, because she was seven months pregnant again. But she and her husband made their way north nonetheless. Then came the crossings.

The crossings—invariably plural, because most attempts fail, leading to deportations and renewed attempts—are a seminal event in virtually all the stories of the undocumented farmworkers who labour in America’s fields. The border is their threshold and their first glimpse of El Norte, the promised land in the north.

But for la migra, as they call America’s immigration and border officials, it’s “like catching deer,” says Felix. He and his wife and cousins, six in total, were deported three times before succeeding at the fourth attempt, and the humiliations at the hand of la migra still sting.

Everyone’s quarry

Once they walked all night through the desert of Arizona, slashing themselves on fences of barbed wire and running out of water, before border-patrol agents ambushed them. The agents tied them up, shouted at them, threw them into a van and then into a freezing jail, where they slept on a bare floor for several nights until enough migrants had been rounded up to fill a bus that took them back to the Mexican side.

On another crossing Mexican bandits waylaid them. They pointed guns, stole their food and stripped them naked. Because the Vegas speak an indigenous language called Mixtec and understand little Spanish (and no English), Mr Vega’s wife and the other women did not understand the bandits and feared they would be raped. They were not, but then had to cross the frigid night desert without clothes, food or water, until la migra caught them again.

Gonzalo Vega, yet another cousin, made the trip with his wife, five months pregnant, and his two younger brothers, who were seven and ten at the time. He carried all their water and food, but the children struggled. After a day and two nights of walking they were desperate for sleep, but Gonzalo didn’t let them rest in the freezing cold lest they not wake up again. He could not light a fire, because la migra would have seen it.

They threw themselves into ditches whenever the border patrol’s SUVs approached. Once Mr Vega’s wife fell hard onto her bulging belly. The worst moment came when la migra caught them again, beat Gonzalo and threatened to take his brothers away from him. When the family was allowed to remain together, even the cold jail floor felt good, he recalls. Gonzalo’s group succeeded on the fifth try.

If and when the border is crossed, the paved but hostile vastness of America is the next challenge. Usually a family member already on the other side will pick the migrants up in a car. Many then make their way to the farm towns of California.

Often they take the same roads on which the “Okies” travelled en masse in the 1930s as they fled the depressed dust bowl of Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas to seek a living in California. These Okies are for ever etched into America’s psyche as the Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath”. Comparing the Mexicans who toil California’s fields to the Okies in John Steinbeck’s classic novel is a staple of the Latino left. That does not make it any less accurate. Joads then and Vegas now are pushed by the same need, pulled by the same promise. Now as then, there is no clearing house for jobs in the fields, so the migrants follow tips and rumours. Often, like the Joads, they end up in the right places at the wrong times. Felix Vega and three of his group, including his wife, were dropped off in Oxnard, famous for its strawberries. But they arrived out of season, so they slept on the streets, then in a doghouse, then in somebody’s car. For two months they did not bathe and barely ate. Finally, they found jobs picking strawberries and made their first money in America.

And thus they joined the vast undocumented workforce that undergirds America’s food supply. The government estimates that more than 80% of America’s crop workers are Hispanic (mostly Mexican), and more than half are illegal aliens. But Rob Williams, the director of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (which represents farmworkers in court), considers those numbers grossly misleading because they rely on self-reporting. He estimates that more than 90% of farmworkers are sin papeles (without papers), just as the Vegas are.

The price of strawberries

The devil’s work

Farm work has, for most crops, become no easier since Steinbeck’s day. Strawberries, the crop the Vegas started out with, are nicknamed la fruta del diablo (the devil’s fruit) because pickers have to bend over all day. “Hot weather is bad,” says Felix Vega, but “cold is worse” because it makes the back pain unbearable. Even worse is sleet or rain, which turns the field into a lake of mud. The worst is picking while having the flu.

Every crop exacts its own particular discomfort, as this correspondent discovered on an August day picking grapes in the very part of the San Joaquin Valley where Steinbeck’s Joad family looked for work. Working with two Mexican brothers and a young Mexican couple, he cut the grapes, collected them in tubs and periodically dumped them into a wagon pulled by a tractor.

The lanes between vines are exactly as wide as the tractor, so the little group had to duck into and underneath the vines all day long. They crawled alongside the tractor, trying to avoid having their feet run over. Within hours this correspondent’s shins were bleeding as the wagon’s metal protrusions slammed into them, which seemed unavoidable. With an encouraging smile, a co-worker pulled up a trouser leg to reveal his own scarred shin.

Because the pickers were squatting or kneeling under the vines and twisting to reach up for the grapes (the low-hanging fruit proving the trickiest), their necks and shoulders were soon in agony. Standing up to relieve their backs thrust their heads into the vines, which are covered in pesticides. There are many cases of birth defects and cancer in the families of farmworkers. But as the heat climbed above 100°F (about 40°C), the vines, soaked in toxins or not, became allies. The air underneath them is stagnant, as in a sauna, but their foliage is the only available shade.

Just as the heat threatened to overwhelm this correspondent, the woman in the group broke into a slow Mexican song, which somehow helped. But heatstroke is common in the fields. In 2008 Maria Isavel Vasquez Jiminez, a 17-year-old Mexican girl who was pregnant, collapsed while picking grapes and died two days later.

Hungry amid food

As Tom Joad in Steinbeck’s novel discovered, many farmworkers, even as they spend their waking hours picking food for others, can barely afford to eat. Between harvests they have no work. When they do work, their wages are meagre. The workers picking grapes with this correspondent got $8 an hour. That is vastly superior to the $9 a day—not hour—which the tractor driver says he used to get at home in Mexico. But costs in the United States are higher too.

Teresa Vega makes about $65 a day during the strawberry season, as does her husband. But they now have two daughters living with them, Luisa, four, and Maritza, two. So Ms Vega must, perversely, hire a babysitter while she is working. That costs $50 a day.

Most of what remains pays their rent for a trailer in Watsonville, just outside Steinbeck’s home town of Salinas. The trailer is dilapidated, but Ms Vega tends to it lovingly. By the door hangs a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. There is even a small television set.

But the trailer has no air conditioning or heating. On this day, after a downpour, it smells musty. Teresa explains, in Mixtec through her brother’s translation into Spanish, that in the winter Luisa and Maritza are always ill. On the counter that serves as the kitchen there is no fresh food, only a jar of protein powder.

After their expenses, very little is left over for her husband’s blind grandparents in Mexico, for Teresa’s diabetic father and above all for their son Erminio, who was the original reason they came. Western Union, a service that remits cash, takes another painful cut whenever they send money home.

Aside from poverty, the other consequence of being sin papeles is having to live “in the shadows”. This is the difference between today’s Mexicans and yesterday’s Okies, between the Joads and the Vegas (although Tom Joad was also on the run from the law). The Okies were poor, disdained and hungry. But they were American and white, often Scottish-Irish. They could not be deported.

“The hardest part is not being free, not being able to go out,” says Felix Vega. “It’s like being in a jail.” Any contact with official or bureaucratic America might lead to deportation and thus separation from his wife and sons—Victor, seven, and Jesus, four— who were born in America and are thus citizens.

This anxiety extends to every aspect of work and life. In the fields, undocumented workers hardly ever protest when contractors or growers abuse them. Merely getting to the fields and back is risky. Undocumented farmworkers have to drive long distances, but they don’t have driving licences. Any brush with the police is dangerous. Felix Vega stays below the speed limit and comes to a complete halt at stop signs.

His cousin Gonzalo has been pulled over three times—because of “the colour of my skin”, he thinks. Like many indigenous Mexicans from Oaxaca, the Vegas are short, squat and dark. Last time the cop claimed that Gonzalo’s tyre had touched the centre line as he was driving. Local police are not supposed to enforce immigration law, which is a federal matter, but they can impound the cars of drivers without licences, so they took Gonzalo’s. He had to pay a $1,580 fine, then to buy a new car for $1,500. The expense set his finances back by years.

In Steinbeck’s novel, “the migrant people, scuttling for work, scrabbling to live, looked always for pleasure, dug for pleasure, manufactured pleasure,” often of a boisterous sort. For undocumented migrants, however, those pleasures are not available, for they might attract attention.

On those Sundays when he is not working, Felix Vega goes to church, then walks with his sons to a public park. Beyond that, he stays off the streets. He has never been to a cinema. Nor to a hospital: when family members get sick, they use folk remedies. His sister Teresa, who lives quite a distance away, hardly ever lets her girls play outside. Luisa and Maritza spend almost all of their time in the trailer, on the mattress that completely fills the far end of it and serves as a family bed and playpen.

Gonzalo Vega and his wife and daughters—Diana, two, and Esbeide, ten months—live in a single room with one mattress and one chair. He used to let Diana (with whom his wife was pregnant during their crossing) play outside. But then the American neighbours, who seem generally hostile, complained about noise and threatened to call the cops. “It’s always the same: they have papers and we don’t,” he sighs. So now Diana stays inside and is told to keep quiet.

Gonzalo’s younger brothers—the two he brought over the border—live in another town. They spend almost all their time studying, Gonzalo says, because he has told them that the best students might get papers and become legal. He knows that might not be true, he says, but it keeps them out of trouble.

