Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A shocking, terrible turn

Federal immigration officials -- not satisfied enough to terrify an entire town and families in Postville and Waterloo, Iowa -- have now established a terrifying legal precdent in sentencing 297 undocumented workers to federal prison under criminal charges.

As New York Times reporter Julia Preston finely reported, the workers -- mostly Guatemalans -- were processed and sentenced to jail in only four days. Yes, four short days. Many did not have access to attorneys. So they pleaded guilty, not knowing what they were in for. In particular, Guatemalans are challenged in communicating and understanding because they do not necessarily speak Spanish. Many have a different dialect unique to their culture.

Preston pointed out that illeal presence in this country has normally been treated as a civil misdemeanor with deportation. Now it is being treated as a criminal offense for imprisonment, based on the wrong of carrying false documents. The sentencing of these meatpacking workers from Postville and Waterloo took place at the nearby National Cattle Congress. How fitting, for a policy that indeed treats human beings like animals and defecates on due process guaranteed in our Constitution.

The rising stench is unbearable. May our founding fathers forgive us.

I would not have believed possible this kind of savagery of people and their families, let alone this corruption of this country's sacred promise of due process. Twice, I have sat across from President George W. Bush in interviews at the White House, and he has claimed compassion for people just seeking a better life.

Afterall, his parents employed a Mexican nanny in Houston. She had come across the border to better support her boys. Bush told that story to me with tears in his eyes. He called her "a scond mother". So why the Gestapo tactics now?

Yet, while the president has sacricifed more than 4,000 American lives and spent nearly a trillion dollars in a nation where people really don't like us, he has violated any sense of human decency with people here who see America as a shining light on a hill. And their sons and daughters, not even citizens, have fought and died for this country in Iraq. America's Green Card soldiers have distingushed themselves and see citizenship as something to be earned. In contrast, most Americans won't even this nation's flag in front of their home, even on Memorial Day.

There will be unintended consequences. The Bush administration's action will only put Americans in foreign countries more at risk to be treated in the same inhumane way. We protect the rights of non-Americans here as a safguard for Americans abroad. That's a point most radio talk show hosts can't seem to understand. President Hugo Chavez will use these human rights abuses in America to make a new pitch of this country's bigoted evils toward Latin America and its peoples. And if he is successful, Chavez will rise in stature and create more of a national security threat to our nation on our southern borders.

This terrible turn in immigration policy -- of now bringing federal criminal charges on undocumented workers -- just opens the door further to more abuses of these workers and their families. In cities like Nashville where I attend church, the filing of criminal charges will only encourage the anti-immigrant forces to become more aggressive. Here, we have what's called the 287(g) deportation program. The local sheriff -- who is elected -- made an agreement with the Feds to detain immigrants on traffic charges of driving without a seat belt or fishing without a license. Then he checks their immigration status on an INS database and holds them for the Feds.

He sold the program to Nashville, which is predominantly a Democratic and liberal city, as a way to just deport criminal elements of undocumented workers. Now, after 3,000 deportations in only a year, he is basking in praise from local radio talk show hosts, including Phil Valentine of The Tennessean newspaper and local radio.

But the sheriff, who claims to be a Democrat, is now backtracking from claims he started the program to deport criminals. That's because more than two-thirds of the 3,000 people deported did not have criminal records. They did, however, have families. And those families are now being torn apart. The children suffer the most, not knowing when they kiss Papa goodbye for school in the morning if they'll see him for months or years after they return home in the afternoon.

With the Feds terrible turn in Iowa, the sheriff here will now be able to cover his political ass. He'll paint all deported undocumented workers as federal criminals who need to be off the street. This kind of political two-step looks and sounds like more of the actions and logic surrounding the Iraq war. Keep changing the reason for your failed foreign or domestic policy until one sticks.

The ultimate question behind this growing outrage in the treatment of undocumented workers is this: What happened to Bush and his supposed "compassionate conservatism"?

His compassionate conservatism has been left on the manured floor at the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, to be trampled and finally buried in the last days of his presidency. That's fitting. That's where his pledge about compasionate conservatism belonged in the first place -- among cattle pies surrouded by flies.

1 comment:

For my Children said...

The ramifications are incredible! Just a guess, but since these are criminal charges and not immigration charges, who do you think will have the duty of prosecuting these cases? And if convicted, where will they go? They will be felons; we don't deport felons until they have paid their debt to society. So no detention center for them. I hope they have some interpreters that are fluent in English and XheXhedenango to assure they have a fair trial or that they clearly understand the charges against them.