Incidents at border intensify debate over immigration policy
BY LESLIE BERESTEIN JUNE 14, 2010
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who worked in construction, was shot with a Taser while being deported in May 2010. He suffered a heart attack and died. — Family photo
The deaths of two people during confrontations with border officials in recent weeks, one in San Diego and one in El Paso, have pushed an already-heated debate over illegal immigration to the boiling point.
On May 28, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, 42, was shot with a Taser stun gun by a U.S Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing after he resisted agents trying to send him back to Mexico. He later died.
Last Monday, 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca was fatally shot by a U.S. Border Patrol agent after a group he was with on the Mexican side of the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez threw rocks at U.S. agents.
John Skrentny, a sociologist and the new director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, said the tone of the immigration debate has given special significance to the events at the border, with controversy raging over a new immigration law in Arizona and the Obama administration under fire for not overhauling national immigration laws.
“An incident like this, coming into this atmosphere, becomes symbolic,” Skrentny said.
At a San Diego news conference Thursday attended by Hernandez’s family members, an attorney representing the deceased man’s children said an administrative complaint would soon be filed against the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection. If the federal government rejects the complaint, the family can file a wrongful-death civil lawsuit after six months, attorney Eugene Iredale said.
In Lemon Grove last week, a crowd of about 300 attended the funeral for Hernandez, a father of five who moved to the United States illegally from Mexico as a teen and lived in Encanto.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón has weighed in, issuing a statement saying his government is “shocked and outraged” by the two deaths and calling for a thorough investigation.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the shooting in Texas “extremely regrettable.” He said that the FBI is investigating both incidents and that the shared interests of both countries would continue to keep the binational relationship strong.
U.S. federal authorities have otherwise declined to comment about the incidents.
Hernandez had been picked up by immigration authorities and sent back to Mexico the last week of May. According to San Diego police, who are investigating his death, he was arrested by Border Patrol agents with his brother May 28 in the Otay Mountain area, trying to re-enter illegally. As he was about to be returned that night, he allegedly tried to fight the agents unloading him from a van. More agents and customs officers were called to assist.
According to a witness, Hernandez was prone with close to 20 officers around him at one point. Humberto Navarrete, a 24-year-old student from National City, said he heard screams as he and a companion were walking toward the border turnstile.
In a grainy cell phone video taken by Navarrete, a man is heard repeatedly screaming “No!” and “Por favor!” (please).
He said the man was eventually moved farther away, after which he heard about five shocks from the stun gun. After that, he said, the man fell silent. An ambulance appeared several minutes later.
Hernandez was declared brain-dead in a Chula Vista hospital the next day and was eventually removed from life support.
According to the county Medical Examiner’s Office, he suffered a heart attack, with hypertension, methamphetamine intoxication and the fight contributing.
Federal agencies are referring inquiries to San Diego police, but in recent days, the union representing Border Patrol agents has come forward. In a statement regarding the El Paso shooting, the National Border Patrol Council pointed out that “rocks are weapons and constitute deadly force” and that agents must defend themselves.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the union’s Local 1613 in San Diego, said weapons such as Taser stun guns, pepper spray or batons aren’t used unless a subject is actively resisting. And while these aren’t intended to be lethal, sometimes they can be.
“There are always going to be exceptions where there is an underlying problem,” Moran said. “It can happen with pepper spray. It can happen with a baton. They are supposed to be less than lethal, but there is always the chance that there is some unfortunate incident.”
In the past four years, four migrants or suspected smugglers have been killed in confrontations with border officials in the San Diego area, including a suspected smuggler who accelerated toward a customs officer, a man who grabbed a Border Patrol agent’s gun, and another man shot during a rock-throwing altercation with Border Patrol agents.
San Diego police are interviewing witnesses to the Taser incident. The homicide unit can be reached at (619) 531-2293.
A bill in the House of Representatives would change the 14th amendment to the US Constitution that grants anyone who is born on US soil the right of American citizenship. Efforts to revoke birthright citizenship could make it the new flashpoint in the debate over immigration.
BY MATT ROCHELEAU JUNE 2, 2010
New American citizens are sworn in at a citizenship ceremony in Boise, Idaho.
Anyone born on American soil is an American.
That’s an unconditional right, according to the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
It’s not an exclusively American practice. Worldwide, about 30 nations (mostly in the Western Hemisphere) have similar birthright citizenship policy. Citizenship based on where a person is born, is called jus soli which is Latin for “right of the soil.”
