New Orleans Meeting with Suyapa Amador and Erlyn Perez, ACORN International’s key organizers in Honduras in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa recently in Nicaragua, it became clear that we were making progress in winning more security for our neighborhoods, including several important commitment from the First Lady focusing on jobs as well as protection, but we were still putting our fingers in the dike. In Managua they could not stop talking about how much safer it felt everywhere compared to Honduras. For better or worse, the government felt like it worked in Nicaragua, rather than being either ineffective or oppositional in Honduras. We heard amazing stories of what it took for families to raise the $4000 to $6000 to try to allow family members, including children, to escape the violence and, quite frankly, to find jobs.
Bobby Jindal, the ultra-conservative Republican governor of Louisiana and wannabe presidential contender, on this side of the fence wants to know more than he should about the more than 1000 children from Honduras and other Central American countries being held with family in Louisiana. The Jefferson Parish public schools wants to know where they can come up with $4 million to provide the additional support services for these children coming into their system. Another Republican wannabe, Texas governor Rick Perry, has tried to broad-brush these children and others as potential terrorists. Headlines everywhere ask for support for refugees fleeing violence, bombing, and religious persecution in the Middle East, where millions are running for their lives. Departing Attorney General Eric Holder announced support for legal representation for the Central American’s coming over the border. How is it that Republicans and many Americans can pretend to understand refugees in the Middle East, but are confused about our Central American neighbors being human rights and economic refugees in almost precisely the same way?
I listened to a brief presentation and interview recently organized by the New Orleans on-line news service, the Lens with lawyers, organizers, and beleaguered immigrants connected to the Congress of Day Laborers and the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice. An unfortunately slim audience listened to a back and forth about whether or not the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program in New Orleans was a pilot or not, and whether or not it was joining with the New Orleans Police Department to target, profile, and raid minority, immigrant communities in the city. New Orleans is part of the Secure Communities program which has been dropped by many other major urban areas. They reported meetings with Mayor Mitch Landrieu that had failed to win commitments to break away from their agreement though won some concessions around study, follow-up, and resources. The voices of the immigrants were powerful, though their stories probably confused many of the listeners, because despite being on message, the main takeaway was less about the police than about the precariousness of their situations, dropping them into the abyss of our broken immigration system.
There were two inescapable points made, one for New Orleans, and the other for everywhere. The Justice Department consent decree for the NOPD forbids it from targeting immigrant communities, but the city’s agreement with ICE on Secure Communities, makes them a handmaiden of the ICE officers in their work. But, the precariousness of circumstance that the two immigrants related settles on the ICE and Obama Administration claim to be rounding up “criminal” aliens, and continuing to allow the criminality to be defined and confused in the public’s mind. For most of these roundups the “criminal” behavior is having broken the law by coming over the border illegally. In the main this is not about robbers, rapists, murders, and drug traffic or terror, but about refugees guilty of seeking America for a better life.
The criminal behavior we heard early in the morning was a trip to the store for a baby and a domestic spat with a husband, both of which have now snared people in deportation proceedings, split their families, and exacerbated the criminality of their immigration. Looking north from Central America, all ACORN can see is a human rights crisis in countless communities, but here we are opening our jails faster than either our hearts or minds.