Yet a life without pleasures is not a life without joys. For the Vegas, the children are the joys. Felix’s older son, Victor, is trilingual in Mixtec, Spanish and English and has the naughty cheek of a boy who is legal. He goes to a nearby state school. Felix, beaming with pride, worries that its classes are too crowded and its teachers bad, sounding like any middle-class American parent.

“I don’t hate Americans,” says Felix. “Some are racist, but there are racists in Mexico, too.” Here in America, he says, those Latinos who have papers sometimes discriminate against them more than the gavachos (non-Hispanic whites) do.

But all the Vegas feel hated much of the time. Some people hurl racial slurs at them, give them dirty looks or call them “wetbacks”, a term of abuse recalling someone who has just swum the Rio Grande. Felix Vega says that the mood has become noticeably more hostile this year, perhaps because a controversial state law in Arizona has legitimised such animosity. That law, parts of which have been suspended by a federal judge, would make illegal immigration a state crime and oblige local police to enforce it.

Its fans correctly call the Vegas and their ilk “illegals”. This is often taken to mean “criminal”, yet being in the United States illegally is actually a civil offence; it is the illegal crossing that is a criminal offence. The migrants and their sympathisers therefore prefer “without papers” or “undocumented”. “They think we’re criminals, but we came here to do good and we’re all children of God,” says Felix Vega, touching the cross around his neck.

The stolen jobs no one wants

At a time of high unemployment, many Americans are convinced that these aliens take American jobs. As a test, this summer the United Farm Workers (UFW), the main agricultural union, launched a campaign called “Take Our Jobs”, inviting willing Americans to work in the fields. In the following three months 3m people visited, but 40% of the responses were hate mail, says Maria Machuca, UFW’s spokesman. This included e-mails such as one reading: “We’re becoming more aggressive in our methods. Soon it may come to hands on, taping bitches to light posts.”

Only 8,600 people expressed an interest in working in the fields, says Ms Machuca. But they made demands that seem bizarre to farmworkers, such as high pay, health and pension benefits, relocation allowances and other things associated with normal American jobs. In late September only seven American applicants in the “Take our jobs” campaign were actually picking crops.

That was the point, says Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW’s president. America’s farm jobs, which are excluded from almost all federal and state labour regulations, are not normal jobs. Americans refuse to do them. The argument about stolen jobs is “just a façade” for a coarser scapegoating, says Mr Rodriguez, and “we demonstrate the hypocrisy.”

Teresa, Felix and Gonzalo Vega only nod sadly when asked about the rancour, the Arizona law, the politics. They feel they had no choice in coming illegally. Would they do it again? “No, not if I had known what lay ahead,” says Felix. But after a silence, he corrects himself. Yes, he would, because even though he doesn’t think he’ll ever get papers, he has two sons who are American and could be lawyers or writers one day, living openly.

Teresa Vega is the most reticent. She admits that her “plan didn’t work”. She hears that Erminio, at home in Oaxaca, is not doing well. He is often ill. “He needs love” and doesn’t get enough, she says. But then she, too, reverses herself. She always thinks of her first son, the one who died because she had no money to save him. Yes, she would come again.

People like the Vegas will always keep coming, no matter the fences that go up on the border and the helicopters that circle above. For they are like the Joads. As Steinbeck wrote: “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him—he has known a fear beyond every other.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Utah Compact

Not all the political news this year involves the rise of partisan extremism and government by rage. There has been lots of that. But maybe there is a limit, a point when people of good sense and good will band together to say no. As they have just done in Utah.

Political, business, law-enforcement and religious leaders there have endorsed what they call the Utah Compact. It is a statement of principles meant to address, with moderation and civility, “the complex challenges associated with a broken national immigration system.” What a welcome contrast it draws with the xenophobic radicalism of places like Arizona.

The signers, who hope to influence the shape of state immigration policy, include the mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, the state attorney general, two Republican former governors, a former United States senator, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, the Chamber of Commerce and a host of other civic groups and citizens. The prominent and powerful Mormon Church did not sign on but issued a “statement of support” calling the compact “a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform.”

A clearer expression of good sense and sanity than Utah’s would be hard to find. It says immigration is an issue between the federal government and other countries — “not Utah and other countries.” It says local police agencies should focus on fighting crime, “not civil violations of federal code.” Because “strong families are the foundation of successful communities,” it opposes policies that unnecessarily separate them. It recognizes immigrants’ value as workers and taxpayers.

It ends by urging a humane approach to the reality of immigration: “Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of good will.”

South of Utah in Arizona, the political establishment, top law-enforcement officers and voters have lined up behind a radical go-it-alone strategy to uproot and terrorize unwanted immigrants. That hard-line fever is spreading, with lawmakers in other states scrambling to pass their versions of the infamous Arizona law that empowers the police to demand people’s papers.

Immigration hard-liners are used to using the harshest words possible for newcomers, and condemning calls for restraint and humane behavior — as the Utah Minutemen already have — as the same old liberal, pro-amnesty mush. But red-state Utah is nobody’s idea of an open-borders fantasyland. The architects of the compact are conservative Republicans who have simply decided not to toe the simplistic party line.

This page has always insisted that reform can be — must be — pro-immigrant, pro-business, pro-family, pro-law-enforcement, all at the same time. These values are complementary. Law enforcement is strengthened by bolstering immigrants’ rights. Assimilation is more American than mass expulsion. It is also cheaper: a new study by the liberal Center for American Progress calculated that Arizona had lost hundreds of millions of dollars in convention and other business, thanks to the notoriety from its immigration crackdown.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mexico: “Failed States,” New Wars, Resistance

Death and pain for so many victims in the length and breadth of the country. Meaningless deaths for no reason. Unpunished deaths. Deaths and also—again—the whip of forced disappearances.

—Rosario Ibarra, March 28, 2010

So that drugs will not get to your children…WE ARE KILLING THEM.

—(New Slogan of the Federal Government)
Censored cartoon after Mexican soldiers killed two children, April 2010

A social volcano is bubbling in Mexico. Nearly half the country’s eligible voters showed their disgust with the country’s political parties by staying away from the polls in the off-year elections of July 2010. All the major political parties have become neoliberal and corrupt. Broad-based social movements are resisting a right-wing offensive, which, building on twenty-eight years of neoliberal economic policies, has led to the country’s increasing militarization. Following the 2006 fraudulent election of Felipe Calderón,1 a reign of terror was unleashed by means of his unconstitutional, self-declared “war” ostensibly against drug cartels involved in bloody internecine strife.2

Neoliberalism’s gradual economic genocide has caused countless premature deaths and generated humiliating poverty for three-fourths of the population. Many in the intermediate classes have been pushed down into the ranks of the poor; hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs, as “flex labor” and union-busting become the norm; and millions have been emigrating.3 State enterprises have been privatized, and almost everything, including humanity itself, has been converted into marketable commodities for the profits of big business. The economic agony of the masses has generated a growing resistance: guerrilla wars and local nonviolent uprisings.

Washington looks on these events with baleful eyes and oils its guns. After all, Mexico is the second trading partner of the United States and the third largest provider of the black gold to the northern giant.

U.S. Intervention

For decades, Washington has been pouring military aid into Mexico. In 2008 there were six thousand U.S. troops on the Mexican border, and in 2010 President Barack Obama decided to send more. The U.S. side of the border is militarized, as it was back before and during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 and periodically since then. Drones fly routine flights over Mexican soil. In the United States, video games show American troops invading Mexico.

Keep reading here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ariz. immigration law strains U.S.-Latin America relations

By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY

When Arizona passed a law in April allowing police to conduct roadside immigration checks, Mexican officials blasted the law as a prejudiced attack against its citizens in the state. That condemnation has spread throughout Latin America.

Ambassador Luis Gallegos of Ecuador presented the law Nov. 5 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, which sends recommendations to nations to improve rights. Gallegos said they were extremely concerned that the Arizona law would lead to widespread stereotyping of both legal and illegal immigrants. The council included it in the recommendations it sent to the U.S. State Department. Ecuador is one of 10 Latin American countries that signed on to a brief opposing the law in a federal lawsuit challenging Arizona's rule.

State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said the law has impacted relations between the United States and Latin American countries, becoming a topic of discussion "in all our interactions" with those nations.

"The countries in Latin America are already perceiving some distance and disengagement from the U.S.," said Mauricio Cardenas, director of the Latin American Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "(The Arizona law) makes Latin America more and more interested in developing stronger relations with other parts of the world."

The law, known as S.B. 1070, requires Arizona's 15,000 police officers to determine the immigration status of suspects they've pulled over, detained or arrested if there is a "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally.

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit challenging the law, arguing that immigration enforcement is strictly a federal responsibility. A federal judge halted the core aspects of it, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, is appealing. Lawyers made oral arguments in the case before the 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Nov. 1.

The judges allowed Mexico to file a "friend of the court" brief arguing against the law, and nine other countries signed on. The countries argue that the law harms their citizens living and working in Arizona and could hurt "bilateral economic, immigration and security policies" between the United States and those countries.

