Apparently, even Santa isn’t immune to the anti-immigrant hysteria brewing in the nation. The Houston Chronicle reports today that some toy drives are checking immigration status before they will give a family toys.When our economy headed south I knew the anti-immigrant backlash was going to get worse. Unfortunately, in tough economic times, people always lash out at the most vulnerable and powerless in our society. And you can’t get any more vulnerable and powerless than an undocumented child living in poverty.According to the Chronicle, the Salvation Army and a charity affiliated with the Houston Fire Department are among those that consider immigration status, asking for birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children.The point isn’t to punish the children but to ensure that their parents are either citizens, legal immigrants or working to become legal residents, said Lorugene Young, whose Outreach Program Inc. is one of three groups that distribute toys collected by firefighters.The point isn’t to punish children? How do you explain to a 5-year old that he can’t have a toy because he doesn’t have a green card? Sure does take the Christ right out of Christmas.
Fred Gossien, a resident of Terlingua near Big Bend National Park, is seldom flustered by immigration checkpoints and random traffic stops by the U.S. Border Patrol. They’re just part of life on the border. But it got a little humiliating recently when—at a checkpoint south of Alpine—the 63-year-old set off the radiation detectors.
The Department of Homeland Security has installed radiation scanners at checkpoints to detect the makings of dirty bombs and other weapons. The devices also detect radiation related to medical treatment.
Gossien is being treated for prostate cancer. Doctors have inserted radioactive pellets near his tumor to fight the cancerous cells.
Early Saturday morning on Oct. 31, Border Patrol agents detained the cancer patient for more than an hour while his partner Mindy waited in a separate room. As his body was scanned by two agents with a handheld radiation monitor, Gossien was asked a series of questions about where he lived and where he was headed.
He told the agents he’d had radioactive treatments for his cancer. The agents wanted to call Gossien’s doctor in Washington state, where many veterans receive cancer treatments, to verify his story. “I told them, ‘Are you crazy? It’s Saturday, and he’s at a VA hospital in Seattle,’” Gossien recounts in an e-mail. The agents took his Veterans Administration card to be photocopied. They said they would have to identify “the radioactive isotopes and call Washington, D.C.,” Gossien says. Meanwhile, they kept waving detection machines over his body. “I felt less like a lab rat and more like the star attraction of a carnival freak show, with an audience of BP agents gawking both at me and at their little Geiger-gadgets,” he says.
After an hour, agents got the call from Washington. The radiation was indeed a medical isotope, and Gossien was not a terrorist.
Physically and mentally exhausted from his cancer treatments, Gossien says he felt humiliated as he was poked and prodded for more than an hour.
Since then, he has channeled his embarrassment into humor. He jokes that he has been officially indoctrinated into the Big Bend Old Fogies Suspected Terrorist Cell. Gossien says he knows of at least two other men in the area undergoing similar treatments who have received scrutiny from the Border Patrol.
“Most of us are somewhat elderly … and have had some type of radiation treatment for some form of cancer,” he says. “In other words, we are radioactive. Some of us are virtually on our deathbeds, while others, myself included, are hoping for a complete cure.”
Bill Brooks, a public affairs officer for Customs and Border Protection, says an inspection “will get everyone’s attention, but we try to make that individual comfortable, and we certainly don’t want them to be humiliated.” Extra scrutiny because of medical radiation treatments is not out of the ordinary, he says. “I don’t want to say it happens often, but it’s not unusual.”
Next time, Gossien says, he’d rather be arrested than undergo another search. “If I am again subjected to roadside humiliation, I will not cooperate. Period. Should that noncooperation result in arrest or detention, so be it.”
Blowing the whistle on government misconduct may be right and just, but as anyone who’s done it will tell you, it’s not exactly fun. Whistleblowers risk losing their jobs, careers and friends, and frequently end up mired in long court battles. So it’s especially unusual to find someone who’s done it twice.
Yet Robert McCarthy, a 55-year-old lawyer, has found himself in the unenviable position of serial whistleblower. “The last time was so stressful, I never imagined getting into this situation again,” he says in a telephone interview from his home in El Paso.
A former lawyer for the U.S. Department of the Interior, McCarthy had already been through a rough couple of years in California, serving as a key witness in a massive class-action lawsuit filed by Native American tribes against the U.S. government. McCarthy’s testimony in 2007 that the Interior Department couldn’t account for income from leases it managed on behalf of Native American landowners was crucial in winning the case for the plaintiffs.
Congress created the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989 to legally protect federal employees when they report agency misconduct. Despite those protections, McCarthy felt that his role in the lawsuit made it impossible to return to the Interior Department. He figured his days as a federal employee were over.
“I never thought I’d be hired by another federal agency again once it was known that I was a whistleblower,” he says. So he felt lucky in January 2009, when he was hired as general counsel at the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso. Whatever qualms he might have had, the promise of federally funded health insurance and retirement benefits beckoned.
The commission is a key federal agency along the border. Created in 1889, the panel handles border treaties with Mexico and operates several international dams and water-treatment plants. One of its jobs is to keep levees along the Rio Grande from crumbling. After six months at the agency, McCarthy was fired after reporting that its officials allegedly conducted secret surveillance of agency employees, altered official government records, made false reports to the Inspector General, manipulated payrolls and mismanaged $220 million in Recovery Act money for reinforcing river levees.