But jus soli is primarily a New World right. Today, there are no European nations that grant jus soli. Most countries in Europe use a jus sanguinis policy, which determines citizenship based on having an ancestor who is a citizen.
A bill making its way through Congress, if passed, would bring the US more into line with current European birthright policies. But in the wake of the controversy over Arizona‘s new immigration policy, any changes to the 14th amendment would likely become another flashpoint in the debate over illegal immigrants.
“Many countries do not grant birthright citizenship because they have older histories and see themselves as individual nations with individual identities,” explains John Skrentny, Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and sociology professor at the University of California at San Diego. “Whereas the United States, like many other countries in the Western Hemisphere, began as, and has always seen itself as, a melting pot,” he says.
In recent years, other nations, even if they seem themselves as open to legal immigrants, have taken steps limit the size of any demographic boost based on births to foreigners.
In 1983, for example, England amended its jus soli policy so that children born in the United Kingdom were only granted citizenship if one of their parents was either a citizen or could prove some sort of permanent residency in the country.
And India moved away from granting birthright citizenship in late 2004 to only allowing those born in the country to gain citizenship if both parents are citizens or if one parent is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal immigrant.
In the US, those opposed to this form of granting citizenship would like to revise the 14th amendment, which says, in part:
The14th amendment was passed after the Civil War with the intent of clarifying that former slaves were citizens and entitled to Constitutional rights. Since then, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld that birthright of children born to foreigners in the US, including a 1898 challenge concerning children of non-citizen Chinese immigrants.
How many children of illegal immigrants are born in the US each year?
But in April, the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based, nonpartisan organization, released a report that estimated the number of children of illegal immigrants, who received citizenship by birth on U.S. soil, has risen by nearly 50 percent from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. One-third of those children live in poverty, which is nearly double the poverty rate for children of US-born parents.
According to the “Birthright Citizenship Act” bill, which has 91 cosponsors, the proposed changes would affect the Fourteenth Amendment and only grant citizenship “if the person is born in the United States of parents, one of whom is:”
- a citizen or national of the United States;
- an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States whose residence is in the United States; or
- an alien performing active service in the armed forces (as defined in section 101 of title 10, United States Code).”
But getting such changes through both houses of Congress is a long shot.
“I’d be surprised,” if the bill passes, says Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national employer group that supports immigration reform that secures borders, strengthens workplace laws, and brings the immigrants already in the country into, and paying into, the system. “This does come up every so often … but it hasn’t gotten much traction in the past,”
However, some immigration reform advocates argue that federal courts have never specifically faced the question of whether children born to illegal immigrant parents should be granted citizenship, according to a recent NPR article.
A list of countries, by population, that grant birthright citizenship:
- United States
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Saint Christopher and Nevis
Two CCIS books were reviewed recently. Salavador Rivera describes Four Generations of Norteños as “a readable study emphasizing the dynamics of the vibrant U.S.-Mexican border region” in Multicultural Review. Meanwhile, Cecilia Farfán Méndez writes in Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica of Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis: “This book is essential for those who study migration patterns and look to understand how the new security measures at the border, combined with the economic crisis, affect the decision to migrate and whether to stay home or remain in the United States.”
Writing in the Huffington Post, reviewer Geri Spiegler describes Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis as containing information “accumulated over many years that is presented thoughtfully, well researched, and without drama that affirm this
scholarly textbook a place both on an academic shelf and well
beyond the classroom.”
BY GERI SPIELER JUNE 8, 2010
Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis: A Transnational Perspective, Edited by Wayne A. Cornelius, David Fitzgerald, Pedro Lewin Fisher, and Leah Muse-Orlinoff
(Center for Comparative Immigration, February 2010)
As with any social phenomena, an attempt to corral the scope of the issue into a single pen will leave many purviews outside the gates.
In this particular examination of the flow of Mexican migrants into the United States, the authors state that the lack of jobs in the U.S.–not border enforcement–is postponing migration. However, although fewer people are coming over, the economic issues are still significantly troublesome for businesses, governments, and citizens on both sides of the border.
In Mexican Migration, the authors have taken slices of life and explored the dynamics surrounding each: coping, enforcement, economics, dual cultures, education, values, family dynamics, realities, and community. Each of the nine chapters offers its own conclusion to the study but ultimately they all end up with the same result: Mexican migration is damaging to the health, welfare, and cultural way of life for the Mexican people.
