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"Immigration, Family Destruction and Terrorism: the US-Mexican Case of Saúl Arellano"

“Immigration, Family Destruction and Terrorism: the US-Mexican Case of Saúl Arellano”

[Speech by Dr. James D. Cockcroft during the IX International Congress of Economists on Globalization and Development Problems, Habana, February 5 to 9 of 2007. Topic Block “Poverty, Inequality and Equity,” No. 6, “International Migrations and Development. Conditions and Effects on Receptors and Transmitters,” February 7, 2007, English translation from Spanish courtesy of Red en Defensa de la Humanidad, Caracas.]

[NOTE: After this speech was given, on August 19, 2007, after addressing a rally in Los Angeles, California, Elvira Arellano was detained and in one more act of terror swiftly deported to Mexico without any recognition of her legal rights. On August 31 she met her son Saúl Arellano at the Mexico City airport and said she would have him go to school in her home state of Michoacán so he could learn Spanish. Neither she nor her son withdrew from their campaigns in the United States and internationally to defend the millions of immigrant families whose rights were being violated in the ways described in this speech, as witness this report from "Democracy Now" []:
"Separated by Deportation, Mother, Son Lead Joint Rallies for Immigrant Rights

A deported immigrant rights activist and her eight-year old son led parallel rallies for immigrant rights Wednesday [September 12, 2007] in Washington and Tijuana. On Wednesday, Arellano led dozens through Tijuana’s streets calling for an end to the US government crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Elvira Arellano: "The call that I made to be in Washington D.C. on September 12, was important. I was deported and this was where I was deported. Hundreds of families are separated here everyday."
Meanwhile in Washington, Arellano’s son Saul led a chanting crowd of more than one hundred fifty people through the Capitol building. Saul Arellano joined with a group of other children to carry a banner reading: “Born in the USA. Don’t take our moms and dads away.”]

A fundamental condition of world migration and of Mexican migration to the United States is the lack of equal conditions for immigrant workers so that employers are able to take advantage of a cheap, immigrant labor force. Indeed, by law there is a lack of equality for anyone who is an immigrant.

There are more than half a million Mexican workers entering the United States every year, but only five thousand visas for non-qualified workers. Consequently, there are some 12 million undocumented Mexican immigrants today. In order to guarantee and deepen the lack of equity, many employers threaten immigrants in several combined ways that are tantamount to terrorism. One of them is the threat of deportation, and, in millions of cases, the consequent destruction of families.

More than 10% of US families have at least one parent with no US citizenship and one US child. When the non-citizen parent is deported, he or she is legally prevented from entering the United States for a period ranging from three to ten years; the family is divided, in effect destroyed. Furthermore, thousands of immigrants are in jail for months or years before deportation, with or without their children. There are private jails, such as the one in Taylor, Texas, which imprisons up to 200 innocent children.

In addition, as a result of operations carried out by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, known among Latin American immigrants as “la migra”), a significant number of children and parents have simply disappeared. An example of such operations was the massive raid of December 12, 2006, where 1300 workers from six Swift meatpacking plants were arrested allegedly for having false documents. Thus, both US law and immigration law enforcement practices themselves generate family division in violation of the 14the Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; not to mention the famous cases of slavery, child sex-trade, legal use of pesticides and other poisons that affect mainly immigrant families, and the more than 500 Mexicans who die each year entering the United States

This speech addresses the individual but global case of a child and his mother, which is more symbolic, representative and important each day. That is why it has received a growing level of attention from the public and politicians in the United States, Mexico and Europe, and right now, in front of representatives of more than 24 international organizations and institutions from 40 countries of the entire world.

Saúl Arellano is 8 years old; those who love him call him “Saulito.” Since his birth, he has lived with his mother, Elvira Arellano — his father abandoned Elvira when she got pregnant. Elvira is an undocumented Mexican immigrant threatened with deportation and possible charges of terrorism. She is currently in the Sanctuary of the Adalberto United Methodist Church, located in Humboldt Park, a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago. She is a 32-year-old woman of faith and courage.

On December 10, 2002, fifteen months after S-11 and the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon, Saulito suffered a very traumatic and terrorist act against himself, a mere child nearing his fourth birthday. As part of Operation Tarmac/Chicagoland Skies, federal agents stormed into his home at 6 o’clock in the morning and arrested his mother, supposedly to make the US more secure against terrorists. The agents threatened that after his mom’s arrest Saúl would be handed over to the city.

Elvira Arellano, as many other undocumented immigrant workers, had the misfortune of working among the cleaning personnel for airplanes in one of the nation’s main airports, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. She is just one example of hundreds of thousands of innocent persons who have suffered such acts of unexpected detentions as a result of the hypocritically named “war against terrorism.” There are millions like her that use unregistered social security cards, a misdemeanor. The government has not presented any proof that either Elvira or other workers detained that December 10th have links to terrorism. She is in no way a threat to the security of the United States. In her own words: “I am not a terrorist. I am not a criminal. I am Mom.”

In 2003, a US Senate resolution allowed Elvira to receive a deportation suspension for medical reasons as her son was found to have “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” But then, in 2006, after receiving another deportation order, Elvira entered the Sanctuary of the church.

