Weekly Diaspora: Justice for Brisenia as Minutemen Leader Convicted of Murders

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Days after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne filed suit against the federal government for allegedly failing to protect the state from a Mexican “invasion,” the high-profile murder conviction of a Minutemen border vigilante underscores the state’s misguided border priorities.

Earlier this week, a jury found Shawna Forde—leader of the Minutemen American Defense (MAD)—guilty of murdering 8-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul Flores, Jr. during a racially motivated home invasion in 2009. Forde faces the death penalty for orchestrating the robbery and murders.

ColorLines’ Julianne Hing reports that Forde had planned a number of elaborate home invasions to raise funds for her border patrol activities—targeting individuals whom she (erroneously) believed to be drug dealers. Though no drugs were found in the Flores home, Forde—who, incidentally, has close ties to both the Tea Party and the conservative think tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—nevertheless justified Brisenia’s murder on the grounds that “people shouldn’t deal drugs if they have kids.” After watching Forde’s accomplices shoot her mother and kill her father, Brisenia was shot twice in the face.

While Latino advocacy groups have characterized the Flores murders as hate crimes provoked—at least in part—by state leaders’ incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric, many regard Forde’s conviction as one of many indicators that the tables are turning on anti-immigrant politicos like Brewer who have curried political support through fear-mongering and misinformation.

Less tolerance for border vigilantes

As Valeria Fernandez reports at New America Media, the verdict comes just weeks after another Arizona court upheld a decision against rancher Roger Barnett who, in an act of unwarranted border vigilantism, assaulted a group of migrants traveling across his property. Barnett was fined $80,000. While the Forde and Barnett cases are only two incidents of a nationwide rash of anti-Latino crime, their convictions are particularly significant in Arizona, where state leaders have long tolerated and even encouraged border vigilantism as a necessary response to purported border-related violence.

A year ago, state politicians—including Brewer—fomented a national anti-immigrant mania (which handily ushered in SB 1070) by promoting false reports of border violence. As Valeria Fernandez reported at Feet in 2 Worlds last March, lawmakers were quick to attribute the shooting of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz to an unidentified, undocumented Mexican immigrant—though the sheriff in charge of the case later told the press that the prime suspect was not actually Mexican.

Brewer, for her part, gained national notoriety after fabricating tales of beheadings in the Arizona desert—which, as I wrote for Campus Progress at the time—generated support for her anti-immigrant political agenda while diverting public attention away from the reality that  most of Arizona’s border violence is directed at immigrants, rather than perpetrated by them.

Arizona’s countersuit against the federal government

Brewer’s recent countersuit against the federal government—which alleges that Arizona is under invasion from the south and that the feds have failed to protect the state accordingly—similarly conjures nativist fantasies of immigrant-fueled border violence. But, as Scott Lemieux posits at TAPPED, the suit idly and transparently villainizes immigrants:

It is (to put it mildly) a stretch to argue that Arizona is undergoing an “invasion.” Illegal immigration does not constitute a military threat or an attempt to overthrow the state government; anti-immigration metaphors are not a sound basis for constitutional interpretation.

Like those propagated by state lawmakers during Arizona’s nativist heyday last spring, this new offensive belies the reality that, while anti-Latino hate crimes have risen by 52 percent nationally in recent years, border crime has been on the decline for quite some time—a fact noted by Alternet’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd in her coverage of the countersuit.

Yet, in an effort to further their extreme, anti-immigrant agenda, Arizona’s nativist lawmakers determinedly maintain the myth that Latin American immigration somehow generates a groundswell of violent crime—even when doing so requires the hasty revision of a rancher’s death, and the callous disregard of an innocent child’s murder.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Diaspora: Anti-Immigrant Hate Crimes Rise with Hateful Political Speech

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The federal trial of three Pennsylvania police officers accused of covering up the murder of an undocumented Mexican immigrant opened last week—reigniting critical discussion about the recent rise of anti-immigrant hate crimes. The officers—former Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Patrolman Jason Hayes—allegedly attempted to conceal the racially motivated nature of the 2008 murder of 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, who was brutally beaten to death in a park by a group of teenagers spouting racial slurs. At the time, Ramirez’s murder underscored a growing trend of anti-Hispanic violence in the U.S., which some attribute to increasingly anti-immigrant political rhetoric.

In recent years, hate crimes against Latinos have increased by 52 percent, a steep rise that Alternet’s Arun Gupta attributes to incessant “right-wing vituperation” and “caustic rhetoric.” In Arizona, where anti-immigrant sentiment has fomented into a bevy of retrogressive and prejudicial state policies, the number of reported hate crimes rose from 161 in 2007 to 219 in 2009. Tellingly, the recent rise in anti-Latino hate crimes runs counter to an overall decrease in reported hate crimes nationwide.