McCarthy says he brought his concerns to his superiors before blowing the whistle, but nothing was done. “Sure, I could have given up and done what I was told,” he says. “But when you do that, you are just as responsible for those violations.”
In September, McCarthy sued the commission for wrongfully firing a whistleblower. Now he pursues his case from his home in El Paso. His house in California is in foreclosure, he says. He never expected to be without an income for so long. The case could take months to resolve, and in a whistleblower case, the plaintiff can only sue for relief, not damages.
On the bright side, McCarthy says his wife found a job in El Paso, and the couple is enjoying their new home. “The city is great, and the people are extremely friendly,” he says. Ultimately, McCarthy hopes to get his job back at the boundary commission.
The life of a whistleblower can be lonely and difficult. “I’m working on the suit every day. It’s stressful and time-consuming,” he says. “I would say only if you are willing to lose your job and move on, should you attempt it.”
Last week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it will be auditing 1,000 businesses across the nation looking for immigration violations, 161 of those businesses are in Texas.This is the new, improved Department of Homeland Security response to a crackdown on illegal immigration. Before Obama took office, the Bush Administration favored immigration raids which destroyed families and communities and seemed very well, un-American. How politicians react to this new emphasis on audits over raids says more about our political system than it does about fixing our broken immigration system. Workers and businesses are stuck in the middle of an untenable situation trying to muddle through as the government patches up the sinking boat that is our immigration system. Will it float for one more year? Will we ever have sane immigration policies? Don’t hold your breath.According to a Houston Chronicle story, U.S. Rep Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, is truly disappointed that our government won’t be rounding up workers in workplace raids this holiday season. Nothing says Christmas more than a workplace raid, after all!”It is hard to conceive of a worse time to cut work site enforcement efforts by more than half,” Smith said in a statement. “There are 16 million Americans out of work. And yet, the administration has chosen to ignore the fact that there are nearly 8 million illegal immigrants. Those stolen jobs should be returned to out-of-work citizens and legal immigrants.”In response Matt Chandler, a spokesman for Homeland Security, told the Chronicle that just looking at the decline in criminal or administrative work site enforcement arrests — without considering ICE’s new strategy — reflects a “myopic, outdated and distorted view of effective enforcement.”Vermont dairy farmers are also feeling the ICE heat. Vermont’s dairies can’t find laborers locally to do the hard work year round. They can’t bring in guest workers legally because the U.S. government doesn’t allow foreign workers to remain the entire year. Now ICE is knocking on their doors with subpoenas, asking to go through their books.According to the Vermont newspaper Times Argus, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy is none too pleased about it. Leahy issued a rather tepid statement, however, saying he was disappointed in the timing of ICE’s crackdown.”We have a broken system that does not work well for anyone, and especially for dairy farmers and the workers they need to keep their farms running,” he said. “This is all the more evidence that we need workable reform of the agriculture visa system, and it can’t come soon enough.”Leahy told the Argus that he had directed his staff to monitor the situation with the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Nice of him to check in, but it doesn’t really help a dairy farmer struggling to make it through one of the toughest economies in U.S. history. He can’t afford to wait around while Congressional members dither.On either side of the aisle in Congress the message, or lack thereof, is clear when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform – don’t count on us to do anything about it.
Most folks order their books online these days (myself included I confess.) It’s convenient and sometimes cheaper. Still there’s nothing more satisfying then perusing a well-stocked bookstore, thumbing through the pages of a book that catches your eye. The serendipity of discovering a book on the shelves you’d never heard of but can’t wait to take home and read.
I feel better knowing that bookstores exist.
Laredoans are already mourning the loss of the last bookstore in their city. The city’s independent bookstore — Bookmark Books — closed in 2000. Now the B. Dalton bookstore at the Mall del Norte is slated for extinction at the end of January.
“There’s just something comforting about having a bookstore,” say Xochitl Mora, the public information officer for the City of Laredo. “A city needs a bookstore.”
Mora helps spearhead Laredo’s One City, One Book initiative. It’s a citywide bookclub that gets Laredoans reading and discussing important issues such as immigration and historical events such as the the Holocaust. Mora would order the books through B. Daltons — sometimes 500 books or more and Laredoans would purchase them there.
Not long ago Mora had award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario present her book “Enrique’s Journey” as part of the citywide bookclub. “It had a lot of meaning for the author to be here because part of the book took place in Nuevo Laredo, our sister city,” says Mora.
She says the biggest pity is that the B. Daltons in Laredo is profitable from her understanding but as a division of Barnes and Noble it has not been so successful. The mega bookseller has decided to downsize its B. Dalton chain across the nation. Laredo is just one link in that chain.
So what are literary Laredoans to do? Mora says that she and other communications professionals in Laredo have formed a group called “Laredo Reads.” They are putting together a publicity campaign to lure a bookstore to the border city. “We’ll find a way,” she says.
Perhaps bookstores will have to become nonprofits as so many media outlets are doing these days?
Next time I’m going to drive to my local bookstore and buy a book instead of giving Amazon my credit card number.