Brewer has said the state law was necessary to combat the constant flow of illegal immigrants that has been ignored by the federal government. After the appeals court allowed the Latin American countries to weigh in on the lawsuit, she objected, saying the dispute should be resolved internally.

"I fervently believe that arguments by a foreign government have no place in a U.S. legal proceeding," she said in a statement. "Arizonans strongly believe, in a bipartisan fashion, that foreign nations should not be meddling in an internal legal dispute between the United States and one of its states."

The outcome of that lawsuit could go a long way toward determining how much of an impact the Arizona law, and similar bills that will be considered in more than a dozen state legislatures around the country, would have on U.S. relations with Latin America.

Gallegos said more laws similar to Arizona's will cause significant concern.

"My basic question is, are we going to have a more protectionist United States that is more inclined to discriminating and persecuting groups like the migrants?" Gallegos said in an interview from Geneva. "We would hope that the federal government would be wise enough to enact a law which encompasses these issues."

A senior official with the Brazilian Embassy who was not authorized to be quoted by name said that country's relationship with the United States has not been harmed because the Obama administration has not only spoken out against the law but initiated the lawsuit that halted its implementation.

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, worries that Obama's stance on the law may not be enough to soothe other countries.

"I'm sure that Mexico is happy that the Obama administration is challenging these laws. But I'm not sure they're persuaded that the Obama administration is in control," Alden said. "The worry is that the states are going to start driving the bus, too."

Alden said it's the latest in a long line of slights to the region that started with the Bush administration and has continued under Obama.

He pointed to the collapse of a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would have lowered trade barriers among Western Hemisphere countries similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Individual trade agreements between the United States and Colombia and Panama have been unable to clear Congress.

Alden said Bush and Obama have added to the "militarization" of the southwest border. The number of Customs and Border Patrol agents has increased from 9,000 to 20,000 since 2000, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The Obama administration recently boasted of setting a record for the number of people deported — more than 392,000 in fiscal year 2010, according to Homeland Security.

"If you put (the Arizona law) on top of all that, it's the latest in a pretty long series," Alden said.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'Birthright Citizenship' Will Be Target of House GOP Majority

WASHINGTON — As one of its first acts, the new Congress will consider denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States.

Those children, who are now automatically granted citizenship at birth, will be one of the first targets of the Republican-led House when it convenes in January.

GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, is expected to push a bill that would deny "birthright citizenship" to such children.

The measure, assailed by critics as unconstitutional, is an indication of how the new majority intends to flex its muscles on the volatile issue of illegal immigration.

The idea has a growing list of supporters, including Republican Reps. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Dan Lungren of Gold River, but it has aroused intense opposition, as well.

"I don't like it," said Chad Silva, statewide policy analyst for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. "It's been something that's been a part of America for a very long time. … For us, it sort of flies in the face of what America is about."

Republicans, Silva said, are "going in there and starting to monkey with the Constitution."

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, guarantees citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States. It was intended to make sure that children of freed slaves were granted U.S. citizenship.

While opponents say King's bill would clearly be unconstitutional, backers say the 14th Amendment would not apply. The amendment states that anyone born in the United States and "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" is a citizen.

King said the amendment would not apply to the children of illegal immigrants because their parents should not be in the country anyway. He said immigration law should not create incentives for people to enter the country illegally and that it's creating an "anchor baby industry."

"Many of these illegal aliens are giving birth to children in the United States so that they can have uninhibited access to taxpayer-funded benefits and to citizenship for as many family members as possible," King said.

An estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were the children of undocumented immigrants, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center done last year.

The issue is dividing Republicans, too.

"We find both this rhetoric and this unconstitutional conduct reprehensible, insulting and a poor reflection upon Republicans," DeeDee Blasé, the founder of Somos Republicans, a Latino GOP organization based in the Southwestern states, said in a letter to House Republican leaders.

Silva said the Republican plan is "not the fix," adding that the citizenship of children born to immigrants was never an issue during the immigration tide at the turn of the 20th century and that it shouldn't be now.

"That's our strength," he said. "And to start splitting hairs like that will only make the immigration issue worse."

Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento called King's plan "both unconstitutional and shortsighted."

"The 14th Amendment to the Constitution grants American citizenship to anyone born on American soil," she said. "I firmly believe we must reform the current immigration system, but we need to do so comprehensively with policies that respect our nation's history, strengthen our borders, and help our economy."

McClintock outlined his position last summer in a rebuttal to a newspaper editorial: "If illegal immigration is to be rewarded with birthright citizenship, public benefits and amnesty, it becomes impossible to maintain our immigration laws and the process of assimilation that they assure," he wrote.

McClintock noted that the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France and India have all changed their laws in recent years to require that at least one parent be a legal resident for the child to become a legal citizen.

Lungren, who served as California's attorney general from 1990 to 1998 introduced a similar bill in 2007, but it did not pass the House, which was controlled by Democrats at the time.

His bill called for defining what "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" means. Lungren proposed that the clause would apply to any person born to a parent who is a citizen, a legal alien or an alien serving in the military.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Texas Legislature Immigration curbs appear a sure thing, observers say

More than a dozen immigration-related bills have been filed for the legislative session starting Jan. 11. More are expected.

HB 17 - Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball: Creates a Class B misdemeanor offense of criminal trespass against an immigrant who enters or remains in the state of Texas illegally. A law enforcement officer may arrest a person if the officer believes the person is not in the county legally and the officer is acting on a reasonable suspicion that the person is committing or has committed another offense.

HB 21 - Rep. Riddle: Requires state agencies to report how much they spent directly or indirectly for services to persons who were not legally in the state of Texas.

HB 22 - Rep. Riddle: Requires public schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of each student when that child first enrolls in the school.

HB 177 - Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton: Requires applicants for a driver's license, commercial driver's license or a personal identification certificate to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or document authorizing that person to be in the United States.

HB 178 - Rep. Jackson: Requires state, county and city governments to use E-verify, an Internet-based system, to determine the eligibility of new employees. (Similar to SB 84/Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville.)

HB 183 - Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton: Requires law enforcement agencies to verify with 48 hours the immigration status of someone arrested.

HB 202 - Rep. Solomons: Requires state contractors to participate in E-verify. A state agency may not award a contract for goods or services to a contractor unless the contractor and subcontractor uses the program. (Similar to HB140/Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker)

SB 126 - Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston: Requires law enforcement officers to ask about the lawful presence of any person who is lawfully stopped, detained or arrested on other grounds if the officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is not here legally. The officer may arrest the person if he or she has probable cause to believe the person is not here legally. The officer must identify and report the person to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement after any arrest.

SB 124 - Sen. Patrick: Prohibits cities from adopting sanctuary policies and enabling illegal immigration. (Similar to HB 18/Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball and HB 113/Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring)

A crackdown on illegal immigration seems certain to emerge from next year's legislative session, both politicians and observers say, but what any law would entail will depend on how fatigued and acrimonious lawmakers are when the bill comes to the forefront.

"There's a high probability that something will pass," Austin political consultant Bill Miller said, "but what that something is and what it does is a whole different ball game."

Conservative grass-roots activists have clamored for reform, and Republicans dramatically widened their majority in the Texas House and maintained their dominance in the Senate in last week's elections.

Lawmakers have already filed a handful of bills targeting illegal immigration. They range from requiring government agencies to verify employees' work status to bills that are similar to a controversial provision of Arizona's immigration law — which a federal judge has temporarily blocked — allowing police to arrest someone they suspect is here illegally.

Almost all bills change significantly as they wend through the legislative process, but immigration will have more forces pushing and pulling it than others. It faces opposition from the business community and with legal challenges to Arizona's law still pending, it's unclear what states can do about illegal immigration.

It also will share the stage with other contentious issues — such as the budget deficit, redistricting and voter ID.

Many controversial bills have been killed by maneuvering on the House floor and a rule in the Senate that requires approval from two-thirds of senators to bring a bill up for debate. Republican senators, however, brushed that rule aside in 2009 in an effort to push a voter ID bill through the chamber.

Costs to businesses
The Texas GOP also expanded its House majority, limiting Democrats' options.

The business community will likely fight legislation, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein, especially if the economy begins to improve.

"To the guy who's running that small business, the roofer, the cementer, that's a cheap labor force that he can hire up that's non-union and he can use to make a recovery," Stein said.

Texas businesses — particularly in the hospitality, agriculture and construction industries — rely on immigrant labor, said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. Legislation seen as discriminatory could hurt Texas' tourism and convention business, he said.

The illegal immigration issue should be handled at the national level, he said.

Looming over any immigration legislation is the pending legal challenge of Arizona's law. A federal judge temporarily has blocked provisions of that law on the grounds that immigration enforcement is the federal government's jurisdiction. Even if the law survives that challenge, it is certain to face later challenges on the grounds that it is discriminatory, said Scot Powe, a law professor at at UT-Austin.

"You need an example of an American citizen or somebody with a green card being improperly hassled under the law to bring that challenge, and I think that challenge is an ironclad winner," Powe said.

