OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT

Posted on January 22, 2010

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Dear President Obama: 

   We write to you today as a way to strike a chord of continuity and remembrance echoing our letter to you almost exactly one year ago with congratulations upon your inauguration as the first U.S President of African-American origin, and also as the first in modern times to be the child of an immigrant. Our letter then sought to adequately reflect the hopes and expectations stirred among immigrant families, communities, and organizations in the U.S., in our countries of origin, and among peoples of color throughout the world by this event, at that historical moment. Then as now key stages of recognition of your leadership, such as your acceptance speech in Denver at the Democratic National Convention on August 28, 2008, have been intertwined with dates identified with the life and trajectory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The speech in Denver coincided with the 45th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and King´s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech, and your inauguration took place the day after last year´s commemoration of Dr. King´s birth. The significance of your inauguration and of the completion of your first year in office is thus again enmeshed this year with our observance of Dr. King´s anniversary and with the imminent celebration of Black History Month in the U.S., and of upcoming observances related to the life and thought of Malcolm X upon the 45th anniversary of his assassination on February 21st. 

   Our presence here today is thus intended both to mark the commemoration in Mexico City of the continuing global significance of Dr.King´s legacy, and to express our indignation and resolve in the face of your recurrent failures during the past year to embrace its contemporary implications. Our specific emphasis in today´s mobilization is on your still unfulfilled promise to promote passage of just, comprehensive immigration reform including the cessation of discriminatory and arbitrary immigration raids and related practices of unjust detention and deportation, a fair legalization process, full recognition of the labor rights of immigrants (including just compensation for former participants in the Bracero program and their families), and other policies capable of insuring the integrity and reunification of immigrant families and communities. These are the objectives which animate the struggles and sacrifices of our sisters and brothers in the immigrant rights movement in the U.S. who inspire us today such as the courageous undocumented immigrant youth fighting for passage of the the DREAM Act through the Trail of Dreams march, today´s Freedom Riders, heading towards Washington D.C from Florida; those unjustly in danger of deportation such as Jean Montrevil in New York and Flor Crisóstomo in Chicago (in violation of her right to family integrity and sanctuary, as previously occurred with Elvira Arellano), all those fasting and organizing in their support, and those who recently marched in Phoenix, Arizona against the unjust practices and policies of Sherrif Joe Arpaio, among many others, and equivalent movements and activists throughout the world such as the fast last December of Saharan Arab human rights advocate Aminetou Haidar in Spain, in support of her right to be reunited with her family without renouncing her identity and colluding with Moroccan repression of her people´s right to self-determination. 

   These reforms must also include placing a human rights framework at the center of migration policy, instead of its current subordination to the supposed imperatives of national security and the “war against terror”, including the extension of such policies and practices beyond U.S. borders; we also stand today in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in immigrant communities in Europe and their places of origin, and particularly those of African and Middle Eastern origin who bear the brunt of equivalent approaches saturated with racism in that context. All of the measures called for here must also be coordinated with an overall realignment of U.S. trade and development policies (such as NAFTA, CAFTA, the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project or Project Mesoamerica, formerly the Puebla-Panama Plan or PPP, Plan Colombia and their related global, regional, and national expressions and implications) in favor of greater equity between the Global North and South, including effective measures regarding persistent patterns of poverty, hunger, and environmental and climate justice amid a landscape of multidimensional, intertwined global crises.  

   Issues regarding fairness and equity for immigrants are among those most inter-related with broader questions of global justice, given the direct causal relationship between poverty, inequality, armed conflict, human rights violations, and/or climate change and processes of migration, refuge, and displacement. All of these implicate responsibilities on the part of countries of destination, transit, and origin respectively. All of this takes on particular urgency today in the wake of the latest holocaust of suffering afflicting the Haitian people, whose effects are greatly magnified by its inherited burdens of longstanding historical inequities imposed by the global system. The current crisis highlights the continuing vulnerability of Haitian immigrants and refugees in the U.S and elsewhere (including Mexico), now joined by hundreds of thousands of those homeless and internally displaced within Haiti as a result of the earthquake and its consequences. The world wide economic crisis, brought on by the unchecked greed of the financial sectors of the U.S economy, cries out for action.  If you had kept your promise to legalize the 12 milllion undocumented and bring them into the mainstream of the U.S economy you would have already created a million new jobs, raised the declining wages of U.S citizen workers who are facing foreclosure from corrupt mortgage lending practices and brought hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues into city, state and federal budgets which are spiraling down in crisis. Legalization and an emergency pubic works jobs bill for the cities of the U.S. is the immediate fulfillment of your yet unfilled promises to the base of voters who elected you. These two actions are also the best and necessary road to the recovery of the U.S economy which still drags down the economies and day to day survival of the people here in Mexico and throughout the world. Your fulfillment of your promise to revisit and revise NAFTA would begin to address the trade policies which have so devastated the agricultural sectors of Latin America, no where more than in besieged Haiti, driving migration to the north.  
 

