The Year of Human Rights

Posted on March 2, 2011

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Scripture reports Jesus saying that “Whatever is covered up will be revealed” – in the “Year of the Lord’s favor.” Perhaps this is such a year in the struggle for human rights. The economic interests of the rich can no longer justify the denial of basic human rights to ordinary working people.
Mexico took a step forward last week as the Senate passed a new immigration law that respects both the human rights and human dignity of migrants as they make the long journey from Central America to the United States. The law will decriminalize these workers, recognizing that it is not a crime to cross borders in search of work to feed your family. The law provides for the migrants to be treated with dignity and to be afforded basic human rights like medical care.
We are very aware in Mexico that the United States has pressured the Mexican government to continue to criminalize the migrants and that this has led to horrible abuses of those traveling north, many just trying to reunite with their families in the United States
Mexico took a step forward – but it was not without struggle. After years of organizing around the injustices faced by the migrants, the massacre of 72 of them, alledgedly by the Zetas, brought these injustices to broad public attention.
In October of last year, Familia Latina Unida joined with other organizations to organize a caravan of mothers searching for children who had set out on the journey to the north from Honduras – and disappeared in Mexico. Perhaps because of the massacre, the unconditional commitment of these women to find their sons and daughters touched the hearts of the people.
Throughout this struggle, the Mexican government tried to deny its complicity in the exploitation and robbery and abuse of the migrants. The courageous vice of Padre Solalinde, who heads a mission for the migrants, focused attention on the truth: officials from all levels of the Mexican government were guilty of persecuting the migrants, stopping the trains on which they rode, robbing, beating and sometimes raping the women.
The specter of a growing revelation of collusion between government officials and the cartels involved in the robbery and kidnappings put pressure on the government to agree to reforms.
As expected, the government attempted to buy off some activists to white wash government collusion and abuse, but the movement persisted, organizing a ten day counter “tribunal” and mobilizing to create a sanctuary zone along miles of the migrant train route. Last minute efforts to write an Arizona styled criminalization into the new law were defeated, again by mobilizing the people.
We know that the long refusal of the Mexican government to stop the abuse of the migrants was a result of pressure from the United States, which still presses Mexico to criminalize the migrants.
The events of Tunisa and Egypt have created a new moment in history. The United States can no longer openly support “allies” who engage in human rights abuses. As the United States daily proclaims its support for human rights, seeking to make friends with the new democratic forces of the popular revolutions, the light will shine on human rights violations in the United States.
Just as the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the struggle against legal segregation in the south in the 1960’s strengthened each other, the struggle for human rights around the world will strengthen, and be strengthened by, the struggle for the human rights of the 12 million undocumented in the United States.
It is sad that it takes the loss of human life for people to look at the abuses which are going on every day. Most importantly, the mobilization of ordinary people in the face of human rights abuses has won a new place of authority in the world.
This is a lesson the movement must pay attention to in the United States. The reorganization of border fences to drive migrants to cross in the most dangerous places – and die by the hundreds, is a human rights abuse. The cruel separation of families, of armed men dragging a mother away from her children, is a human rights abuse.
We must make our case in the United States just as they have made their case in Egypt and in Mexico. History will record that “this is the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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