Law enforcement burden
Gov. Rick Perry said he will not comment on the merits of legislation that has not reached his desk. Speaking in San Antonio Tuesday, Perry said he has concerns about Arizona's law because it puts new burdens on law enforcement, but said he thinks the state was well within its rights when it passed the bill.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said a bill he filed avoids putting an unnecessary burden on police.

Patrick's bill would require police to ask anyone stopped for another offense whether they are in Texas legally if they have a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is here illegally. Patrick said law enforcement agencies wanted that question to be required, instead of being optional, to avoid complaints of profiling.

His bill would give law enforcement the discretion to arrest a person - with reasonable suspicion, Patrick said.

"The focus of my bill is to identify the bad guys and to get the bad guys off the street and turned over to (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)," Patrick said.

A large flow of conservative legislation, including immigration bills, will come from House Republicans and Senate Democrats should not have "a de facto veto over conservative legislation," Patrick said. The 31-seat Senate has 19 Republicans, just shy of the two-thirds required to bring a bill up for debate.

"What's the point of being in the majority as Republicans if we are going to allow a handful of Democrats to stop the will of the majority of the people?" Patrick asked.

Immigration will be "the emotional, divisive issue of the session," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Van de Putte said she does not sense any strong movement to suspend the two-thirds rule, which she noted protected Republicans in the past during big Democratic majorities.

Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, is not so sure. While he thinks a law like Arizona's would be unconstitutional and divisive, Castro said Democrats will have a hard time blocking it.

"I think Republicans are dead set on passing Arizona-style legislation," Castro said, "and I think they have the numbers to pass it."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Results Show Latino Republicans Don't Have a Latino Constituency

9 November 2010
Results Show Latino Republicans Don't Have a Latino Constituency
By Rodolfo de la Garza

It's A Free Country
Monday, November 08, 2010 - 12:00 PM

The Tea Party Republican electoral triumph resulted in changing the Latino political map. With the exception of Henry Bonilla, a Republican elected to Congress from San Antonio in 1999, it had been almost a century since Latino Republicans had won major contests in states other than Florida. In 2010, they elected two Congressmen in Texas, one in Washington and Idaho and governors in New Mexico and Nevada.
Additionally, they continued to win major contests in Florida. They elected Mel Martinez to the U.S. Senator in 2004. He resigned in 2009, and in 2010 Marcos Rubio was elected to fill Martinez's seat. Latino TPRs also retained control of three Congressional seats, which Cuban Republicans consider their fief. In total, there will be 7 Latino TPRs in Congress and one in the Senate in the 112th Congress.
Republicans have long asserted that Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it. Their claim is based on the assumption that Latino cultural values such as strong Christian beliefs and family ties translate into support for the Republican political agenda. Beginning with the Bush campaign of 2000, the Republican Party has pursued the Latino vote. Their efforts yielded little more than a substantial increase in the support Texas Latinos gave President Bush in 2004. Even there, however, he received only 40 percent of the Latino vote.
Do the 2010 results indicate that Republicans have finally broken the Democratic hold on Latino voters? How will they affect Latino-Republican relations? Will they enhance Latino political clout?
Despite the numbers, these results provide little evidence that Republican outreach to Latinos had a substantial impact. Overall, Latinos preferred Democratic candidates by a 2 to 1 margin over Republicans. More noteworthy is the pattern evident in Washington, Idaho and Nevada where Latino TPRs produced victories without winning the Latino vote. In Nevada, Brian Sandoval won the governorship despite getting only 33 percent of the Latino vote. (By comparison, 68 percent of Latinos voted for Harry Reid and helped carried him to victory.) In Washington, Jaime Herrera was elected the state's first Latina Congresswoman in a district that is 7 percent Latino where there was no incumbent.
Texas outcomes resemble this pattern. Bill Flores won in a highly conservative district that is only 20 percent Latino. Clearly, he was not elected by Latino voters. Francisco Canseco was elected from a majority Latino district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans, but had still elected a Latino Republican to Congress from 1999 to 2006. Canseco, thus, may be the only 2010 Latino TPR to have needed some Latino support to win.
Contextualizing the results of the election strongly suggest that Latino TPRs are not proof of Latinos abandoning the Democratic Party for the Republicans. These victors fully embrace the TPR agenda including its law-and-order approach to immigration reform and its opposition to using public funds to generate jobs. Research shows the Latino public strongly disagrees with these key TPR positions.
Nonetheless, these victories may be read to suggest that the TPR is not anti-Latino, even though it is hostile to an immigrant-friendly reform of immigration policy. To the contrary, the TRP tent seems open to admitting Latinos as equals so long as they are ideological soulmates. Few Latinos are likely to seek such cover, but its availability is likely to force Democrats to more fully engage issues like immigration reform that disproportionately affect Latinos.
Failing to do so will cause them to lose credibility among Latinos. Losing votes will not be far behind.

Rodolfo de la Garza, a Columbia University professor of Political Science, has studied immigration, political attitudes and voting for over 30 years. He directed the first national political survey of Latinos and has authored, co-authored and edited 18 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and reports on foreign policy, immigration and political attitudes and behavior.

Predator Drones Shift from Battlefield to Border

Predator Drones Shift from Battlefield to Border
Homeland Security Patrols Mexican, Canadian Borders and Caribbean with High-Tech Aircraft Known for Hunting Terrorists
Bob Orr
CBS Evening News
November 9, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

El Paso crime rate down; Homicides noticeably drop

By Daniel Borunda \ EL PASO TIMES
Posted: 11/07/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

El Paso is on pace this year to have its lowest number of homicides in recent history, even as murders continue uncontrolled across the border in Juárez.

With less than two months to go in 2010, crime is down 1 percent overall, officials said. The most startling drop is in homicides.

This year, there have been three homicides in El Paso, including one Saturday. That compares with 10 at this time last year, which ended with a total of 12.

"It is low," Assistant Police Chief Eric Shelton said. "Once again, it is how safe the streets are in El Paso. In general, homicides will occur in areas that are unsafe and I don't believe El Paso has an area that is dangerous."

El Paso has had a low rate of violent crime for more than a decade, but three homicides is low even for the second-safest large city in the nation. The city of El Paso has more than 620,000 residents, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated last year in its most recent population update.

One homicide has occurred in El Paso County outside the city limits, a possible drug-related shooting by masked gunmen at a home in Fabens. The case remains unsolved.

El Paso averaged 16 homicides a year in the past decade. And it has averaged four killings during November-December in the past four years.

Police and civic leaders credit community involvement, help from federal law enforcement and residents' willingness to report suspicious activity for helping fight crime.

The drop in homicides in El Paso occurred while murders are on pace to set another unwanted record in Juárez, where more than 2,500 people have died violently this year.

"The big difference between El Paso and Juárez -- and I have to present this argument all the time -- in El Paso we trust the police," El Paso Mayor John Cook said.

"If we call to report a drug dealer down the street, we don't worry that the police officer will turn around and tell the drug dealer 'Hey, the guy down the street is saying you are a drug dealer.'

"That is the reality in Mexico. You can't trust if law enforcement is on your side."

El Paso County has a population of about 751,000. Juárez's population is estimated at 1.3 million.

Besides the drop in homicides, El Paso police report declines in auto thefts, 14 percent; vehicle burglaries, 23 percent; burglaries, 5 percent; and thefts, 4 percent.

Robberies and assaults are up, 7 and 5 percent, respectively, according to data as of Oct. 16.

To curb assaults, police are keeping a closer watch on bars, including making "bar checks." Several officers will enter an establishment to check for problems, Shelton said. The practice has been criticized as heavy-handed by some bar owners and customers.

Police said they were optimistic the city will end the year with a reduction in crime, but they are cautious because home and vehicle burglaries tend to jump during the holiday season.

They will focus on trying to prevent vehicle burglaries during the holidays.

"People go from store to store shopping," Shelton said. "Unfortunately, they leave packages in plain view. It is a perfect target for a criminal. You would be surprised how many (drivers) forget to lock their vehicles."

Crime may be down, but El Paso is often having to fight out-of-town misconceptions that it is a violent city because it is next to Juárez, Cook said. "It's a continuous battle having to fight that PR issue," he said.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at; 546-6102.

The numbers:
- El Paso has more than 620,000 residents. Juárez about 1.3 million.
- El Paso averaged 16 homicides a year in the past decade.
- Three homicides haveoccurred in El Paso this year.
- El Paso has averaged four killings during November-December in the past four years.
- In Juárez, more than 2,500 people have died violently this year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ciudad Juarez Students Rise Up

For months Ciudad Juarez´s Plural Citizens Front and other opponents of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s so-called drug war planned an international forum on violence and militarization in their battle-weary city.

Ironically, on the first day of the October 29-31 event, a bloody incident of the kind activists were protesting marred the meeting site at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez (ICB. Eyewitnesses told Frontera NorteSur that members of Mexico’s Federal Police opened fire on young people who had just participated in the 11th Walk against Death and were arriving to the campus to initiate the left-oriented forum.