Prevalence of I-Word on television coincides with anti-immigrant hate crimes

At ColorLines, Mónica Novoa points out that a dramatic spike in the use of the word “illegals” in television programming last year coincided with both the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 and a number of subsequent racially motivated murders:

  • In June, Juan Varela—U.S. citizen and a third-genderation Mexican American—was shot to death in Phoenix by a man shouting “You fucking Mexican, go back to Mexico!”
  • In July, Sergio Zapata-Zurita’s family was accosted at gunpoint in Washington by a man apparently obsessed with “illegal immigration.
  • In August, Martin Reyes—a Honduran immigrant and father of six—was stabbed to death in Baltimore by a crazed man who told police that he “hated Mexicans.”

The irony here is that, while heated discourse surrounding the measure may have contributed to a rash of anti-immigrant hate crimes last year, its implementation in Arizona has inhibited the local victims of those crimes contacting the police—for fear that, under the new law, they will be arrested for being undocumented.

Hate crimes report censored to conceal role of official’s hate speech

Some localities have taken important steps to counter the rise of anti-Latino hate crimes, but at least one of those well-meaning efforts has been undermined by the anti-immigrant Right. Change.org’s Alex DiBranco reports that, in Suffolk County, New York, one ranking official’s affinity for anti-immigrant rhetoric may have compelled him to censor a potentially damning hate crimes report. Suffolk County’s problem with anti-immigrant violence has been in the news since 2008, when the racially motivated murder of an Ecuadoran immigrant highlighted Long Island’s epidemic of racial violence. Following the incident, Suffolk County formed a Hate Crimes Task Force responsible for monitoring hate crimes in the area, and issuing reports of its findings.

But County Executive Steve Levy, who is locally notorious for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, has been accused of editing more than 50 pages from the task force’s most recent report—many of which contained substantial criticism of his administration’s handling of immigrant issues, according to Mike Clifford at the Public News Service. Noting that Levy’s critics have long attributed the rise in anti-immigrant hate crimes to his extreme position on immigration, DiBranco speculates that Levy’s drastic censorship of the report is an attempt to conceal his own role in fostering violence.

Bigotry accusations divide the Republican Party

Following the recent Tucson shooting, the tragic potential of hateful political rhetoric has come to the foreground. The issue has become so heated that it threatens to fracture the Republican Party itself. In the aftermath of the tragedy, and in light of the party’s increasingly extremist positions on immigration, certain  party leaders have defected from the GOP, accusing the party of fostering racism for political ends, John Tomasic at the American Independent reports. Most recently, former Colorado Republican Muhammad Ali Hasan and former Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes have spoken out against party bigotry directed at Muslims and Latinos, prompting conservative Latino organization Somos Republicans to launch an anti-bigotry campaign against its own party.

It’s a step in the right direction. But even as a minority of Republicans takes it upon themselves to critically examine the role of the party’s extremist positions and rhetoric, the deadly impact of the party’s institutionalized bigotry nevertheless remains remarkably under-recognized—even as it continues to claim innocent lives.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Harsh SB1070 copycat laws on the horizon in 2011

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Following the tragic shooting in Arizona, there has been a call for greater civility and tolerance in the political and public spheres with the hope that a more reasonable path would be favored by all. However, news of  numerous states introducing legislation similar to Arizona’s harsh, anti-immigrant law, SB1070, doesn’t bode well for the new year.

On Tuesday, Mississippi passed and signed  into law SB 2179, a copy cat SB 1070 legislation that allows local law enforcement officers in Mississippi to demand proof of citizenship from drivers whom they have pulled over for traffic violations.

From the Clarion Ledger-

The bill would authorize local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person may be in the country illegally during any “lawful stop, detention or arrest.

The bill’s chief backer is Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Republican in a chamber that is predominantly Democrat. Reports by the Clarion-Ledger indicate that Fillingane considers SB 2179 an improvement on SB 1070 because, according to him, SB 2179 only allows officers to inquire about a person’s citizenship status as part of a secondary search, once they have already been stopped for a different, ‘primary’ offense, such as a traffic violation. The issue remains, however, that a significant percentage of racial profiling takes place when people are stopped for minor traffic violations, during stops that are at the officer’s discretion, often without accountability on the part of the officer. Further, in addition to the ways in which this law can lead to racial profiling, it is important to note that the legislation will also cost the state additional costs of housing, transportation, and hiring experts.

Following in the footsteps of Mississippi, states like Florida, Iowa, Oregon, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky are all contemplating Arizona-style immigration laws, with conservative legislatures and governors responding to the lack of federal action on immigration by taking immigration enforcement into their own hands. There are also concerns in Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico, all of which are slated to usher in anti-immigration legislation.