What differentiates Mexican Migration from other books on the same topic bursting onto the market today is a distinctive approach to the issue. The book is a follow-up to Mayan Journeys by the same editors and authors. The book is based on the Mexican Migration Field Research Study and Training Program (MMFRP) in the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, and San Diego.
The location is a small village in the Yucatan’s north-central region called Tunkás, a Mayan-speaking town of approximately 2,600 people. Although the book is an academic study, it has more of a feel of returning to a community of friends called Tunkaseños whom we have not seen in a while and are now catching up with their lives.
The Tunkaseños are a close group of people who only began migrating to the United States in the last 20 years. Before that and for many decades they have been moving back and forth to Mérida and other tourist communities on the Mayan Riviera (Cancún, Playa del Carmen) for better paying jobs only a few hundred miles from home.
Granted, this book is an industrial-strength academic production on Mexican migration, yet the laser-focus on one community’s struggle with survival brings a humanistic clarity not found in high atmosphere flyovers.
During the research process, every household in the tiny village was visited and usually everyone in the household was included in the discussions. This approach allows the authors to tell us in-depth personal stories about families they have gotten to know over the years.
We learn, for instance, that as the economy slowed down and fewer jobs were available for Mexican migrants, that Doña Yolanda and Doña Margarita pawned some of their family jewelry to pay household expenses. When prospective jobs never arrived, both lost their jewelry to the pawnshop.
Reducing expenses for the Tunkaseños meant looking for alternative sources of income. The study revealed informal yet complicated attempts by this tight-knit community to keep their family and households together.
“In addition to reducing expenses, many Tunkaseños are entering the informal economy in search of an alternate source of income. Some launch home-based businesses, such as selling prepared food to other town residents or engaging in traditional jobs that require low start-up investments, such as weaving hammocks. Identifying a profitable niche involves innovative thinking and a unique business strategy that enables someone to compete in the town’s large informal sector.”
Perhaps it is the approach the researchers used to reveal family disruption that made this book so much more meaningful and intimate. The book shines a brutal light on the stress of economics that pushes families apart. The grinding down of poverty on a family is exponentially confounded when one parent leaves the family home to live and work hundreds or thousands of miles away for long periods. In many situations, the separation is so great that the family is never reunited torn by time and broken relationships.
This scenario is not unique anywhere and always damaging to our society.
In Mexican Migration we learn how the Tunkaseño families struggle for solutions that are unique and surprising by looking for an “internal migration” opportunity that has a lower degree of disruption for the family. A job within Mexico, maybe at one of the many tourist resorts and hopefully just a few hundred miles away, will offer proximity and ease of communication reducing the overall financial and emotional costs. Even though the family may get higher wages elsewhere, the return for family togetherness is a price they will pay.
It seems like a logical and reasonable solution, yet it cannot always work. As an example of the struggle between internal and international migration, we hear about Señora López’s brother who migrated to Cancún to support his wife and children on the income he earned working in a fish market. Her husband, on the other hand, had to go to the United States, where higher salaries enabled him to pay for their son’s cancer treatments. Unfortunately, Señora López tells the researcher, in case he did not know, her son died anyway.
It is this detail of personal information accumulated over many years that is presented thoughtfully, well researched, and without drama that affirm this scholarly textbook a place both on an academic shelf and well beyond the classroom.
Reviewer Geri Spieler is a journalist and author. Her latest book, Taking Aim at The President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford, was published by Palgrave Macmillan. Spieler is a book reviewer for The New York Journal of Books www.nyjournalofbooks.com, and is working on her next book about current political values.
Border Patrol Politics
Some believe the president’s plan to send 1,200 troops to the Mexico border has more to do with politics than protection. Ben Tracy has details of the plan.
MAY 26, 2010
Pete Dominick, host of “Politics of the United States” on XM Radio, interviewed David FitzGerald on President Obama’s deployment of National Guard troops to the Southwest border.
San Diego among areas to get troops
BY LESLIE BERESTEIN MAY 26, 2010
With national debate raging over illegal immigration and drug smuggling, the Obama administration is planning the deployment of National Guard troops to the border in San Diego County and elsewhere.