The apparent targets were a small group of unarmed, masked youth affiliated with the pro-Zapatista Other Campaign which had trailed the demonstration to spray paint walls with political slogans. As the group was running from police and towards an entrance to the ICB, shots rang out. A bullet struck 19-year-old protestor and university student Jose Dario Alvarez Orrantia in the back, spilling the young man’s guts on the pavement.

“He survived by a miracle, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, who performed emergency surgery on Alvarez. “Until now, we are very pleased to have saved Dario.”

Outraged by the shooting, students temporarily occupied the ICB administration building. “An injury to one is an injury to all,” read one banner hanging from the building.

With Dario Alvarez’s blood staining one of the ICB´S entrances, marked off by a crude crime scene blocked off with a circle of rocks and a hand-written sign, the three-day forum proceeded in a tense atmosphere. The steady wail of ambulances passing near the ICB and the thud of gunshots in the distance were an audible reminder of the violence carving the rhythm of life in the border city.

The Federal Police shooting scared away many people who had planned attending the forum, said co-organizer Gabriela Beltran, who charged the Mexican government with staging the attack to undermine the meeting.

”The forum was meant to talk precisely about these types of situations in which the state has us submerged,” Beltran said.
Corroborated by Dr. Valenzuela, local news outlets quickly reported that a handful of Federal Police officers were detained by their superiors for the Alvarez shooting, but Beltran complained that nobody knew the identities of the supposedly arrested policemen and that a serious investigation was not underway.

For Rita del Castillo, the trip to the forum was a painful stop on a long journey that’s followed the drug war from the jungles of South America to the desert mesas of the borderland.

The mother of Juan Gonzalez del Castillo, a Mexico City student killed along with three other Mexican students in an unauthorized Ecuadoran encampment of Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in March 2008, del Castillo came to the forum accompanied by the mother of another slain student to build support for their relatives’ movement aimed at bringing former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to justice.

A fifth Mexican student who was part of the group, Lucia Morett, survived the US-backed military assault but is now wanted by Interpol on terrorism-related charges filed by the Colombian government. The attack by the Colombian government also resulted in the killing of FARC negotiator Raul Reyes and nearly resulted in a war involving Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Del Castillo insisted that her son and his friends were not terrorists but students on an academic research trip.
In her first visit to Ciudad Juarez, del Castillo arrived to the ICB just in time to hear shots puncturing the early evening and then see Dario Alvarez writhing on the ground.

“As parents this also fills us with indignation, and we extend our solidarity to the young people of the university, the university community and the family members of the young man wounded here yesterday on the university campus,” del Castillo said.

The October 29 shooting took place in the context of escalating violence in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico, including the slayings of four factory employees of a foreign manufacturing company in the Juarez Valley only days before the forum.

Contrary to rosy assessments of the drug war’s progress, such events demonstrate an overall deterioration of the public safety situation, said Victor Quintana, former Mexican lawmaker and adviser to the Democratic Campesino Front of Chihuahua. Condemning Alvarez´s shooting, Quintana said similar incidents cannot be allowed to happen.

Occupying the ICB campus during the weekend which immediately preceded Mexico’s Days of the Dead holidays, Dario Alvarez’s fellow students strategized their response to the police shooting of their friend.

In an exercise of direct democracy rarely seen in Mexico or the US, the students met in popular assemblies to carefully analyze, debate and decide possible courses of action.

A solemn mood characterized the meetings, shaped by the historical knowledge of the impact students as have had at other times in Mexican history, such as the 1968 student mobilization that culminated in the October 2 government slaughter of protesters in Mexico City.

“We are for the transformation of the world,” one student told his assembled classmates. “Another world is possible, and we are beginning it here in Ciudad Juarez.

Within hours of Alvarez’s shooting, messages of outside support were coming to Ciudad Juarez students. In short order, the event was acquiring national political ramifications. Speeches at the forum urging the cut off of US security assistance to Mexico and a sweeping redirection in the drug war gained resonance.

Locally, much of the political class and media downplayed, ignored and even distorted the October 29 incident. However, a group of prominent Ciudad Juarez academics and citizen activists authored an opinion piece for the October 31 edition of the city´s daily Norte newspaper.

Slamming human rights violations and the killing of young people in different parts of Mexico, the column posed a question:
“How much blood of innocent civilians, of the children and of the young, will have to run until the government comprehends that its public safety strategy and little war against organized crime is a noisy disaster?”

The statement was signed by Alfredo Nateras, Carlos Cruz, Julia Monarrez, Irma Saucedo, Luciana Ramos, and Lucia Melgar.
On November 2 and 3, Ciudad Juarez students and their allies once again took to the streets. According to local media reports, the first march drew at least 1,500 people.

The demonstrators demanded justice for Dario Alvarez and other youthful victims of violence, the demilitarization of Ciudad Juarez and the withdrawal of the Federal Police from the city.

Reportedly greeted by generous honks of support from passing motorists, the mass protest represented “a university movement that hasn’t occurred in Ciudad Juarez since the beginning or middle of the 1980s,” declared the web site of the news service.

Meanwhile, on many fronts, struggling civil society organizations wage a fight for peace and reconstruction in Ciudad Juarez. Once the poster child for the booming global economy of the late 20th century, Ciudad Juarez now hosts a “broken society,” said university student and health promoter Perla Davila. “Everyone” has been affected one way or another by the carnage that’s left about 7,000 people murdered since the beginning of 2008, Davila contended.

A psychology major, Davila works for a new non-profit organization, SABIC, which employs traditional herbal healing, alternative medicine and therapy to assist victims of violence. In its first year of operation, SABIC has attended about 5,000 people in ten community centers scattered across Ciudad Juarez, Davila told Frontera NorteSur.

Juarenses, she said, are sunk in a “tremendous stress” that shows no signs of letting up. The shooting of Jose Dario Alvarez Orrantia, Davila maintained, only adds to the official disdain of her troubled city and its embattled residents.

Said Davila: “We are trying to find an exit…nobody has a manual on how to survive a social war, on how to survive the war of a government that doesn’t want to listen, that doesn’t want to see what it is causing-especially in the young part of society.”
Additional sources: Diario de Juarez November 3, 2010., November 3, 2010. Norte, October 31, 2010.

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

For a free electronic subscription email:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Deporting Elena’s Father

Illustration: Roxanna Bikadoroff

By Melissa Bollow Tempel

All over the United States, formal collaboration between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement under ICE ACCESS programs has deputized local law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration law. Although no such agreements currently exist in the state of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office has been collaborating with ICE. The result has been a significant increase (46 percent from 2007 to 2008) in the number of detained and then deported immigrants picked up on minor traffic violations in the county. The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors heard testimony on this issue at their July 2010 meeting. Unfortunately, they sided with the sheriff’s department and decided not to pursue an intensive investigation. Local community organizations continue to advocate for an end to this collaboration.

Rethinking Schools Editorial Associate Melissa Bollow Tempel gave the following testimony at the meeting:

I am a bilingual teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. Over the years, I have seen many students deal with deportation. People ask me, “How does deportation affect children?” The question I’d like to pose today is “How doesn’t deportation affect children?”

This year I had a student in my 1st-grade class. I’ll call her Elena. She was a natural leader in the classroom and spoke both English and Spanish fluently. She was well liked by her classmates and a natural leader, always organizing games on the playground during recess. Elena’s father was a model dad, the kind who worked hard and spent his free time with his family and his church. Every day he’d pick up his children from school. When Elena saw him approaching the school she’d yell, “Papi!” and run to him. They’d share a big hug and then he’d take her hand and the hand of her little sister and they’d walk home together. He helped Elena complete her homework—she is a very bright little girl—and read to her.

Elena’s mother came to my classroom one morning and asked me if I could write a letter of support to the judge who would try her husband’s deportation case. She told me that Elena’s father, the father of her four children, had gone to work and never returned. She learned later that ICE had taken him into custody. Although she is a U.S. citizen, he was not allowed to return home while awaiting his trial. Of course, I wrote the letter for her, as did the teachers of Elena’s siblings, but it did no good. Elena didn’t see her father again and eventually he was deported. My own daughter was in 1st grade this year and I couldn’t even allow myself to think about the severe impact that losing her father would have had on her.

This brings me to how deportation affects my students. Elena’s mother was forced to send her children to her sister’s house on the other side of town to sleep every night because her husband had cared for the girls while she worked third shift in a factory. Elena’s bright smile and eagerness to learn faded and she became somber, tired, and withdrawn. She stopped participating in class and often asked to stay inside instead of playing with her friends during recess. Elena stopped doing her homework because her father was not there to help her, and her mother had no time between household chores, cooking, and getting the children ready to drop off at their aunt’s house every night. Her mother told me that she slept only three hours during the day while her baby was sleeping. She’d be so tired that she would oversleep and miss the pickup time at the end of the school day. We’d have to call to wake her up.

Mondays were the worst. Elena would come to school after spending some quality time with her mother and family; I’d take one look at her face and know it was going to be a hard morning. On those days I’d let her eat breakfast in the hallway with me while my teaching partner stayed with the rest of the class. Elena would sit on my lap and cry—sob, really—and tell me that she missed her father, that she wanted to talk to him, to see him. Sometimes it would make her feel better to write him letters. She would end them with “Are you coming home?” and draw two little boxes—one for him to check “yes” and one for him to check “no.” Even more heartbreaking were the letters that ended the same way but with a different question: “Do you still love me?”

