Friday, August 13, 2010

Real Simple (?), Honduras Grievances, Cuba Forum, Sudan, Rep.Waters, TPS, Immigration Reform, Uighur Oppression

Here again is my blog, which, I confess, covers a wide variety of topics. I’ll begin by an observation I made this morning at a local school, where I was the interpreter for a mother whose child was being tested for a hearing loss. While the mother and I were waiting, I picked up a magazine entitled Real Simple. You will not be surprised that this publication does not so much simplify life as offer alternative brands, both in its ads and feature articles, that might be considered less ostentatious and more politically correct than perhaps those in the mainstream—for example, bike ads, although there also were car ads, but of smaller and hybrid models. You get the idea. Consumerism and consumption are still the goals. Maybe that’s what makes this country’s and the world’s economy function, but if the goal were actually to get folks to simplify, they’d be urged to follow the example of the Amish or of my Honduran village friends, whose life, in fact, is “real simple.”

One of my correspondents has just e-mailed me an article entitled “Honduras Down the Memory Hole,” by Alyssa Figueroa, appearing in the August 2010 issue of Extra!, a publication I’ve never seen before, nor could I find it on Google. I tried copying it without success, so I’ll just tell you about it instead. It says that the abuses committed and the waffling on the Zelaya ouster by the United States and the media have been largely forgotten now and Porfirio Lobo’s November election has been accepted as a fait accompli. It’s true that when I was there last February, I found most Hondurans ready to move on and put the matter behind them. There were a few vociferous folks among Zelaya supporters who felt they had been mistreated and not adequately acknowledged or compensated. However, they were a small minority, as far as I could tell, which does not mean that their complaints did not have merit. They probably still have genuine grievances that have not been adequately addressed, which they should be, even though Zelaya himself will not be coming back.

A colleague and I have put together this showing, as the film maker will be in DC then, so please come if you are in the area. Probably the photo on the flyer will not come out here. I will speak at this event, also pass out an Amnesty International Urgent Action on behalf of one of the Damas.

“Damas de Blanco”

The Story of the women in White in Cuba

Join us for a Film Screening and candid Discussion

with Gry Winther, director, and Amnesty International

Monday, August 30th, 2010
Lindner Commons Hall, George Washington University, Washington, DC
5:30 pm – 7:15 p.m.

This award winning documentary highlights the founding movement of the women in white and their work to release political prisoners in Cuba, nominated for 2 “Golden Butterflies” awards at “Movies that Matter,” Haag 2010, and 2nd place winner for best documentary at “The Southern California Journalist Award” in Los Angeles in June 2010.
My IT challenges become most glaring when I try to post something on this blog, so I beg your indulgence if things just above look a bit peculiar. Would like to add that we at Amnesty International (AI) also have issued an urgent action appeal for one of the Women in White, Reina Luisa Tamayo, whose son was an AI prisoner of conscience and died in a hunger strike last Feb. She has been followed to her home and harassed by Cuban authorities, so appeals are going out to Raul Castro to leave her alone.

Glad to hear about some Sudanese student activists challenging the Bashir government and hope they aren’t in too much danger.

I have no way to judge the ethics charges against LA Congresswoman Maxine Waters, but do recall years ago being asked to give a briefing on behalf of Amnesty International to Congressional Black Caucus members preparing for a trip to Cuba and a meeting with Fidel Castro. Most seemed receptive to my message about Cuban prisoners of conscience, especially about the Afro-Cuban prisoners I identified and my request to please ask Castro for their release, as he often responded to personal appeals from those he considered his supporters abroad. But Waters, when an AI staff member and I met with her, said she wanted to hear nothing whatsoever about prisoners or human rights in Cuba, only about the deleterious effects of the US embargo. At the time, AI had no position on the embargo, but Waters would be pleased to know that now we at AI-USA are supporting the complete removal of what remains of the embargo and the ban on travel by American citizens.

TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status, the immigration status renewed every year allowing immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 to work legally in this country, though not to accumulate credit toward citizenship nor to return to visit their native country, except for emergencies with special permission. Haitians were also given 18 months of TPS after the recent earthquake. Now, after Central Americans with TPS have been in the US for 12 years, the Obama administration is considering allowing them to apply for residence, which would put them on a path to citizenship, provided they fulfilled all other requirements after 5 years. Only about 300,000 people have TPS, so it is not going to take care of the 11 or 12 million undocumented, but it’s a start. TPS people, after all, are not illegal. But citizenship is not easy to acquire. It requires payment of hefty fees, endless paperwork, and passing a test in spoken and written English regarding the structure, function, and founding documents of the US government, which most Americans long out of school could not pass either without studying. There is also the question of the capacity of the Immigration Service to cope with a flood of such applications, as there is already a huge backlog and the process is agonizingly slow.

I would hope (not crossing my fingers) that the immigration process could be streamlined in any reform effort and also that more people would be allowed to come legally from countries of origin. Let’s open up and simplify the process while retaining safeguards. If folks had hope they might be able to do that without waiting 10 or 15 years, they might not attempt illegal entry. Canada doesn’t put up so many barriers, though they probably have fewer immigration applications. A story was aired on NPR about a young man brought from Mexico at age 1, who grew up a small Illinois town without learning Spanish or even knowing he was undocumented. During his teen years, he was caught using marijuana (legal under certain circumstances in other states). He paid his fines, did community service, and, in most jurisdictions, juvenile records are sealed. But apparently not in immigration cases or at least not in Illinois, because he was a 20-year-old college student when he was suddenly arrested and taken into immigration detention, eventually being left off at the border and told to “go home” to Mexico. His parents and sister back in Illinois are US citizens.

As for the millions of undocumented already here, the establishment of long-standing “facts on the ground” does count for something. That’s Israel’s argument to support its border expansion after the 1967 war. Squatters’ rights, after a certain period, are often recognized. Common-law marriage confers certain rights and duties. So allowing legal status for undocumented persons who haven’t committed crimes and have been allowed to stay and have contributed to this country for years would not be unprecedented. Although the recession is a major factor contributing to opposition to legalization, it also seems driven by WASP Americans’ fear of losing their majority. The Latino birthrate is changing the complexion of this country and American-born Latinos will eventually become voters, perhaps explaining the push to repeal birthright citizenship under the 14th amendment. Contrary to popular belief, so-called “anchor babies” cannot petition for immigration status for their parents until they reach age 21 and are no longer babies; even then, it would take some years to have their parents actually approved, if ever. John McCain, fighting for his senate seat, was once an immigration reformer, but now even he seems in favor of repealing birthright citizenship. Ironically, he was cut considerable slack himself by being allowed to run for president, despite his birth in Panama. (He is also the adoptive father of a daughter born in India.)

Just learned that an honorarium that I’d asked to be sent to ACT, a small educational non-profit where I’m a board member, had never arrived. The honorarium was for a keynote that I gave at the end of Feb. to a national annual meeting of Kiwanis. Investigating, I discovered that the guy in charge, so hale and hearty when we last met, had died of pancreatic cancer a few weeks later. I’m well aware from personal experience that we never know when the Grim Reaper will strike. I’ve known a few others who have died of pancreatic cancer in short order too, but what’s amazing is how long Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has survived it.

A reader comments on the last posting about Fidel Castro: Does Fidel think he's immortal? That is, has he totally lost it? Or does he still see himself as the super-patriot who's succeeded in running the country into the ground and casting the blame elsewhere, although he remains sincere in his certainty that it would be best for the people if his policies were firmly in place? …Or is it a case of unresolved sibling rivalry? Megalomania undiminished by age and physical frailty? Maybe the answer is "All of the above."

A Wall St. Journal article entitled “China’s Uighur Oppression Continues” by Rebiya Kadeer dated August 6, 2010, exhorts the international community to press China to stop human rights abuses against her people. I’ve met Kadeer, a small but fiery advocate who spent years behind bars herself and has children still incarcerated in western China. She is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. She does not know English, so must have had help in writing the article; however, I’m sure it expresses her own sentiments. As sympathetic as I feel toward her message, I fear that the US government and the international community are not listening now—too many other issues are competing for attention. Also, the United States is in hock financially to China and cannot afford to become too confrontational on human rights issues. Meanwhile, as with the Tibetans, China’s orchestrated campaign to overwhelm the Uighurs, continues.

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