An administration official said Tuesday that the deployment of up to 1,200 Guard troops is part of a plan that will include a request by President Barack Obama for $500 million for enhanced border protection and law enforcement.
The troops will work in a support role, providing assistance to border agents with surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence analysis and counternarcotics operations while U.S. Customs and Border Protection recruits and trains additional staff members.
That was essentially the role of about 6,000 National Guard troops deployed by the Bush administration in May 2006, about 550 of whom assisted the Border Patrol in the San Diego sector with surveillance, border-fence projects and other non-law-enforcement support. The two-year program, dubbed Operation Jumpstart, also was intended to strengthen border security while additional agents were hired.
“They helped free up the agents, so the agents could focus their efforts on securing the border,” said agent Mark Endicott, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector.
Endicott had no details as to when Guard troops might arrive in the region or how many. Maj. Thomas Keegan, director of public affairs for the California National Guard, said state troops had not yet been asked to step forward.
“From the Guard’s position we stand ready, willing and able to accomplish whatever mission the president and the governor deem necessary,” Keegan said, adding that discussions with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are under way.
The California Guard soldiers could be mobilized by order of the president, or they could be called up by the governor using federal funds.
The news from the Obama administration was cheered by some lawmakers who had been calling for stronger border protection. But it is also being met with criticism similar to that leveled against the Bush administration’s Guard deployment, including from some border-enforcement advocates.
Much like in 2006, when hundreds of thousands participated in rallies for reform, immigration has become a hot-button election-year issue, especially since a strict anti-illegal-immigration law in Arizona reinvigorated the debate. As happened with Operation Jumpstart, critics are dismissing the idea of sending troops to the border as political window dressing.
“This looks very much like an election-year ploy,” said Wayne Cornelius, co-director of the Center of Expertise on Migration and Health at the University of California San Diego. He said it’s hard to believe that the president and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano “really expect deployment of the National Guard to deter would-be illegal entrants.”
William Gheen, president of the immigration-restriction group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, blasted the idea as “woefully inadequate.”
“I feel like a starving man that’s been handed a cracker,” Gheen said in an e-mailed statement, criticizing the relatively small number of troops.
Border Patrol agent Shawn Moran, a spokesman for Local 1613 of the National Border Patrol Council in San Diego, said that while the last Guard deployment helped to build and fix infrastructure, it did little to free more agents for enforcement duties.
“Any impact in terms of manpower is going to be minimal,” he said. “It is just all smoke and mirrors, as usual.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, whose congressman father was a proponent of border enforcement, issued a statement in support of the move.
Changes that go beyond border enforcement are sorely needed, said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the Latino advocacy organization National Council of La Raza.
“We are on a collision course of enforcement-only policies, and as experience shows, this will not solve the problem,” Murguía said.
Obama has said he supports overhauling the nation’s immigration system, but it is unlikely that Congress will tackle such legislation this year.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer took some of the credit for the deployment, saying in a statement that her signing last month of a state law that empowers local police to check for immigration status “clearly ignited the talk of action in Washington for the people of Arizona and other border states.”
The law has found support among a majority of Americans in polls by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and other groups.
Staff writer Gretel C. Kovach and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The troops will target the trafficking of people, money, drugs and weapons, but won’t make arrests or otherwise intervene directly, officials say.
BY KEN DILANIAN , Tribune Washington Bureau
May 26, 2010
Reporting from Washington — President Obama will send up to 1,200 additional National Guard troops — and request $500 million in additional funds — to support law enforcement efforts along the Southwest border, the White House said Tuesday.
The move was widely seen as offering the president political cover for his pursuit of immigration reform.
The National Guard will target the trafficking of people, money, drugs and weapons, national security advisor James L. Jones and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), noting that more than 300 troops were already on the ground. The troops won’t make arrests or otherwise intervene directly, according to an administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The White House said the money would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to zero in on more smuggling routes, and it would fund more prosecutions in overstretched federal courts along the border.
“This is the latest step in an ongoing effort to ensure the federal government fulfills its responsibility to secure the Southwest border,” the official said.
The move comes a month after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee that the U.S.-Mexico border “is as secure as it has ever been” and pointed out that crime rates on the U.S. side had declined, despite a spate of drug-related violence on the Mexico side.
Republicans criticized her remarks, and have been demanding that the administration step up efforts to tackle illegal immigration and border violence.
