News Alert: Mexican Border Officials Deport U.S. Citizens on Eve of Obama’s Visit

Students, faith leaders, and community members caught in border conflict

Minutes after midnight on April 28th, eight U.S. citizens from Austin, Texas, were deported from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, a Mexican border town opposite Del Rio, Texas. The Mexican government’s action comes a few days before President Obama’s visit to Mexico on Thursday to redefine the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

“We have organized these tours for 14 years and have never experienced anything like this. We are shocked and outraged,” said Judith Rosenberg, board president of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (Austin So Close to the Border), a local non-profit.

The deported citizens were on an educational tour organized by ATCF to Ciudad Acuña to visit the offices of the CFO (Border Workers Committee), a community-based organization that defends worker and women’s rights on the Mexican side of the border.

As they were sitting down to have lunch, the delegation was surrounded by armed police, taken to the Mexican immigration office, detained and questioned for 9 hours, then deported to Del Rio. “We were never given a clear explanation of what charges and penalties we faced. We were not provided a legal translator and were pressured to sign some document under threat of being detained for up to 90 days in Saltillo, Coahuila,” said one deportee, a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We got a different kind of educational experience than we expected” said one of the other deportees, Reverend Kate Rohde of Wildflower Church in Austin. “If the Mexican Government is putting this kind of pressure on church ladies and students from the U.S., just for listening to workers, it is obvious that the Mexican workers we met receive much worse treatment from their government when they ask for humane working conditions and wages. We hope that President Obama will raise the issue of worker justice and independent unions when he meets with Mexico’s President.”

The group sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama asking for their assistance in this matter.

[Source: press release from trusted source, contact Josefina Castillo @]


American Christianity Tested by ''Illegals''

Re-posted in loving memory of Jay, who passed away last Friday at the age of 66.–gm

A guest Sunday Sermon

Inside the Checkpoints
By Jay Johnson-Castro

As a child raised in this great country, I was taught to believe in a loving God, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth. I was also taught that, while under human rule, America was the one place on Earth that protected the precious freedoms with which our Creator endowed us.

From childhood on, I was taught the highest of all principles were based on Love. Love of God, love of our neighbor, love of family and even love of our enemy. As citizens of a modern country that banners liberty, we have matured in some senses, and degenerated in other aspects. As Americans, we should realize that freedom of worship guarantees and protects religious along with ethnic and cultural diversity.

As a country, we can no longer rightfully call the United States of America a Christian nation if, as a country, it does not live by the most basic of Christian values. At the same time, if we are true to our American values, the many thousands of religions that exist on this planet are equally protected in this country.

In this millennium, this century, this decade and especially in this year, American Christianity is being intensely tested. For those of us Americans who believe in a loving God, we of all people must realize that we are under such a major testing. It is not a test of whether there is a separation of the church of our choice and the American political arena. We know that you cannot take the faith out of the minds and hearts of elected officials. Nor is the test whether our nation subscribes to fundamental Christian values. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights well outline the role of God and Christian values in the founding of this country. We Americans who claim to be Christian are being tested as to whether or not we as a people of faith apply those lofty values in our everyday American lives. And, if we do apply them, we are being tested as to how well we apply them.

As a people of faith in the laws of God, in the light of “love your enemy as yourself”, we could and perhaps should test ourselves on our attitude about the war and the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. We could ask if such warlike commitment is a display of “love of neighbor” or “love of our enemies”. We could use torture and torture camps to test the depth of our American and Christian values and resolve. We could test our attitude, our level of concern or even our level of tolerance with regard to the wanton lies, perversion and corruption being committed by the elected officials in America who make decisions and laws on our behalf.

Yet, there is almost an ideal test of our American and Christian values. It involves a basic issue facing our country. “Illegal” immigration. Let’s take the test.

As American Christians, in our minds and hearts, how do we deal with the “illegal” immigrant problem? Is it justifiable to our American values and our Christianity that men, women, even children, are being arrested as a criminals, simply because they traverse hundreds or thousands of miles to enter our country without documentation in their quest to find a job to support their family and to pursue liberty? Applying the law of “Love thy neighbor as yourself”, how are we doing as Americans, and Christians. Do we justify or even approve of the imprisonment of these people? How about the Golden Rule given by the Lord in his Sermon on the Mount? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Is criminalizing a starving refugee in harmony with our professed Christian faith?

If an American Christian, who says he believes that “all men are created equal”, and at the same time is a racist, supremacist, nativist or xenophobic, is he true to the highest American or Christian values?

The founding fathers believed that we are all endowed by our Creator with “certain unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those Christian founders believed that we were all born with those “certain” and “unalienable” rights. They did not believe that you had to be an American citizen to enjoy them. On the contrary, they established a country and a government, here in America where such freedoms would be offered, guaranteed, experienced and protected. All one had to do was get here.