In Virginia a group of House Republicans recently announced plans to put forward at least sixteen bills aimed at undocumented immigrants including bills that would ensure that children without documentation could not attend public schools and colleges. Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, who is taking the lead on these bills said that state action was called for in such areas where the federal government had “completely failed.” The bills that they unveiled on Tuesday included legislation that would require authorities to check the immigration status of anyone “taken into custody,” and to ensure that the check would apply even to those who were arrested and released on bail or bond before being taken to jail. Virginia already denies driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and all taxpayer-paid services except those expressly required by law such as education and emergency medical care. The  laws proposed by this group seek to challenge even those by denying public education to children who are undocumented.

When questioned by the Washington Post, David B. Albo said that while this package of anti-immigrant bills was motivated by Arizona’s SB1070 law introduced in 2010, they were of the opinion that the laws they propose were moderate in comparison to SB1070 and hence had a chance at passing where SB1070 did not.

A consideration for lawmakers on laws similar to SB1070 are the costs involved. For example, the Senate Bill 6, Kentucky’s Arizona copy cat law, is estimated to cost the state $40 million a year in expenses.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader:

…..A 2008 study estimated that, if Kentucky successfully removed all of its undocumented immigrants, it would lose $1.7 billion in economic activity, $756.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 12,059 jobs. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations just four months after its immigration bill’s passage due to an economic boycott that was waged against the state.

Skeptics of Arizona style immigration laws are also looking at the issue purely from the point of view of business and how such laws are detrimental for the economic prosperity of the state in question. Lawmakers opposing the bills argue that states proposing such legislation are being “fiscally irresponsible.“For example, in just four months after passing SB 1070, Arizona lost an estimated $141 million in visitor spending.

While debates around the politics, efficacy, economics and constitutionality of laws such as SB 1070 continue to rage, it is easy to forget that eventually it is individuals and their families that are most adversely affected by these laws. As more states think of taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, it is important to keep in mind that when we deny due process to some and compromise their civil liberties, we compromise the human rights of all.

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This MLK Day, Arizona moves forward

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, debates are raging over hate-filled rhetoric in the political sphere. According to Daniel Hernandez, the brave volunteer in Gabriel Zimmerman’s office who helped his boss amidst all the chaos-

“I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.”

Political analysts suggest that, while there are no obvious motives for the attack, the current theme in politics recently might easily give more people like Jared Lee Loughner the inspiration to resort to violence. Others are arguing for stricter gun control, an issue that has picked up momentum since the recent shootings.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th of this month, we need to take a minute to sit back and introspect on why we have become a nation whose politics are filled with spewing hatred and fear. Taking a cue from Martin Luther King’s own life, struggles and politics, it is time to look forward and strive for a public discourse that is open and civil. President Obama, in his memorial address at Tucson, has also called for an end to the constant barrage of accusations and hatred against each other by all political actors-

…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Instead of starting a blame game, which inevitably leads to more word wars, why not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year with a renewed fervor for civility? In an effort to counter the hatred on the political arena in the country, people have called for organized movements to bring back civility in political and public discourse. The Anti Defamation League has launched ‘Restore Civility,’ a call for a more respectful political debate. Another project to follow is the “History of Hate, Future of Progress” Story Collection Project, started by Alto Arizona, asking people to uncover stories of intolerance, hate speech and violent rhetoric in their own community.

In addition to remembering those we have lost, there is lots to do this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Celebrate the spirit and courage of the man who continued in his struggles without resorting to political hatred, rancor or anger, despite facing stiff opposition along the way.

Besides the annual MLK Day parades in almost every major city in the country, here is a list of events you can attend to show your support for a more “civilized” public sphere!

Arizona
Those living in the metro Phoenix area can celebrate Martin Luther King and the diversity that is this country by attending the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center. Come for live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings, a job fair and vendors.

New York
Lets teach our children tolerance, respect and an understanding of diversity and equality. Raising Citizens is a weekend-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival at the Children’s Museum. Kids experience discussions of Dr. King’s life and teachings, craft projects, and performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

Washington DC
Student sit-ins, roundtable discussions, drama, and music- at The National Museum of American History’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Family Festival you can be part of an inspirational tribute to the life and work of Dr King.

Los Angeles
Cheer on young volunteers as the City Year Corps Volunteers head to Thomas Edison Middle School to give the school a makeover on Jan. 17. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will paint rooms, a mural, and landscape, and beautify the campus.

Boston
Boston is celebrating Martin Luther King by hosting a free tribute concert at Faneuil Hall Boston. Join the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, the Museum of African American History and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) in remembering a great man, and listen to poet and activist Nikki Giovanni who will deliver the keynote speech.

Chicago
Northwestern’s Chicago Campus will be hosting Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, for a talk on spiritual symbols and frames of reference for unity in light of what Dr King thought about pluralism.

As Jon Stewart aptly put it:

Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?

Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

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How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

From the Restore Fairness blog-

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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