This summer I have spent some time with Elena and her siblings, trying to give her mother a break. Mostly I’m there because I know that Elena’s having a difficult time with yet another change in her life, the transition from the school to the summer, and she’s lost the regular support of her teachers for the summer.

Elena’s mom told me that they will probably move in with her sister, which means that Elena will have to change schools. Her new school doesn’t have bilingual classes. She’ll have to make new friends and her mother will have to start over, building a support network in the community for her children and herself.

I’m using Elena as an example because this is not a unique story. It has many similarities to the experiences of all my students who have dealt with the deportation of a parent. There is absolutely no way that Elena and the three other children in my class who lost a loved one to deportation were not deeply affected, emotionally and academically. Our students are hurting. Some of them were born here, making them “legal,” and they hope to carry out their family’s dream of a better life. That dream starts with education.

These children face so many obstacles: living in poverty, lacking medical and dental care, and living in homes that landlords don’t bother to repair because they know their tenants won’t report them. Deporting children’s parents creates just another obstacle for them, but this is the one that is the most difficult to overcome.

Melissa Bollow Tempel ( teaches in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Con 340 muertos, rompe octubre récord violento

From: On Behalf Of molly
Sent: Sunday, October 31, 2010 8:53 AM
Subject: [frontera-list] 10 killed October 30 in Juarez, 340 breaks record for most violent month - 10.31.10

I had counted about 9 killings last night by about 8:00 pm. Diario
says that in all yesterday, there were 10. Added to my tally as of
yesterday, this would have made 328. But, this morning, Diario reports
that the actual number of dead so far in October is 340---a new
record--with one day left in the month. The previous high was 338 in
August this year. The total number of dead now this year is 2,666.
Added to the previous annual numbers as reported in El Diario
1,623 in 2008
2,754 in 2009
2,666 so far in 2010
This adds up to 7,043 people murdered in Juarez since the beginning of

These are the monthly tallies so far in 2010 from El Diario newspaper
archives, based on official reports:

227 January
163 February
240 March
203 April
262 May
313 June
291 July
338 August
289 September
340 as of October 30
--[Molly Molloy]

Al registrarse ayer 10 homicidios dolosos, octubre –aún sin concluir– se estableció ya como el mes más violento del año con 340 asesinatos; en la gran mayoría de los casos, los responsables no fueron detenidos.

Los crímenes perpetrados en lo que va del año han dejado ya a 2 mil 666 familias enlutadas, mientras que a lo largo de todo el 2009 se contabilizaron 2 mil 754 víctimas mortales.

Ayer, se cometieron otros 10 asesinatos, seis de ellos durante la tarde. El primer caso vespertino se registró aproximadamente a las 15:00 horas en el poblado de Loma Blanca, donde dos hombres fueron asesinados.

Los cadáveres de las víctimas se hallaron en un patio de una vivienda ubicada en la calle Montenegro.

De las víctimas se conoció únicamente que uno tenía entre 20 y 25 años de edad y el otro de entre 40 y 42 años.

Una hora más tarde, otro individuo fue atacado a balazos luego de ser tirado de un vehículo en movimiento, sobre la calle Justo Sierra de la colonia El Barreal. La víctima estaba esposada y vestía una playera color azul y pantalón de mezclilla.

Al filo de las 19:30 horas en la vía Montes Urales casi cruce con la Avenida Tecnológico, a unos 50 metros del puente de la Jilotepec, un joven de unos 27 años también fue asesinado.

Cerca de las 20:10 horas de ayer en Berilio y Begonias, un individuo fue ultimado junto a la banca de un parque.

Después de las 22:00 horas, ocurrió el sexto crimen de la tarde. Esto en la intersección de Valle de la Coliona y Valle del Sol, en una zona habitacional que lleva el mismo nombre.

Archivos periodísticos, con base en reportes oficiales, señala que en enero ocurrieron 227 asesinatos, 163 en febrero, 240 en marzo, 203 en abril, 262 en mayo, 313 en junio, 291 en julio, 338 en agosto, 289 en septiembre y 340 al 30 de octubre.

Por lo que a la fecha, han ocurrido 2 mil 666 homicidios.

Mientras que durante el 2009 la violencia cobró la vida de 2 mil 754 personas.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Student, 20, named Mexico police chief

A 20-YEAR-OLD female criminology student has been named police chief of a northern Mexican border town plagued by drug violence because no one else wanted the job.

Marisol Valles became director of municipal public security of Guadalupe "since she was the only person to accept the position", the mayor's office of the town of some 10,000 people near the US border told local media yesterday.

Ms Valles is studying criminology in Mexico's most violent city of Ciudad Juarez, some 60km west of Guadalupe.

Raging turf battles between rival drug gangs have left some 6500 people dead in Ciudad Juarez alone in the past three years.

Much of Chihuahua state has suffered from the spiral of drug violence, including in Guadalupe, where the mayor was murdered in June and police officers and security agents have been killed, some of them beheaded.

Last week alone there were at least eight murders in Guadalupe, in an area deemed a high-traffic transit point for illegal drugs across the border into the US state of Texas.

More than 28,000 people have died nationwide in suspected drug violence since December 2006, when the Mexican government launched an offensive against its criminal gangs with the deployment of some 50,000 troops.

The Guadalupe mayor's office has only one police patrol car and receives security assistance from the army.

Read more:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Detaining" Profits

Are private prison corporations enslaving, raping, and killing immigrant detainees while making a nice fat profit?

Seattle, WA. On August 26, 2007, a settlement agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Bush Administration (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE) was recorded in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

The settlement agreement was largely overlooked by mainstream media but it was both historic and highly significant. The agreement pertained to the case of In re Hutto Family Detention Centers and involved allegations of systemic and pervasive violations of civil and human rights that endangered the lives of detainees. Most of these are persons that are not being detained because they are guilty of a "crime" but due to alleged infractions against the U.S. civil code governing immigration and naturalization.

The Hutto facility had witnessed a variety of criminal incidents and patterns of exploitative treatment including the sexual abuse and rape of women and children, medical neglect, forcible separation from relatives, and other travesties too numerous to list here. None of the perpetrators were ever brought to trial for their crimes, and some of the prison guards were not even terminated. Human Rights Watch issued a report on the mistreatment and abuse of women in detention centers (March 2009) to little public outcry or media focus.

I have to wonder: Where is the moral outrage and outcry in the United States that we saw over the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq?

In another related report, released this past August, Human Rights Watch provides relevant commentary and analysis of the allegations surrounding this case:

In May 2007, when Hutto still functioned as a family detention center, a young boy was sleeping in a crib inside his mother’s cell when a guard entered and had sexual contact with her. Video surveillance captured the guard, employed by private contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), crawling out of the cell in the middle of the night in an apparent failed attempt to evade security cameras. CCA fired the guard, but he never faced criminal prosecution by either state or federal authorities. According to an ICE spokesperson, the police investigation concluded that the sexual contact had been consensual. In any Bureau of Prisons facility in the US, the same incident would have constituted a crime because federal law criminalizes sexual contact between guards and those in their custody. However, at the time, that particular provision of the federal criminal code applied only to facilities under the authority of the Department of Justice. Immigration facilities had been under the authority of the DOJ until 2003, but then authority passed to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Consequently, the statutory provision did not cover sexual misconduct in ICE facilities at the time of the incident at Hutto. Later in 2007, a legislative amendment was passed to make the provision cover all federal facilities.

In other words, a bit of bureaucratic buffoonery allowed the perpetrators at Hutto to get away with their crimes due, ultimately, to jurisdictional oversights in the original statutes regulating treatment of persons in prisons versus detention centers.

The biggest travesty of all at Hutto, like numerous other privately-run, for-profit detention centers in unmarked and secretive locations across the country, is that the system of detention itself, and its dehumanizing imprisonment of entire families awaiting deportation, subjects people to a series of violent acts that threaten the health and safety of entire families and their extended kin and communities. Some of these cases involve U.S.-born citizen children in mixed status families where one or both parents are undocumented. Other relatives may be stranded by the detention of parents and other kin; this has included abandoned toddlers and teenagers who are U.S.-born citizens.

Often overlooked in such cases is that the underlying savage treatment of detainee families is routine for a for-profit industry that is supported by Wall Street power mandarins and embraced by the neoliberal minimalist state that has politicians of all stripes, including Democratic Party leadership, privatizing everything including war and the regime of discipline and punishment that has turned our detention policy into a de facto pogrom, or purge, of the "unwanted Other."

Hence, the Obama Administration's recent glowing report and celebration of the record-breaking number of apprehensions and deportations last week. One wonders if Obama's advisers think this will miraculously get them some Tea Party votes; one suspects it won't, but it will likely lead to a loss of a good portion of the Latina/o voters who will sit out the midterm elections as a result of this type of political maneuvering that cheapens the value of a life for the sake of more favorable electoral outcomes.