How about us individually? Do we see the lowly immigrant as a threat to OUR America. If so, how does that harmonize with “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Which law is higher? The convoluted and unjust immigration laws of this country, or God’s laws? Whose laws will we obey? God’s or man’s?

Why is it a crime in this country for even an American citizen, in many cases a Christian, to help or give safe haven to a starving, thirsty or even dying immigrant that has traversed hundreds of treacherous miles over extremely cold or hot wilderness? Why is a refugee arrested like a violent criminal? Why is that person, perhaps a woman, an elderly person, even a child, imprisoned in private “for profit” internment camps, without rights or due process?

Why would Christians build walls to divide people? Is that American? Is that Christian? Is that “love of neighbor”? Would Jesus do such a thing? Would he approve of such treatment of the lowly and innocent?

This is why the American Christian is being tested. If someone declares that what the immigrant is doing is “illegal”, does that justify the cruel and inhumane treatment committed by Americans who profess a Christian faith? What are we protecting by such bigoted conduct? America? Christian values? The vast majority of people that enter our country through our southern borders are themselves Christians. Is that how Christian brothers and sisters are to treat one another?

Indeed, loving our neighbor as ourselves is a great test of not only our national values but our personal and moral values as well. What if is was the other way around, and what if it was one of us that was desperately seeking a job or freedom from poverty or tyranny? How would we want to be treated? Would we want to be chased down like a criminal and thrown on the desert floor? Would we want to be cuffed and thrown into a “holding pen” and then an internment camp? Would we want our women and children locked up in cold prison cells?

If anyone takes the position that he or she would never stoop to breaking the law and entering another country illegally, they betray their most basic American and Christian values. Such an attitude belies arrogance and an attitude of superiority and prejudice. It was not God who created political boundaries. Christ never taught that “love of neighbor” had political or national limitations. Wasn’t that the lesson in his story about the Good Samaritan, a stranger, a foreigner…who helped a suffering fellow human that had been beaten, robbed and left to die?

Some “Americans”, who profess Christianity, are the very ones who treat immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees in such a dehumanizing un-American and un-Christian way. In our own country some Americans who claim to be Christians get paid handsome salaries and are given high-tech and lethal equipment to hunt down, arrest and victimize immigrants who are simply members of our human family. Other “Americans”, who also call themselves Christians, own companies or invest heavily in corporate stock in companies that profit off of the imprisonment of these humble people whose only crime is that they want to work, enjoy freedom and to provide for their families.

“Americans” who call themselves Christians exploit these people in our country as well as in the countries of the immigrants for the “love of money” and greedy corporate gain. They can do so “legally” because they have successfully passed laws that favor corporate greed, laws that are pushed through by corrupt lobbyists and passed by morally ca
lloused politicians. Such laws which allows for the victimization and mistreatment of the immigrant that is too poor to follow the rules of immigration and citizenship.

So, when does the Christianity of such political and corporate officials ever get applied? When do these rich and powerful self-proclaimed “American Christians” ever apply the law of God in their quest for more power and money? When do they treat their neighbor as themselves? They don’t! They have continually failed the test of upholding the high moral values on which this country was founded. Additionally, they have certainly betrayed the laws of the God they profess to worship. If one believes the scriptures, they more likely resemble the category of what Christ called “hypocrites”, “blind guides”,” and “whitewashed graves” who “disregarded the weightier things of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness”.

It is up to “We the People of the United States” to apply and uphold the lofty and fundamental values on which this country is founded. It is up to each individual who professes faith in God to live by the highest laws in the universe known to man.

If we are to pass the test of American Christianity, we would uphold the most American of values and the highest of Christian principles. If we love God and we love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, then we will eagerly and willingly extend to all mankind the opportunity to experience the “liberty” we cherish. We would reject any form of enslavement, imprisonment of innocence without due process.

If we pass the test of American Christianity, regardless of any human law, we would reject any form of mistreatment of any member of God’s children. We would do all we can to prevent any mistreat the “alien residents”. We would not allow the vilification or victimization of the immigrant that cannot gain citizenship by normal means. We would not consider it “illegal” to share in the freedoms we enjoy. We would lay our lives on the line to love the immigrant as ourselves. In so doing, we pass a crucial test, that of being a Christian in America.

(March 24, 2008)


Texas Groups Unveil Reports on Conditions of Immigrant Detention

December 8th Protest at Polk County Detention Center to Call for Prison’s Closure

Texas organizations have just released reports detailing inhumane conditions at two privately operated immigrant detention centers in Texas. Texas has more immigrant detention beds than any other state.

