“We are all illegal aliens.” It’s a bumper sticker many of us on the frontlines of the fight against the United States’ government’s assault on Central Americans plastered on our car bumpers down El Paso way.
That was in the 1980s.
You know, when Reagan was running amuck ordering his captains Ollie North, McFarland, Casper Weinberger, the whole lot of them, to send bombs, CIA-torture manuals and US agents in order to aid terrorist contras and other despotic sorts in killing hundreds of thousands of innocents in civil wars in Salvador and Guatemala and El Salvador.
We worked with women and children who had witnessed fathers, uncles and husbands eviscerated by US-backed military monsters. Victims of torture, in Texas illegally. You know, what those brave Smith and Wesson-brandishing, chaise lounge Minutemen of today would call aliens.
We worked with people in faith-based communities, mainstream churches, and non-profits throughout El Paso, Juarez and the general area known as La Frontera. Everyone I met working with in this refugee assistance stint had humanitarian blood coursing through their veins. We were proud of our law-breaking work -- we gave refuge to terrorized and sometimes half-dead civilians.
We were called lawbreakers by the Reaganites and the Minutemen of that time. Communists. Pinko-fags. Those were the good old days of low-tech surveillance and simple FBI lists.
But what we did was human and humane, in the tradition of that very universal (with roots in Quakerism) belief in bearing witness and acting upon that which has been judged as unjust and inhumane.
Of course, we were up against the laws of this land and coarse politically driven judges who denied victim after victim permanent or temporary status while seeking asylum in the US.
We have so many stories of people sent back who were at best imprisoned, and in the worse cases, mutilated, disappeared, and murdered.
Guatemalan and Salvadorans, that is. Your readers don’t want to hear the narratives and visualize the descriptions of photos of those victims of torture. Ghastly things happened to teachers, nuns, medical workers and farmers, more heinous than what we’ve heard happened in the cells of Abu Ghraib.
We were there to assist, but more importantly to bear witness to our country’s terror campaign. Some of us got so riled up that later in our lives -- me included -- we hoofed it to Central America. Kicked around. Wrote articles for the few newspapers in this country that even cared about poor, misbegotten, displaced people of Latin America.
But no matter how hard-nosed we became, or how much we could withstand the photographs of women’s sliced backs and beheaded fetuses, we couldn’t shake the images of the children of torture at this two-story refugee house, Annunciation House. It was full of scruffy looking East Coast volunteers who had hooked up with Ruben Garcia, the House’s director, through Catholic services organizations. It was their stint with public service, their spiritual duty calling. Part of their degree plans. But most were converted and slammed hard by the violence their charges had suffered under.
Those PTSD-induced cartoons those children drew sucked the air out of even the hard-ass border patrol guys who used to “dump” the Central Americans at Ruben’s door at all hours of the night. Who can believe it now, that once upon a time official INS and border patrol officers knowingly let their perps go -- knew that Ruben and his volunteers could salve emotional and physical wounds of these tortured crossers.
Their chance at freedom. Except for the piss-ant judges. And the memories of pregnant aunties being raped, their fetuses cut out alive, speared, and the laughing Reagan-loved military punks in the highlands and jungle.
Annunciation House was bulging at 100 people -- disheveled lives jammed in. Beans always cooking. Songs. Mattresses and piles of donated clothes. Guitars strumming. Gueros, the white ones, and the Chicanos would help with in-takes -- asylum transcripts, translation, dotting all the i's and t’s. Help with getting jobs. Odd jobs in the community. Help with making sure the refugees didn’t get caught again.
But it was always those by-the-letter-of-the-law jurists helping confound the torture. More than 70 percent of our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in the US were denied entry by some fat cat, cocaine-sniffing immigration judge who usually had a friend in the back pocket of some Bush or buddy of Bush somewhere.
Then it was trying to get the denied victims off to Canada without being caught. You remember, the Canada back then which used to open its borders to refugees.
The judges and politicians and Minutemen all professed, “Send them back. Those aliens broke our immigration laws.”
But “we are all illegal aliens” as a rejoinder went much further than USA’s mayhem in Mesoamerica. We worked in solidarity with the housekeepers, bricklayers, agricultural workers and so many other worthy Mexicans who worked their butts off in the US for little pay and much less respect.
These were workers who crossed the Rio Grande to find low-paying jobs with American families and businesses -- working for mayors, bigwigs, even on government contracts. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, elsewhere. With a wink and a smile by the American exploiters.
Mojado -- wetback. Squatter. Beaner. Illegal alien. These were the more tame epithets.
But let’s not kid ourselves about the genesis of this new round of empowered Latinos fighting against racist laws put forward by the dispassionate conservatives running the ship of fools in DC.
This is not a country of legal immigrants. It’s a country based on colonialists, undocumented white people who helped displace native tribes through broken laws and genocide.
It’s a country based on illegal occupation of native lands and on Mexico’s lands, pure and simple. Colonialists protected by Federal laws that deemed free white people as the only ones who had the right to be fully-fledged citizens.
Manifest destiny was a violent racist act to seize lands illegally. Everything this country’s current anti-Mexican and pro-Apartheid border war proponents stand upon -- all that doctrine and those so-called laws -- is based on illegally seizing lands of Native tribes.
And worse -- laws that “removed” natives. Laws that starved natives. Laws that approved of eradicating native families, entire tribes.
The current massive turnout of students and workers alike in this country’s major cities is a testament to these Americans’ backbone to fight this new exclusionary law -- HR4377 -- a Washington, DC-inspired racist act that has its roots in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Many Americans do express a certain humanity and dignity for the people many deem aliens, but it’s not awe-inspiring that some citizens of Denmark or Limerick, Ireland, obey the so-called immigration laws of this country during their initial years as landed immigrants.
Let’s make no bones about the motives of Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of this racist House bill: He sees those brown-skinned south-of-the-border lettuce pickers, linen washers, house framers, and their US-borne children as, what? “Alien gang members terrorizing communities.”
Anyone spouting that we are a nation of immigrants and laws has a disease, what George Orwell called the illness of doublethink.
And until those many white Americans stop spewing that this is their land, a land of their laws, and a land made for Christians, the racist Minutemen will ramp up their gun brandishing on the southern and northern borders. And racist politicians will continue to play on the fears of uniformed constituents and try and pass the 21st Century’s racist exclusionary laws.
I wonder what these modern-day Nazis would say about those children’s cartoons -- images of bodies floating in rivers. Blood-soaked church walls. Military men with their M-16s trained on men while others were in their rape hunch. Beautiful jungle birds flying in the sky next to US-paid-for helicopter gun ships spraying the corn fields below. Dead mommies cradling dead babies.
Yeah, I’m an illegal alien. We all are illegal aliens, under the laws of these creeps in high office. Humanity and caring and simple benedictions for suffering so much, those are alien traits only held by a minority in this country of exclusion. Yeah, those creeps on hate-radio and in the newspaper columns and on Capitol Hill, sure, they recognize all of us who see the lies and fight the injustice as aliens.
And the children whose post-traumatic cartoons brought tears to men and women who had been in Vietnam. Simple Crayola colorings brought tears to a county sheriff who had survived drug runners shooting up his town and unearthed bodies.
Yeah, we are all illegal aliens. Except them.
Paul Haeder worked in Central America and Mexico writing for newspapers during the 1980s and early 1990s. He’s currently in Spokane, Washington, as an instructor of writing at Spokane Falls Community College and writes sustainability-energy-environmental pieces for the towns weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander.
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