Tag Archives: mega-slum

Was there a DREAM versus Secure Communities Immigration Deal?

CeciliaMunozBuenos Aires        I want to share how exciting it was to be with the organizing committee in the Isidor Casanova district of the mega-slum, La Matanza, yesterday as they planned their first major campaign to clean up the fouled, garbage laden dump that their river has become, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Working with these Uruguayan immigrants now living permanently in Argentina, made me think even more about the twists and turns around immigration and immigrants in the USA this week while I have traveled.

Earlier in the week there was major concern about the continued backward, and repressive, direction that the Obama Administration has taken around immigrants in the United States and its mouthing of reform while it mandated repression.  Loud cries of anger and protest rose at the announcements of a toughening stance by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the controversial and coercive Secure Communities program which too often has been a fast track to criminalizing economic refugees rather than violent interlopers, as well as a tool for the worst among us on these issues like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other wannabe police officials that Secure Communities forcibly impresses into being immigration cops.  Some states, many cities, and other political jurisdictions have refused to comply with Secure Communities, rejected its attack on human rights and civil liberties, and refused the money, while the Administration has continued to force feed the program regardless and upped the ante in doing so recently.  Illinois and some other jurisdictions have continued their resistance, but clearly a deeper and perhaps more cynical politics is at work.

What seemed especially traitorous was the endorsement of Secure Communities in a hearty embrace by Cecilia Munoz, who has been a shining light for immigrant rights and before joining the Obama Administration after the election, one of the clearest and most effective voices for change with friends and allies in all sorts of organizations.  We certainly counted ourselves proudly among them at ACORN.   One of my friends speculated earlier this week about whether Cecilia had jumped to this conclusion or been pushed.

Yesterday’s announcement that the Administration will use “prosecutorial discretion” in dealing with deportation cases involving children who have been in the USA virtually all of their lives because they were brought here by their parents, perhaps illegally, families of servicemen and other divided family situations, those trying to serve in our military or attend college or similar situations, and instead only focus deportation procedures on criminal elements with records, gang membership, or similar problems essentially implements much of the promise of the DREAM Act.  Advocates estimated this could impact up to 2 million immigrants in the USA now.  Senator Durbin of Illinois, who has been a consistent and courageous advocate of the DREAM Act, was more subdued and guessed it might impact 100-200,000.  Anyway you count it, the announcement is a major step forward in alleviating a huge injustice and moral insult on the deepest principles of America.  DHS’s Napoliano was quick to point out that it doesn’t change the need for real reform or the DREAM Act, and for the first time in a long time, I have to say I absolutely agree with her on that point!

This is all temporary, and the President is making clear through these actions not only that he wants to hide behind Secure Communities on his right flank, but also that Latino and other voters in 2012 have to see him as the thin line between coming and going for immigrants and their families in this beleaguered category.

Though the details have not emerged, there can’t be much doubt that this was a deal that had Cecilia’s fingerprints all over it, while leveraging Senator Durban big time along with Majority Senate Leader Harry Reid, who still needed to deliver for the huge lift he got from Latino voters in his Nevada re-election last fall.  Obama never seems to understand that you have to give as well as get in politics to hold support, but Munoz, Durban, and Reid all understand the political equation only too well and no doubt knew the anger and frustration at losing everything was disillusioning if the only hope was the thin one of taking back control of Congress.

This was a classic velvet gloved fist political deal.  Give some relief to the the more innocent victims of our failure to enact DREAM and immigration reform, while hitting immigrants hard where they live and work, day after day, in their communities.  As NDLON attorney, Chris Newman, remarked on twitter last night, the new announcements on careful reading, still have moved to criminalize all immigrants in the USA.  The foot has been lifted from some necks with “prosecutorial discretion,” the principle continues to press down on all immigrants that the foot is still there, hovering, and can fall with any misstep or political push in an opposite direction.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Cecilia and the Senators crafted a deal, and it’s definitely better than nothing, so that’s something to celebrate.  Thank goodness Obama is facing an election, so he had to finally deliver something.  The sad part of it has to remain, that this is the best that all of their work on the inside could deliver.


$300 House Might be a Disaster Solution, Not a Social Solution

N300houseew Orleans I read all of these stories about cheap, modular construction in various designs from assorted materials.  I find them fascinating and quaint.  Mainly, I read them to give me ideas for how to rebuild our fishing camp across Lake Pontchartrain or to plant in the mountains or woods as a retreat somewhere.  It never occurs to me to take them seriously as a social solution to the needs of the poor for decent and affordable housing.  For the most part they are architectural confections for student projects, so what harm can they do:  the world certainly needs more storage sheds.

Colleagues working in Dharavi, the mega-slum in central Mumbai where ACORN International organizes and has several projects, wrote an eviscerating piece today (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/opinion/01srivastava.html?ref=todayspaper)  that somehow found its way onto the op-ed pages of the New York Times about another one of these bright light ideas, this one being promoted by the Harvard Business Review of all places to claim concern for the poor.  Seems the Review launched a competition to build a one-room $300 house that they claimed “could improve the lives of millions of urban poor around the world.”  The arrogance and ignorance of the poor and their living conditions is startling, and Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava of the Institute of Urbanology can hardly control their contempt though they do a masterful job at it in their piece, so hats off to them.

“The $300 house could potentially be a success story, if it was understood as a straightforward business proposal instead of a social solution.  Places like refugee camps, where many people need shelter for short period, could use such cheap, well built units.  A market for them could perhaps be created in rural-urban fringes that are less built up.   The $300 house responds to our misconceptions more than to real needs.  A better approach would be to help residents build better, safer homes for themselves.  The $300 house will fail as a social intiative because the dynamic needs, interests and aspirations of millions of people who live in places like Dharavi have been overlooked.  This kind of mistake is all too common in the trendy field of social entrepreneurship.  While businessman and professors applaud the $300 house, the urban poor are silent, busy building a future for themselves.”

The authors were actually kinder than they might have been here while trying to be diplomatic.  The urban poor relocation projects in Delhi that have specialized in slum removal and replanting of the poor to the far outskirts of the city at the outer edge of transportation and livelihoods have been a disaster.  Certainly the space provided is in the 150 meter  floor plan that would be similar to the $300 house, but the results have been disastrous.

Even in disaster relief it is hard not to remember the Andres Duany and New Urbanist schemes for “Katrina Cottages” as not simply temporary housing replacements for trailers, but preferable and permanent housing structures in New Orleans.  Duany is a great architect and planner and no doubt a man of good will, but such a notion was DOA from the start.  Supposedly some have been built and used in Mississippi, and they might end up as storage sheds and mother-in-law cottages on some back lots, but as replacement housing in New Orleans, the signature touches that were supposed to recall the city and its distinctive architecture was charades at best.

Businessmen, developers, and promoters understand how to make a fast buck and that’s easily proven but we shouldn’t be confused when they are hypnotized by the glare of a $424 billion market for affordable homes that they know anything about the poor, care anything about poverty relief, or have any interest in understanding either.