The reports – detailing conditions at the Houston Processing Center and Polk County Secure Adult Detention Facility in Livingston – are part of a national “Expose and Close” campaign to highlight conditions at ten of the nation’s worst immigrant detention facilities that exemplify the egregious problems inherent throughout the system. The Campaign is calling for immediate closure of these facilities. The reports are available here.

President Barack Obama made promises to reform the immigration detention system in 2009, however, the reality on the ground has not changed say activists. Immigrants in detention continue to be denied basic needs, such as contact with lawyers and loved ones, inadequate food and hygiene, and access to fresh air and sunlight. They continue to receive inadequate medical care and endure racial slurs and discriminatory treatment by prison staff.

“At the Polk County facility, we witnessed horrific conditions,” said Texans United for Families member Sam Vong. “ICE must shut down this facility as a first step towards reducing its detained population.”

Texans United for Families and Grassroots Leadership also announced that they will hold a protest on Saturday, December 8th, at the Polk County Detention Facility in Livingston, Texas in commemoration of International Human Rights Day calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to close the detention center.

At Polk, detained men eat, sleep, and use the bathroom all in one room. The cells are dreary, lack natural lighting, and do not offer privacy. Neither meaningful programming nor legal services exist at Polk. One man detained at Polk told members of Texans United for Families, “This isn’t a good place; I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

In response to the report, Congressman Lloyd Doggett issued a statement saying “The many problems identified at these facilities show the need to reform the detention system by uniting families in community-based settings.”

The Polk County Detention Facility is operated by private prison corporation Community Education Centers (CEC) while Houston Processing Center is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CEC has recently come under criticism for operating violent and abusive half-way houses in New Jersey.

“While immigrants suffer under prolonged detention at Polk County and the Houston Processing Center, private prison corporations are getting rich,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “It doesn’t have to be this way. ICE should prioritize release of immigrants in community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings.”


Isenberg Center Takes Up Defense of Oregon Man to Stop Deportation

The story of Dallas immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg’s efforts to stop the deportation of a 20-year-old Oregon man is rated as a “Top Five” story today by the editors of the Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon. Here’s how the editors summarize the story:

In a attempt to stop a 20-year-old Happy Valley man’s deportation, immigration advocates from around the nation assembled in Clackamas County on Monday, The Oregonian reports. Edson Barrera Gonzalez was arrested last year after giving his financially struggling parents unauthorized discounts and ringing up false returns at the Macy’s where he worked.

Due to these charges, Gonzalez, who illegally immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of six, has been detained in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Tacoma, Wash.

Gonzalez’s advocates argue that, since he and his family have paid restitution, he should not be treated as a felon. In the latest move to prevent his deportation, Gonzalez filed for bench probation, which would put him under the court’s jurisdiction, and a judge stop his deportation by reducing his crime to a misdemeanor.

Meanwhile on Monday, ABC affiliate KATU went to the Clackamas County courthouse, southeast of Portland, OR to cover the arrival of Rev. Peter Johnson of the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment (ICIE). Rev. Johnson, a longtime associate of Isenberg’s and a former colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled from Texas to help press the legal case for downgrading Barrera Gonzalez’ legal status from felony to misdemeanor. The legal change in status would likely help Barrera avoid imminent deportation. Video of the courthouse report is archived at the ICIE website.

A quick glance at the comments posted at the KATU website confirms that ICIE is taking a courageous stand in behalf of the young man. Documents shared with the Texas Civil Rights Review tell the story of a family who hit upon hard times and made some bad choices. According to the documents, Barrera, who worked as a cashier at a major department store, attempted to compensate for his mother’s unemployment by selling merchandise to his parents at steep discounts. When then 19-year-old Barrera was caught by store security, he readily admitted to everything and agreed to pay damages.

Although Barrera pleaded guilty to felony charges, he was given penalties more consistent with a misdemeanor offense, argue his ICIE advocates. Because of the irregular immigration status of the family, Barrera’s original 10-day sentence has turned into a lengthy detention by immigration authorities. In detention, Barrera has reportedly maintained a good record of conduct and has become active in helping with detention programs.

Isenberg, who says he has been in frequent contact with the Barrera Gonzalez family by telephone, tells the Texas Civil Rights Review that the family has learned a hard lesson and deserves a second chance. To break up the family by deporting the son is too cruel a punishment say ICIE advocates.

“You can’t have justice without mercy,” says Rev. Johnson in the KATU courthouse report. Meanwhile, Isenberg has offered full financial restitution for the theft. The department store attorney says the company would be agreeable to a downgrade of charges to misdemeanor status. And Barrera has offered to do community service, including talking to youth about the temptations of bad choices. –gm


The Land Grabs and the Carelessness of Fracking

By Nick Braune…

I am new to this issue and it has some technical sides, but I’ve learned enough about fracking lately to be concerned.

“Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. A narrow hole is drilled deep down into the ground.  According to the website for the excellent documentary “Gasland,” produced by Josh Fox, drilling can go down 8,000 feet, 24 football fields down. Then a mix of water, sand and chemicals is repeatedly shot down the hole, with very high pressure, cracking open the hard shale and rock and releasing treasured natural gas.

Although across the country there is opposition to it, and although some areas have stopped fracking because it ruins the land and the water and causes mini earthquakes, it’s rampant in Texas. Remember when candidate Perry bragged about the Texas economy? — Well, fracking did contribute to that little boost in employment.  You can see signs of fracking driving from McAllen to San Antonio; it’s all over the state. (Incidentally, have you noticed all the ads recently for “clean,” “natural” gas?  These ads alone make me suspicious.)

The “Gasland” documentary received a 2011 Academy Award nomination.  One famous scene features a fellow in rural Pennsylvania where fracking is happening.  He showed the camera team that if he turned on his kitchen faucet for water, there would also be gas and chemicals coming out.  He held a lighter to the faucet and it looked like a flaming torch coming out — that’s how much gas and chemicals were in his water!  Matt Damon also is planning a film about the fracking craze, “The Promised Land.”

According to the “Gasland” website, in 2005 a Bush/Cheney energy bill created what’s called the “Halliburton loophole,” preventing environmentalists from objecting to fracking on the basis of the Clean Water Act, and exempting companies from disclosing the chemicals used in the process.  Now there is a speculative rush all over the country to get into it; the riches being promised by natural gas fracking are causing quite a burstable investment bubble.

A Reuters report (October 3) on gas “land grab” practices interviewed a couple in Arlington Texas who did not want to sell drilling rights to Chesapeake Energy Corporation — the couple opposed fracking.  (Watch how Gov. Perry’s Texas really respects property rights.)  The couple was pressured and offered money but would not sell, so Chesapeake went to a Texas state agency, got what is called an “exception,” and drilled under them anyhow.  The couple received no money.  Reuters investigated and found that Chesapeake has asked Texas for 1,628 such exceptions.  The state agency has turned down only five exception requests and granted all the rest.  And Exxon-Mobil has received about 800 such exceptions. 

I emailed Alyssa Burgin, an environmentalist who watches land and water issues and directs the Texas Drought Project, and I asked if the Reuter’s article was exaggerating about “land grab” practices. She agreed with the article.

Burgin said, when “landmen” approach landowners they often lie. “Landmen lie about how much money owners will receive, and about how clean they will leave the land. Worse, even when people clearly own both surface and minerals, landowners are told that they had better sign, or the companies will drill right next door, horizontally burrow under, and get their oil or gas anyway — so they ‘might as well sign.’”

Fracking is mean business, from beginning to end.     [This article first appeared in “Reflection and Change” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, 10-7-12, but let me add here the following paragraphs as a postscript.] 

I also asked Alyssa Burgin a follow-up question about water issues, which I know she follows.  I had attended a presentation she helped organize in Corpus Christi, but had arrived late and didn’t quite understand if franking was a water-issue problem because it uses too much water or because it poisons the water somehow.  Her answer was interesting:

“There are two issues with water. First, I will address ‘produced’ water, the water that is used to frack and then either left in open pits or hauled away to who knows where. They use seven to ten million gallons of water per frack per hole in the Eagle Ford. That water is polluted with a laundry list of toxins–benzene, toluene, and a couple of hundred more chemicals, many of which are “proprietary,” and thus not revealed to the public. Some drillers say they can clean up the water to make it potable. Not possible. Even if there were a way to remove all the chemicals, in South Texas, there is so much uranium below ground that the water becomes radioactive. Now, the areas where they are fracking are among some of the most active farming areas–corn, cotton, alfalfa. Most of those crops died in this year’s drought, and it was not unusual to see dead corn next to fracking fields. The drillers compare their water use to water acreage used for agriculture in this state. But the agricultural water used returns to the hydrological cycle through trans-evaporation. The produced water does not.  

“And additionally, the second issue–there are some recorded incidents of contamination of wells and underground water resources from fracking. The industry says this is not true, but that is because they literally pay people to shut up; their legal awards to the victims require a gag order. No joke. You can drive through areas in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania where every single house has a big water tank in the yard, furnished by the same exact company. Clearly they are getting water as a result of an agreement with the drillers.  Unfortunately, because of short-sighted Texas law, and because we have a patchwork of water regs that vary from county to county, we have almost no way of determining how much of our water is gone. Forever.”