David Bennion: February 2008 Archives

Watching Occupation Dreamland, a 2005 documentary about the war in Iraq, it occurred to me that the effects of the citizen/noncitizen dynamic we've seen in the U.S. with inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants in places like Don Hutto, New Bedford, and Oklahoma--presumption of guilt, inhumane treatment of noncitizens, fear and demonization of outsiders, and racism--are exponentially more devastating in Iraq in a war setting. 

Iraqis have been arrested and locked up without charge or trial.  They have been beaten, tortured, raped, and killed by their ostensible protectors--U.S. soldiers and contractors--very few of whom have faced serious consequences for their actions.

What few procedural guarantees exist for noncitizens in the U.S. are almost entirely lacking in Iraq. 

I recently read two remarkable books, and I’d like to talk about them both, in separate posts.  The first is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, the story of one of Sudan’s Lost Boys as told by Dave Eggers.  The second is The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea.  Both these books became bestsellers, and have been reviewed and discussed extensively elsewhere.  I write about them now because I only read them a little while ago. 

Each of these books revived for me an experience I used to have commonly as a child, but much less frequently in adulthood.  I would pick up a book and not be able to focus on anything else until I had finished it.  I would read on the bus to school, under my desk [clarifying: the book, not me] during class, and often during lunch break.  Late at night I would sneak to my bedroom doorway to read by the light in the hall, which was ostensibly left on to comfort my siblings and I from nighttime terrors.  On Saturdays, I would shut myself in the bathroom for hours to read and avoid my chores.  On Sundays, I resented the three hours that church took away from my books.  As an adult, I read primarily nonfiction, and much more slowly given the multiplying demands on my time, and I thought maybe I had lost that childhood compulsion completely.  But with each of these books, the hunger to continue the story continued until I had read both of them in the same week.  This I find a little strange, considering that either one could be the most depressing book I have ever read. 

Francis Fukuyama recently reviewed Samantha Power's new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. From the review:

In the wake of the Iraq debacle, the idea that strong countries like the United States should use their power to defend human rights or promote democracy around the world has become widely discredited. From an overmilitarized foreign policy, we are in danger of going to the opposite extreme, forgetting the lessons of the 1990s that hard power is sometimes needed to resolve political conflicts, and that we do not yet have an adequate set of international institutions to deploy it legitimately and effectively.

I take exception to one of the premises above. The U.S. does not use its power primarily to defend human rights or promote democracy. It has never done so. The U.S. acts in its own interest--the fabled "national interest" (as perceived by the ruling elites)--first, last, and always. From time to time, U.S. leaders see U.S. interests as concordant with those of defending human rights and promoting democracy, and act accordingly. But this is always incidental to the real goals of promoting national prosperity and security, and just as often the real goals conflict with the stated goals of saving others from themselves/promoting democracy, stated goals which are themselves often in tension with each other.

One lesson of the 1990s is that sovereign nations cannot be expected to act on their own to further the interests of noncitizens at some unquantifiable risk to their own interests. They simply won't do it absent a more formal institutional structure for using multilateral military force than now exists. Any political leadership that does make significant sacrifices for noncitizens at the expense of citizens will soon find itself out of a job if that country's democratic processes are functioning well, and rightly so, based on the existing parameters of sovereign government and international politics.

In response to this


Amtrak will start randomly screening passengers' carry-on bags this week in a new security push that includes officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains.

The initiative, to be announced by the railroad on Tuesday, is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

Atrios said this:

Trains are not planes, and random checks like this are pointless.

I respectfully disagree.  These searches may well have a distinct purpose: immigration enforcement.  Lately, I have been hearing from clients about immigration searches on trains in upstate New York, even on trains that do not cross into Canada.  Undocumented New Yorkers take a risk anytime they leave the city.  Any undocumented immigrant anywhere in the country takes a risk whenever he or she rides a train or a bus outside a sanctuary city, a risk that passengers will be stopped and searched and questioned about their immigration status.  Those who can't persuade officials of their lawful status may be issued a notice to appear in immigration court for removal proceedings.  This constitutes another step on our national path towards a security state of the kind that would make any 20th-century totalitarian proud. 

These random checks are far from pointless.

Stay calm, relax

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Greg Siskind brings us word of this horrific story from Hawaii


The mother of a 2-week-old boy said her son would be alive today if they and his traveling nurse hadn't been held up at Honolulu International Airport by customs personnel.

Luaipou Futi of American Samoa spoke through an interpreter during a news conference Tuesday at the offices of the family's attorney, Rick Fried.

Futi's son, Michael Tony, died Friday at the airport after he, Futi and the nurse, Arizona Veavea, were kept in a locked room after flying nearly five hours from American Samoa so the child could be treated for a birth defect, a hole in his heart, Fried said.

Seeing Clinton's persistent lead in the polls among Latin@ voters, and drawing criticism from some initially sympathetic sources for lackluster outreach efforts, the Obama campaign decided last week after Super Tuesday to guest blog on Marisa Treviño's site, Latina Lista.  The takeaway line for me is in the second paragraph below:

I also know that for women of all backgrounds, keeping their families together is a top priority. It is no secret that Latino families are being separated from their families every day in this country because of raids and deportation policies that do not take family and humanity into account when trying to enforce laws.
 

That's why when I'm President, I will put comprehensive immigration reform back on the nation's agenda during my first year in office, and I will not rest until it is passed once and for all.

I will take that as a campaign promise to work during his first year to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and I hope migrants and migrant advocates hold him to it. 

I see the Myers blackface story has gotten some additional exposure.  I'd like to address a point that I didn't examine in my earlier post.  Rather than bury it in an update, I'll post again.  The WaPo covered the story, and this part jumped out at me:

In a Nov. 8 letter replying to questions by McCaskill, Myers said that she was "shocked and horrified" to learn that the employee was wearing makeup but that within minutes of leaving the party she instructed her chief of staff to direct ICE's events photographer "to delete all photos of the employee."

"Although I didn't know that the employee had disguised his race, I believed I had made an error in judgment in recognizing an escaped prisoner," Myers wrote.

Explanation 1: She really did think the employee was black, in which case she is not smart enough to run a lemonade stand, much less a large government bureaucracy which requires substantial judgment and wisdom to enforce the immigration laws in a race-neutral way. 

blackface photos thinkprogress.jpg

CNN recently compelled the government to release photos taken of the official in charge of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) with an ICE employee in blackface and fake dreads dressed in a prisoner's uniform at an office Halloween party last year. View the segment here.  See some of the redacted photos here.

At the party, Julie Myers, then-acting chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security, gave an award for "most original costume" to an employee wearing prison stripes, a wig with dreadlocks and face-darkening makeup.

Under the assumptions that (a) a Democrat will win the White House this year and (b) that whoever is crowned the "winner" by the media after Super Tuesday will be the Democratic nominee (this second assumption may be on shakier ground than the first), tomorrow's primary election in selected states might be more important than the November general election. 

So from a pro-migrant, progressive perspective, which of the two leading Democratic candidates is preferable on the issue of immigration?  This blogger concludes that Obama--though far from perfect--is the better candidate for migrants.

Update: [Well, my assumption that Super Tuesday would be the end of the Democratic primary race was quite ill-informed.  I hope the rest of my observations hold up a little better.]