I have to wonder: Where is the moral outrage in the United States that we saw over the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq? This is the same horror, sans photos or videos.

Jails 'R Us: Privatizing Detention & Demonizing Mexicans

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the leading corporate powers that dominates the private prison-detention center industrial complex, an unaccountable and secretive sector that exploits the lives and struggles of displaced persons who are criminalized for the convenience of the returns to shareholders and CEOs.

This is a well-connected corporation. CCA - which trades on the NYSE as "CXW" - is based in Nashville, TN and its connections to political elites in that state were most recently put on display when a former chief counsel was nearly appointed to a federal district judgeship, except for the organizing work of the incomparable Private Corrections Institute. The corporation seems immune to the budget cuts everyone else has been facing since the start of the Derivatives Depression in September 2008. CCA recently received an increase in the per Diem it receives from the State of Tennessee for each prisoner it "keeps" in its complexes.

Ironically, there is a surveillance tape that caught one of the rapist guards leaving the cell of the victim. He was fired but did not get prosecuted for the rape due to the previously mentioned jurisdictional buffoonery. Despite this domestic Abu Ghraib-like scandal, the company's stock seems impervious to the decline that most company stocks have faced since September 2008.

I tracked CXW stock and found that it has proven resilient: The stock was at 32.99 in July 2007 (its highest level through October 2010). It closed 2007 in the 30.00-32.00 range. In August 2008, before the onset of the credit market collapse, it was still trading fairly high at 28.42. However, by the end of October it was down nearly fifty percent to 17.05. CXW stock hit bottom in March 2009 when it closed as low as 9.82. However, since that trough, the ride has mainly been up: In late November 2009 it was trading at 25.81 and it held that range through the present: The stock closed today (October 11, 2010) at 25.83.

Why is a corporation that manages and runs private prisons and detention centers so profitable in a time of sustained recession, at least as measured by their earnings reports and stock price?

There is an old formula, readily familiar to most scholars in the social science immigration studies community. The formula was probably first applied by the pioneering Chicano researcher Ernesto Galarza who used it to illustrate his theory of "administered labor migration." The formula is simple and yet compelling: In times of economic growth and expansion, the U.S. opens the border to Mexican labor. In times of economic contraction and recession, the U.S. closes the border to Mexican labor. It is also not a coincidence that concern for immigration as a "social" problem increases whenever the economy goes into a depression or recession. This has always been the case and is not a recent phenomenon.

One can track the rise in the fortunes of CCA and correlate it precisely to the recession and subsequent heightened attacks on Mexican labor. Since apprehensions and deportations are at an all time high, it is reasonable to assume the government has to increase the number of beds for people held in detention centers. Herein lies the secret to the success enjoyed by CCA in the wake of the 2008 stock market collapse.

The for-profit prison and detention center industry relies on misery as its modus vivendi. It relies on the misery unleashed by unemployment and a climate of hatred fed by fear-mongering and immigrant-bashing; it thrives from the criminalization of labor; it makes its vampire living from the apprehension of people whose only "crime" is that they seek to escape the structural violence of hunger and malnutrition by entering the U.S. at great risk to themselves and their families to pursue undocumented labor in the U.S.

A democratic society should not allow prisons to become Arpaio gulags and warehouses of abuse and death, while rewarding it with unfathomable CEO bonuses and profits. This is necro-capitalism at its worst.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Under the volcano

The drugs trade has spread corruption and violence across Mexico. Can the police ever catch up with them?
Oct 14th 2010 | MONTERREY

THE drugs business, as Miguel tells it, used to offer a promising career for a young man. At 4am he would set out into the sierra of Sinaloa to pick up cannabis. Back in the city of Culiacán he would pack it for export, compressing it with a hydraulic pump, wrapping it in polythene and dunking it in wax to trick the sniffer dogs. The packets would go in trucks, cars, even on push-bikes. Once, in a friend’s Cessna, he skimmed the treetops south to Colombia, dropping packets of cocaine over the Mexican desert on the way back.

Miguel’s trafficking career ended in 1988, when he was caught. Five years in prison followed. “There was always the danger of being captured by the police or the army,” he says now. “But in Sinaloa we had no problems with the other cartels. It was easier to work with them than to kill them. Today they don’t understand that.”

Indeed they don’t. Since Felipe Calderón began his presidency in 2006 with a renewed effort against the drugs cartels, more than 28,000 people have been killed. Mr Calderón has deployed 50,000 soldiers to fight the gangsters, whose inventories now include rocket-propelled grenades, helicopters and semi-submersible vessels. Pitched battles between the army and the traffickers have caused some of these casualties; more still have been caused by fighting among Mexico’s half-dozen main trafficking organisations, engaged in a bloody struggle for the trade.

Last year Mexican officials angrily rebuffed a Pentagon study arguing that the country was in danger of becoming a failed state. That description still seems absurd in most of the country, the world’s 11th-largest by population and 14th-biggest by size of economy. Most of the violence remains confined to a handful of states, mainly close to the United States border. But since the Pentagon’s report the frequency of gang-related homicides has more than doubled. The second quarter of this year saw more than 4,000 such murders: twice as many as at the beginning of last year, and some eight times more than at the beginning of 2007 (see chart 1). The gangs’ tactics now include detonating car-bombs in public places.

The conflict has become a test of endurance for both the government and the narcos. Mr Calderón has staked his presidency on the outcome. In 2007 a third of Mexicans thought the death toll was an acceptable price to pay for beating the cartels, whereas now only a quarter do. “Unless there is a big change in the level of violence, the current strategy cannot survive more than another six months,” says Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister.

With a presidential election less than two years away, groups are positioning themselves to influence the next regime. The criminals are, too: heads tossed onto dance floors, corpses strung from bridges and, most recently, a victim’s face that was flayed off to be sewn onto a football, are all messages to government and citizens to back down. The law-abiding must decide whether it is better to give in, or battle on.

The official murder rate in Mexico remains lower than in much of Latin America. In 2009 it was 14 per 100,000 people, compared with 25 in Brazil and around 70 in parts of Central America. The violence is localised: 80% of the gang-related murders since 2006 have been committed in just 7% of Mexico’s towns, according to the government. A third of Mexico’s 31 states have murder rates hovering around five per 100,000, about the same as the United States. Yucatán, where tourists snorkel with whale sharks, sees fewer killings per person than Canada.

Many believe that the official statistics do not capture the whole picture. Cartels are good at public executions, but they are also skilled at hiding bodies when necessary. El pozolero (“the soup-maker”), dissolved some 300 corpses in a broth of acid before his capture last year. In June some 55 bodies were discovered in a silver mine close to Taxco, a tourist-friendly town in Guerrero. A study commissioned by FLACSO, a Latin American social-science university, estimated that, based on victimisation surveys, Mexico’s murder rate could be closer to 26 per 100,000.

What makes Mexico worrying is not just the raw numbers but the power of the cartels over society. Around five years ago Mexico’s drug-smuggling gangs overtook Colombia’s in resources and manpower, reckons Scott Stewart of Stratfor, a Texas-based security consultancy. As well as expanding down the supply chain, running distribution networks in the United States, they have moved up it, buying cocaine directly in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. They have become a bigger influence in politics at home: woe betide public figures who do not march to their tune.

In Tamaulipas, a state in the north-east bordering Texas, the candidate widely expected to be elected governor in July was murdered four days before the poll. After the discovery of 72 murdered Central and South American migrants in the same state in August, two policemen running the investigation were killed. Journalists in towns such as Reynosa, on the Texan border, have stopped reporting on the drugs wars after being intimidated. Across Mexico, at least 11 mayors have been murdered so far this year.

Violence reaches the rich

But this year has also seen a significant change. Since a bust-up between the Gulf cartel and their former allies, a group known as the Zetas—former Mexican special forces who defected to the narcos a decade ago—violence has spread to the doorsteps of some of Mexico’s richest people. Monterrey, a city of 4m in the state of Nuevo León, daytripping distance from Texas, is Mexico’s industrial powerhouse, with an average income three times the national average, thanks to factories turning out everything from fridges to fuselages for the United States. Smartly-dressed young executives devouring business manuals land at its airport on the hour, every hour.

Yet fighting between the Zetas and the Gulf has destroyed Monterrey’s reputation as a safe city. Though business has more or less held up so far, a series of drug-related spectaculars sparked an exodus of the city’s upper class this summer. In April several people were kidnapped from the Holiday Inn, in the city centre. In August a shoot-out outside the American School left two dead. Many wealthy Mexicans have moved their families to the United States or safer parts of Mexico. In the smart suburbs, Monterrey’s rich are now keeping their SUVs garaged out of sight.

The threat against Mexico’s industrial capital has raised the stakes. “Monterrey will be a decisive battle,” says Luis Rubio, head of CIDAC, a Mexico City think-tank. The country’s movers and shakers have been galvanised now. In August Lorenzo Zambrano, the chairman and CEO of Cemex, the world’s biggest building-materials supplier, which built its empire out of the limestone cliffs of Monterrey, vented his anger on Twitter. “He who leaves Monterrey is a coward,” he wrote. In the same month Monterrey business leaders took out full-page ads in the national press, criticising the government’s apparent impotence. The pressure has had some effect. Last October Nuevo León had 60 federal police officers; it now has 550. “I feel that the sense of urgency has now reached our government,” says Mr Zambrano.