Recently, Elvira has acted as an inspiration and as a leader for new social movements against ICE raids, deportations and the breaking up of families. During the March-May 2006 period, these movements organized the biggest workers’ street demonstrations ever in the history of the United States. Today, Elvira is the leader of La Familia Latina Unida y the Movimiento Santuario Activo. There are entire cities with large Latino populations, such as, National City, California that have declared themselves sanctuaries for immigrants. It is because of her political activism that agents from the Department of Homeland Security and its agency ICE are putting so much pressure on Elvira.

Saúl Arellano is like any other kid but he is also different. He shines because of his intelligence and energy. He is bilingual. He plays with other boys and girls. He goes to school, even tough he is still afraid that in his absence authorities are going to invade the church to make his mom disappear.

As a result of circumstances beyond his control, Saúl Arellano has had to mature quickly. In a short time he has become the leader of millions of children with no public voice who live in situations of daily terror like his own as part of a new movement for children’s human rights and social justice. He has participated with dozens of other kids in “children’s rallies” in front of the White House in Washington D.C. Around five million children confront the same situation as Raul Arellano, their families threatened with destruction.

After not receiving a response to his letter to President Bush asking for family unity, Saúl said in one of his first protests in front of the White House: “I came here to demand that the President put a stop to raids and deportations, so that families can stay together.” He requested a meeting with President Bush but he was rejected, and he warned that if the President continues to ignore him “next time, I will come back with more children, I will bring all of my friends.”

During mid-November 2006, Saulito traveled to Mexico, accompanied by myself and Emma Lozano — Director of the Sin Fronteras Center in Chicago [ and] — to appear before the Mexican National Congress, and also to participate in international and national press conferences. By unanimous vote both the Mexican Senate and the Mexican House approved a resolution calling on the US Congress and President Bush not to deport Elvira Arellano or other parents with US children. Additionally, the Mexican Congress recommended “that based on dispositions recently approved by the US Senate in regards to immigrants and their acquired rights based on their time of residency in the United States…they ask for a moratoria on massive deportations.” Finally, the Mexican Congress declared “its firm and decisive support for the process of self-defense and peaceful civil resistance of the Active Sanctuary Movement.”

Meanwhile, many elected government officials have visited Elvira and have made public statements on her behalf. The main Latino organizations in defense of civil rights have supported Elvira and Saúl Arellano. The US magazines “Time” and “La Latina” have included Elvira in their lists of outstanding individuals for the year 2006.

On February 7 and 8, 2007, Saulito was once again in Washington DC, together with a dozen Mexican Congresspeople. Former immigrants to the United States composed most of the Mexican delegation. They presented to Representatives and Senators such as Nancy Pelosi and Edward Kennedy the unanimous decision of the Mexican Congress regarding migration and family reunification and initiated a dialogue “Congress to Congress… to find human and reasonable solutions to bi-national problems of our asymmetric economies.” Afterwards, the delegation visited Elvira Arellano in Chicago.

Organizations like the Centro Sin Fronteras are lobbying the US Congress to approve a more humane and rational immigration law. Such a law would reinforce the reunification of families, including that of non-heterosexual people. The law would grant immediate labor and human rights to workers, including non-documented ones and those who have guest-worker green cards, and it would lay out plans to eliminate guest worker programs instead of expand them. It would legalize all immigrants, including undocumented ones, and it would offer a clear, quick and egalitarian path to citizenship, putting an end to the long history of “taxation without representation” –- the phrase used by revolutionaries in colonial times during their protests against the king of England. Such a fair and non-punitive immigration law would eliminate employer sanctions and the criminalization of immigrants and their communities. It would demilitarize the border. It would ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, already ratified by 34 countries, including Mexico. Neither Canada nor European countries have signed it. That Convention, in place since 2003, establishes the right to the free migration of workers, who must enjoy all the guarantees and legal labor benefits of the State where they reside and work. They must also have the right to reunite with their families.

Until now, the Bush administration’s answer to demands coming from immigrant coalitions and their supporters has been an intensification of raids, secret deportations, “preventive detentions” and imprisonments. This answer enjoys support from a number of Congresspeople. Detainees have suffered systematic abuse and even torture. As part of a new McCarthyism under the umbrella of “Patriot Laws” all the following things have taken place: a witch-hunt against millions of foreigners and immigrants; a 700-mile wall legislated for construction along the Mexican border; a radical elimination or reduction of benefits to all immigrant children, including elimination or reduction of health benefits to US citizens; a huge increase in the costs of applications for visas, permanent residency, or US citizenship; the 2006 Law of Military Commissions that nullifies the basic democratic right of habeas corpus and represents an important escalation of the "guantanamization" of the country and of attacks against immigrants, while forbidding the prosecution of government officials who practice torture or have committed war crimes; the granting to private companies like Halliburton of permissions to build more detention centers; the ignoring of social movements or the demonizing of them; the stationing of 6,000 National Guard troops along the Mexican border and the sending of Border Patrol agents into Mexican territory in persecution of suspected drug traffickers. Additionally, there is a proposal for a new massive “guest workers” program, whose administrator of the previous one during the mid-1950s described it as a “slavery program.”

