Thursday, May 04, 2006

Smoke Signals Part Deux

A shout of thanks to my friend Ferentz, who posted this insightful blog post (The Nightshift Chronicles: Smoke Signals Part Deux) on the recent upheavals around immigration policy, and about the struggles of undocumented Garifuna people living in the South Bronx. Ferentz shares a New York times article about an immigration sham going on in the Garifuna community, another narratuve of the lives jeopardized not only by harsh laws, but by the exploitation these laws encourage.

In honor of the New York times story and the recent protests condemning the direction our domestic immigration policy is going, I'm revisiting some of the terms that have shaped our concepts of immigration, and its law and history:

Refugee (from UN Convention):

a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country

Deportation (from web):

1. the act of expelling a person from their native land, in other words, exile as in the Garifuna's exile from St. Vincent to Central America.
2. banishment, proscription - rejection by means of an act of banishing or proscribing someone, e.g.,
Babylonian Captivity = the deportation of the Jews to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.
3. the expulsion from a country of an undesirable alien (under the US Immigration Act, the main category of such aliens are those found to have committed an "aggravated felony." The definition of this contrived term depends upon state law and could be triggered, for example, by the smoking of a few grams of marijuana.

Repatriation (from Wilkipedia):

A term derived from late Latin repatriare which means to restore someone to his homeland. Repatriation is used to describe the process of return of refugees or soldiers to their homes, most notably following a war (According to Wilkipedia, it may also refer to the process of converting a foreign currency into the currency of one's own country.)

i.e., repatriation is a process that is likely to take years among the communities who are now fleeing the Sudan, and may never happen for some Sudanese refugees without more help from the international community....

In this sense, could undocumented Mexicans being deported over the border be seen as repatriates of land wrongly taken from them in the Mexican-US war a century and a half ago?

Could the Garifuna be seen in some way as refugees, as their communities, are still, two centuries later, reeling politically, economically and culturally from their experience of exile/deportation by the British to Honduras? Is there any category that addresses this legacy of forced migration? (In my opinion, there isn't.)

I'm wondering about these questions especially today, days after the immigration marches across the country, and the night before Cinco de Mayo, a patriotic day of celebration for Mexicans which commemorates the short-lived victory of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin in a time of bitter coups and independence struggles in Mexico.

Seguin led a small, poorly armed militia estimated at 4,500 men to victory against French invaders in the town of Puebla in 1962, during the reign of the US-backed dictator Benito Juarez. Seguin's victory brought a spirit of national unity and virtual self-rule, but in less than a year, Mexico had fallen to French imperialists who replaced Seguin with Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. (Key piece of information here: Max was the half-brother of the Duc de Morny, who was the largest single holder of Mexican bonds and whose value was zero as long as Benito Juarez as in power.) Maximillian ruled Mexico until his assassination and the abolition of monarchy government in Mexico in 1967, and Portfirio Diaz, another Mexican hero, came into power.

I won't draw any more parallels about slavery, imperialism, deportation and exploitation, but I think we can all agree that the Mexicans, the Sudanese and the Garifuna people can teach us a thing or two about the struggle for freedom in our own homeland. I wish the folks in the Senate could feel the weight of just one of these symbolic episodes in world history.



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