Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vigil for Arellano/cry for justice on steps of federal building

About 150 supporters of Elvira Arellano attended a vigil and press conference late afternoon yesterday in front of the federal building on Los Angeles Street downtown. Reacting angrily to the arrest and deportation of Arellano on Sunday – the undocumented-immigrant-turned-activist who had been harbored at a church sanctuary for about a year in Chicago – the group vowed to continue the fight for justice in the form of green cards to the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US.

(Attending the vigil along with immigrant-rights and social-justice groups CHIRLA and CLUE was Bienestar, a gay Latino health-services organization, which took the opportunity to both show support for the deported Arellano as well as to call for justice another, lesser-known Arellano, a yet unluckier victim of immigration authorities: Victoria Arellano, a transgender woman who died last month for lack of medical attention in a detention center while awaiting deportation. An AIDS patient, the 23-year-old’s desperate appeals for access to her confiscated medications was denied throughout the months she was held and only received medical care once it was too late. You can read about her wrongful death and the scandalous conditions of US immigration detention centers at http://www.bibdaily.com/pdfs/Denied%20Medication2.pdf. A rally protesting her death is planned next week on Monday at the same place, 300 North Los Angeles Street.)

Arellano and her 8-year-old son, who was born in the US, were on a speaking tour across the country calling for such immigration reform. Though she and supporting activists say they always knew she could end up arrested and deported, they were probably betting the Bush Administration would back off in recognition of the symbolic power of Arellano’s actions. But it looks like the strategy backfired, for the Bushies are desperate to look tough after a string of recent defeats: losing control of Congress, failure in Iraq, failure to reform immigration law, etc.

Or maybe the strategy didn’t fail. Even though Arellano didn’t get very far, the event may serve to galvanize pro-immigrant supporters and church leaders to energize the fledgling sanctuary movement and push more strongly for fair immigration reform.

Perhaps one way Arellano could continue to fight for immigrants in the US while living south of the border would be if immigrant-rights groups north of the border provide her with financial support while she presses the Mexican government to take up the immigrants’ cause. This is an issue Mexicans of every political stripe would support. Yet in his meeting this past weekend with Mexico’s NAFTA partners (the US and Canada), President Calderon’s priorities hardly included bettering the lot of poor Mexicans – north or south of the border. Instead, the conservative leaders of the three countries discussed further liberalization of their economies, which benefit their corporate supporters at the expense of the poor. Free trade is to blame for deteriorating quality of life and social security in all three countries through the loss of well-paying jobs in the US and Canada and by overwhelming Mexico’s farmers with cheap (subsidized) agricultural products that run them off the land and, ultimately, out of the country. A Mexican president concerned about the poor would defy US pressure to maintain laissez-faire policies and would begin to more-fairly redistribute the country’s vast wealth, reducing poor Mexicans’ need to emigrate. Or… he would demand that free trade in North America took after that in the European Union, where all factors of production, including labor, are able to freely cross borders.

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