Obama’s announcement also comes as illegal immigration is believed to be at its lowest levels in years. Apprehension rates, considered the best available indicator of illegal border crossings, have steadily declined over the last decade. The Border Patrol arrested 556,000 people last year, down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000.
But Republicans have been hammering Obama on the issue. In a letter to the president last week, Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans, called for sending at least 6,000 National Guard troops to the border.
A Gallup poll released May 5 showed that two-thirds of Americans wanted the federal government to do a better job of securing the border. Concerns about border security helped drive the passage of the recent Arizona law empowering local police to help identify, arrest and deport illegal immigrants.
Obama argues that the answer to concerns about immigration rests in a new law that combines tough enforcement with a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. President George W. Bush tried and failed to pass such a measure in 2007, and many observers think there is even less chance of it succeeding this year, with midterm elections approaching.
The deployment of additional National Guard troops undermines the Republican assertion that the White House is lax about strengthening the border, said a second Obama administration official, not authorized to speak on the record.
“They’re running out of excuses,” the official said. “For those who are making the case that we have to be more vigorous about enforcing the law, it does call the question.”
At a news conference in Phoenix, Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard, a Democrat who is running for governor, called the border initiative “an important commitment of national attention to the real problem that we are facing here in Arizona and throughout the Southwest, and that is the violent crime fomented by the criminal drug cartels.”
The announcement from the White House came after Obama lunched at the Capitol with Senate Republicans, urging them to come on board an immigration bill without mentioning his new enforcement plan. Republicans said Obama’s announcement was a good step, but an insufficient one.
“It’s simply not enough. We need 6,000,” McCain said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “The situation on the border [has] greatly deteriorated during the last 18 months.”
In 2006, President Bush sent 6,000 National Guard members to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Their presence was meant to step up security while the Border Patrol expanded its ranks. They stayed from June 2006 until July 2008.
Napolitano, then Arizona governor, was among those who called for sending the Guard in 2006. The Border Patrol more than doubled in the last eight years, and now stands at 20,000.
However, there is no evidence that National Guard deployment impeded illegal immigrants, said Wayne Cornelius, director emeritus of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.
In Cornelius’ 2007 survey of potential immigrants, the National Guard’s presence on the border was cited as a major concern by just 5% of interviewees — “the same proportion who were concerned about being robbed en route to the U.S. by Mexican police,” he said. “That’s even more revealing because a majority of our interviewees believed, incorrectly, that the National Guard troops were armed and authorized to shoot.”
Obama’s decision, Cornelius said, “looks very much like an election-year ploy.”
And poor strategy, said Janet Murguía, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights organization in the United States. “Taking this step without any concurrent announcement on next steps or even a timeline for a comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system is both inadequate and deeply disappointing,” she said.
Some who favor tough enforcement also questioned Obama’s motives. In Arizona, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said the president’s move appeared to be “little more than political posturing.”
“It’s welcome on the other hand, because we’ve been crying for help for years,” he said. “Something is better than nothing.”
He criticized the Pentagon’s long-standing policy that precludes troops from directly policing the border, instead relegating them to support roles.
“You either secure our borders or you don’t,” he said.
Thad Bingel, who was chief of staff of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Bush administration, said it would be unwise to have Guard troops patrolling the border with rifles at the ready.
“What we discovered … is that the Guard was a helpful stopgap, but it’s not a long-term solution; it doesn’t solve all your problems,” he said.
Staff writers Anna Gorman in Phoenix, Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Peter Nicholas, Janet Hook and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.
BY AMY ISACKSON MAY 26, 2010
Analysts say President Barack Obama’s plan to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border will have minimal impact on border security. The guardsmen are part of Obama’s $500-million proposal to make the border safer.
The National Guard troops would work as extra eyes and ears for the Border Patrol, but would not be allowed to make arrests.
In 2006, President Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border, including to San Diego.
Shortly after, Wayne Cornelius, who studies migration at UCSD, interviewed about 1,000 people in Mexico who were considering crossing to the United States illegally.
“The National Guard presence on the border was a major source of concern for just 5 percent of our interviewees. And it’s even more revealing because the majority believed, incorrectly, that the National Guard in 2006 were armed and, presumably, authorized to shoot,” said Cornelius.
Cornelius and a bipartisan homeland security analyst in Washington say sending the National Guard may buy political protection for the president and some Democratic congressman.