   We will addressing these issues throughout this year here in Mexico, throughout Latin America, and on a global scale, as we prepare our participation as grassroots movements of immigrants, refugees, and the displaced and their allies in the Mexican, U.S. and European versions of the World Social Forum in May, June, and July; the IV World Social Forum on Migration (WSFM) to be held in Quito, Ecuador in October; and the IV Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) here in Mexico in November. This is why we are convening the first International Tribunal of Conscience focused on documenting human rights violations against “peoples in movement” throughiout the world, with its first session in Quito in October and second session in Mexico City in November, as part of the Alternative Global Forum of Peoples in Movement to be held here as a grassroots response to the government-dominated GFMD.  As far as we are concerned the Mexican government shares responsibility with current U.S. policies for the misery and plight of Mexican immigrants consigned to poverty, systematic human rights violations, and militarization in their home communities- particularly those of indigenous origin in regions such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Hidalgo- and their forced displacement as a result, as both internal and transnational migrants.

   You have alluded to the need to address the complexities of such issues in your speeches and writings: “(we) have a right and duty to protect our borders. We can insist to those already here that with citizenship come obligations- to a common language, common loyalties, a common purpose, a common destiny. But ultimately the danger to our way of life is not that we will be overrun by those who do not look like us or do not yet speak our language. The danger will come if we fail to recognize the humanity” of immigrants and their families- “if we withold from them the rights and opportunities that we take for granted, and tolerate the hypocrisy of a servant class in our midst; or more broadly, if we stand idly by as America continues to become increasingly unequal, an inequality that tracks racial lines and therefore feeds racial strife and which, as the country becomes more black an brown, neither our democracy nor our economy can withstand” (The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, p. 268, emphasis added). Your reflections here were later echoed in your indirect reference to the case of Elvira Arellano (one of the signatories of this letter, like last year´s) and other immigrant families like hers, threatened with separation and fragmentation by U.S. immigration policy, in your Denver acceptance speech: “(y)ou know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. But this, too, is part of America’s promise, the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.” (from text of Denver speech, p.5, as reproduced in the NY Times).

  The life and thought of both Dr.King and Malcolm X have been invoked by you in your memoir Dreams from my father as important inspirations for your commitment to justice and public service, and as bases for your eloquent critique of the limitations of narrower visions of the law, public policy, and politics as “a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedures to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power- and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition” (id., Epilogue, p. 437, emphasis added). In this same section of your book you insisted nonetheless “(b)ut that´s not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience. We hold these truths to be self-evident. (id.; emphasis in original).  

   Here is where you invoke “the struggles of Martin and Malcolm” (among others), and that of “unheralded marchers” striving “to bring these words to life”, and where you describe how at moments like these you can “hear the voices” that carry their echo, ranging from those of “Japanese families interned behind barbed wire” and “young Russian Jews cutting patterns in Lower East Side sweat-shops” to “dust-bowl farmers loading up their trucks with the remains of their shattered lives” (id.). You then extend the sweep of your receptivity to the voices of our African-American sisters and brothers in public housing projects like Altgeld Gardens in Chicago, “and the voices of those who stand outside this country´s borders, the weary, hungry bands crossing the Rio Grande. I hear all of those voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life” and your late night dialogues with the spirit of your father: “What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don´t always satisfy me. For every Brown vs. Board of Education I find a score of cases where conscience is sacrificed to expedience or greed. And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately prevail.” (id., p. 438). 

   We deeply share and are fully committed to take up the burdens and sacrifices implied by the hopes and challenges you have captured in the passages cited above. These include the inescapable implication that the effectiveness of your presidency in addressing the demands of the legacies of Dr. King and Malcolm during the next few months must be considered from the perspective of your fulfillment of the promise of just and comprehensive immigration reform. The immigrant rights movement we represent here today is one of the most faithful reflections and heirs of the promise of the peaceful, rainbow-colored armies of the poor and their allies which Dr. King was beginning to mobilize as never before when he was struck down on April 4th 1968. We are on the move once more, here and throughout the world, and we will not rest until “justice flows down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We hope you can still join together with us in this aspiration and endeavor. 

In Solidarity, 

Elvira Arellano, Emma Lozano, Rev. Walter Coleman/Familia Latina Unida Sin Fronteras; Marta Sánchez Soler y Carlota Botey/Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano; Padre Luis Ángel Nieto/Nuestros Lazos De Sangre; ex-Dips. federal Pepe Jacques y Medina, Armando Barreiro, José Antonio Almazán; Rosa Martha Zárate y Martha Suárez Cantú/ExBraceros; SPECHF y RMALC; Enrique González Ruiz, Camilo Pérez Bustillo, Amárela Varela, Salvador Aguilar de Anda, Yolanda Gómez, Marylena Bustamante, Valeria Moscoso: Comité Promotor-Foro Alternativo Mundial de los Pueblos en Movimiento y Tribunal Internacional de Conciencia y Posgrado en Derechos Humanos UACM; Conferencia Unitaria de las Izquierdas; SME; Ana Esther Ceceña; Carlos Fazio; Gilberto López y Rivas; Laura Carlsen; Gustavo Esteva; MIREDES Internacional; Juan Manuel Sandoval, Alianza Social Continental, Federico Campbell Peña; Casa del Migrante Tonatico Edo. Mex, Rancho Ecológico de Pilcaya, Gro., La Forja Taxqueña, Taxco, Casa Aztlan: Chicago, Jorge Mujica pre-candidato a congresista federal 3er distrito Chicago, La Hora del Migrante, Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior, Unión Cívica Primero de Mayo, ClubBalsero Casa del Migrante Cubano A.C,  Red contra el Muro Fronterizo, Casa del Migrante Tijuana, Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos de Tijuana, Guerrero Azteca Project: Escondido Calif., Iniciativa Mexicana Contra la Guerra

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