I would like to conclude this speech with some observations on the subject of migration and terrorism. I would also like to comment briefly about two of the largest social movements in the Americas in 2006 and their relation to possible solutions to the migration issue and the violation of human rights.

First, the terrorism issue. What is international terrorism? According to one authority, it is: "the illegal use of force or violence, executed by groups or individuals that have some connection with a foreign power or whose activities transcend national borders, practiced against people or properties, to intimidate or coerce a government or a civil population or one of its sectors, and having political or social aims." This definition of terrorism is rather garbled, but it has the value of a confession. It comes from the FBI, an official institution of the country with the longest experience in practicing terrorism all over the world. (FBI Policy and Guidelines, February 16, 1999.)

Bush II, the second president of the Bush dynasty, frequently says "those who give refuge to terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves." But the first president Bush pardoned Orlando Bosch, the Cuban-American super-terrorist responsible, together with another super-terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, for the death of hundreds of innocent people and for more than 30 terrorist acts documented by the US Department of Justice. The same FBI had catalogued them as terrorists. Today, the Bush II administration continues protecting them, while at the same time it keeps "Five Heroes Prisoners of the Empire," as they are known in Cuba, in federal prisons, young Cubans, two of them US citizens, who in defense of their country against international terrorism infiltrated the terrorist mafia groups of Miami with links to Posada and Bosch.

Currently, these five men are maintained away from their families, isolated from one another. And in spite of being political prisoners they share confinement with common criminals under conditions denounced by Amnesty International. What a contrast with the privileged treatment of self-confessed terrorists like Bosch and Posada Carriles!

Now, pay attention please. Bush II has proposed legislation to facilitate the permanent residence of people from Vietnam, Myanmar, Tibet and Cuba who have helped rebellious groups with materials or whose residency has been prohibited due to antiterrorist laws. Could this be the final solution to the problem that the Bush family has with Mr. Posada Carriles, "the bin Laden of Latin America?" We see here another connection between terrorism and laws governing immigration.

But there is a sinister aspect to terrorism that does not use bombs as Posada did. It also has to do with the migration subject. It is psychological terrorism, a form of really cruel torture. This is the terrorism that people like Elvira Arellano and her son Saulito feel. It was set in motion during Christmas season last year when the threat of their arrest, inside that church in Chicago, intensified. The Centro Sin Fronteras had to announce a “red alert,” and only the fast mobilization of the community discouraged the incarceration.

Psychological terrorism is what the Cuban boy Elián González suffered when he lost his mother and was kidnapped by people in Miami who wanted him to lose his dad too. Elián’s suffering and that of many other Cuban children taken to the United States derives from the Cuban Adjustment Act that promotes illegal migration of Cubans to the United States, because independently of the method used to arrive to the United States they are guaranteed residency once they touch foot on US soil. Fidel Castro has pointed out that it is a “terrorist law… that knowingly and without the least remorse kills innocent children.”

Psychological terrorism is what people such as the families of the Five Heroes endure. The US government does not allow them normal family visitation rights. Finally, after an eight-year separation, on December 30, 2006, René Gonzalez met and embraced his daughter Ivette in the Marianna jail of Florida. They had been unjustly separated since the time when she was four months old. Ivette’s adult sister, Irma, joined them in the prison visit. All four members of the family have wanted to have the opportunity to get together but have not been allowed to. According to the Cuban press, René’s wife Olga says that her name has even been removed from the list of potential visitors. “Ivette is going to be nine years old, and we do not even have a family picture. How much longer will we have to wait for a picture of the four of us hugging each other?”

Of course, all these people carry inside themselves so much love and such a deep sense of their mission for social justice that they do not allow psychological terrorism to destroy them. Emma Lozano has explained it over and over again: "Elvira is a symbol of the resistance to the unjust laws and the broken laws of this country." She compares Elvira to Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement in the middle of the last century.

I would say more than that. People like Rosa Parks, Elvira, Saulito, Ivette, Irma, Olga, Adriana Pérez (like Olga, forbidden to visit her jailed husband), and of course the Five Heroes themselves, are defending the human rights of all of us, no matter what our country of origin. As a result of their extraordinary actions of bravery, love and intelligence, they are heroes of humankind.

Finally, the question of social movements. In 2006, two immense social movements emerged in the continent. They were the biggest movements in the history of each country: the movement in favor of immigrant rights in the United States and the movement in favor of democracy and against neoliberalism in Mexico.

The immigrant movement has begun to establish links with the Anti-war movement and with the rest of the organized labor movement in the United States; it also has established links to the Indian movements and other social movements in the continent and to movements for immigrant rights in Europe. All economists agree that without the work of millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants the US economy would enter into crisis. Now the crisis is not an economic one but a political one, and it emerges from the dignity and humanity of immigrants!

The more that these two huge movements join forces on both sides of the US-Mexico border, the more that social movements of the whole American continent, Europe and of the rest of the world unite, the greater the opportunity to change the conditions of immigrants and to realize in practice their human rights—and the greater the chance to save humankind and the planet.