The war has certainly exposed the weakness of Mexico’s criminal-justice institutions. Numbers are not the problem: with 366 officers per 100,000 people, Mexico is better supplied with police than the United States, Britain, Italy and France, among others. But it is badly organised and corrupt. Policemen earn an average of $350 a month, about the same as a builder’s labourer, meaning that wages are supplemented with bribes. Carlos Jáuregui, who was Nuevo León’s chief security official until March, reckons that more than half the officers in the state were being paid by organised crime. A policeman in Monterrey can be bought for about 5,000 pesos ($400) a fortnight, Mr Jáuregui reckons.

“Police are treated as second-class citizens,” says Ernesto López Portillo, head of Insyde, a Mexico City think-tank. They are kept that way by the constitution, which separates police officers from other public servants, meaning they do not qualify for the standard minimum wage and the 40-hour weekly work limit. Police forces are in theory overseen by internal investigation units, but their findings are secret and, in any case, Mr López Portillo estimates that fewer than 5% of forces have such a body.

The government has focused on reforming the federal police, with some success. The force has gone through a deep purge, with a tenth of its officers sacked in the first eight months of this year for corruption or incompetence. Pay has gone up, and so has recruitment. At the beginning of Mr Calderón’s term there were 6,000 officers in the federal force; now there are more than 30,000 (some seconded from the army). The government is developing an external body to review the police.

Progress has also been made on Mexico’s federal prisons, with the construction of a new academy to train prison guards. The Mérida initiative, under which the United States provides help to Mexico to combat organised crime, is being tweaked to back such reforms. Whereas in 2008 most of the budget went on hardware—both military and civilian—the priority now is stronger institutions, says an American embassy official. Change is coming to the judicial system too, after a constitutional reform in 2008 that will set up a British or American-style accusatorial, oral system in place of written investigations, which are open to abuse.

Trials and hold-ups

Yet many reforms take agonisingly long to appear. An exam introduced two years ago to weed out dim or corrupt policemen has been taken by fewer than a quarter of officers, and by fewer than a tenth of state police. Progress on judicial reform has been glacial, meeting enormous resistance. The change is supposed to be completed by 2016; Alejandro Poiré, the government’s security spokesman, says this timetable may have to be speeded up.

In many cases Mexico’s federal system of government has prevented reforms from filtering through to ground level. Mexico is a federation of 31 states and 2,456 municipalities, whose governors and mayors guard their limited powers jealously. Policing is one of them, and the quality varies wildly: there are fewer than half as many local police per head in Tamaulipas as in Tabasco. Some 400 towns have no police, and 90% of municipal forces employ fewer than 100 officers.

Some mayors are under enormous pressure from criminals to keep things that way. Municipal police “are the most vulnerable…the most subjected to intimidation and, of course, the vengeance of the criminals,” Mr Calderón said recently. They are also among the least effective: the patchwork of command muddles operations. In Monterrey the metropolitan area alone has 11 different forces, using different training, tactics and even brands of radio. “If a criminal crosses the street he has reached a safe haven,” admits one official. On October 6th Mr Calderón presented plans to unify the police in each state, bringing the municipal forces under the control of governors. The measure now has broad support in Mexico City but requires changes to the constitution, which more than half the states must approve.

It is a similar story with the prisons. The American official estimates that whereas federal prisons are about a quarter of the way towards being fit for purpose, the state prisons are only a tenth of the way there. Recent mass-jailbreaks in Tamaulipas and an extraordinary episode in Durango, in which prisoners were let out to commit contract killings using guards’ weapons, underline how far state prisons have to go.

In the case of money laundering, the federal government’s recent legislation will be stymied by the fact that property, a favourite way to hide dirty money, is registered at state level. Only the federal district of Mexico City has its own financial-investigations unit.

Yet the government’s reforms, coupled with pressure from the army, may be starting to have an effect. The most visible successes of recent months have been the capture or killing of a string of cartel leaders. Long lines of deputies wait to inherit their positions. But the arrests are a sign of improved intelligence capability in the security forces, says Mr Poiré. Between June and August the murder rate stabilised, at a rate of about 49 gang-killings a day, and it fell somewhat in September, to 36 a day (figures were available only up to September 24th). There have been false dawns before. But it may be that a combination of institutional reform and firepower is slowly beginning to weaken the cartels, or at least alter their behaviour.

In Monterrey the state government is experimenting with an ad-hoc unified force that gives municipalities the right to opt out. Officials reckon that seven of the 11 municipalities will take part. In another experiment, police are patrolling with soldiers and prosecutors to provide a mixture of firepower and basic policing know-how (such as blocking the backs of houses before going in at the front). Since August the city has seen no roadblocks set up by the gangsters, and the level of violence diminished in September. Many locals fear that the respite is temporary, but Javier Treviño, the deputy governor of Nuevo León, believes Monterrey is now over the worst.

The battlefield provides some evidence that certain cartels are being weakened. The Zetas, for instance, seem less and less professional. Some are teenagers who have little idea how to use their powerful weapons. Arrested gunmen are sometimes so drunk or stoned that they have to be left for 24 hours to sober up, one official says. The cartel appears to be relying more on part-time help: one Monterrey businessman found that his office cleaner was working nights for the mob. Many bodies go unclaimed, suggesting that footsoldiers are being recruited, or pressganged, from farther afield. The migrants murdered in Tamaulipas are believed to have been murdered after refusing to work for the narcos.

The weakening of some criminal gangs has had unforeseen consequences. Cartel recruitment has been ramped up in poor neighbourhoods such as Colonia Independencia, a hillside settlement that confronts Monterrey’s government offices from across the Santa Catarina river. Teenagers there run murderous errands for around 4,000 pesos a week, community workers say. And the loss of influence by the Zetas has led to scrappy turf wars. Over the summer Monterrey’s middle class was shocked by the apparently random kidnapping of young, affluent residents. It later emerged that the Zetas were nabbing people who looked like cocaine users to find out where they got their drugs, so that they could kill their rival dealers.

The big green hole

As pressure is put on the drugs business, the gangs are diversifying into other rackets: extortion and kidnap, particularly of migrants from Central America. Gangs increasingly aim to dominate all criminal enterprises in a given territory, rather than simply the supply of drugs, says Antonio Mazzitelli, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Mexico City. The increase in kidnapping has heightened the feeling of insecurity, even among those with protection. Diego Fernández, a former presidential candidate who remains influential within the ruling National Action Party, was kidnapped in May and is now seen only in periodic ransom demands, thinner in each photograph.

Even when the cartels are driven out of one place, they tend to pick up their operations elsewhere. Commanders in Monterrey say that their successes have exacerbated problems in the nearby states of Coahuila and Durango. Mexico’s own drugs problems took off in the 1990s, after the old cocaine-trafficking route to Florida through the Caribbean was shut down by the Americans. Now, as Mexico piles pressure on its home-grown cartels, some are moving their operations south. Already, more cocaine is seized in Central America than in Mexico (see chart 2). Some Mexican groups have set up training camps and storage facilities in the jungles of Petén, a “big green hole of nothing” in northern Guatemala, according to Mr Stewart.

The Zetas, in particular, are visible in Central America. Zeta recruitment banners have been spotted, tempting soldiers away from the army with better wages and food; the gang is believed to linked up with former Guatemalan special forces, enthusiastic abusers of human rights during the country’s civil war. In September a Guatemalan court convicted six Mexican nationals, believed to be Zetas, of the murder of 11 people in 2008. In the first six months of this year Guatemalan authorities seized cash, drugs and arms worth more than everything they had seized the previous year, according to the police.

Guatemala’s deepening nightmare could eventually mean grim relief for Mexico. So too could developments in the United States and Europe. On November 2nd California will vote on a ballot initiative to legalise the sale of cannabis which, if it became law, would remove one small line of business from Mexico’s cartels (see article). Legally or not, more cannabis is being grown north of the border anyway.

Help may also come from Europe’s cocaine market. This is now almost as valuable as that of the United States, which is shrinking, according to the UNODC. Andean cocaine bound for Europe need not go through Mexico, and the Mexican gangs are still weaker than the Colombians in Spain (partly because the Mexican diaspora does not extend much beyond the United States). Mr Mazzitelli says Mexicans are now collaborating with the Italian ’Ndrangheta mafia to explore new opportunities in Australia, where the retail price of cocaine is twice what it is in the United States.

Whether its bases are in Mexico or elsewhere, the illegal drugs business will continue to bring violence and corruption to the Americas, where it sucks in an ever greater number of young men. Miguel, the former Sinaloa trafficker, promised his family he would go clean when he got out of jail; he works as a gardener now, but the money is poor, and he would still go into the drugs business if he had his time again. Trying to stop the gangsters “is like mowing the grass,” he says. “You can cut it down. But it always grows back.”