“This is pathetically sickening. This is outrageously sickening. What is the government trying to accomplish by terrorizing people who want to be Americans?”
That’s how Jay Johnson-Castro responded by telephone to the front-page story in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times about the T. Don Hutto prison at Taylor, Texas.
He was specifically talking about news that a 9-year-old girl and her father were abducted from their home in Phoenix during a raid similar to the operation that imprisoned three Palestinian families in Texas. The father from Phoenix is married to an American citizen and had on the previous day stopped by an immigration office to see how he could fix his lapsed status.
“The fact that someone is in this country illegally doesn’t mean they have broken a law,” says Ralph Isenberg by telephone from Dallas.
“A person who is told one day that they have status and another day that they don’t is not a person who has broken the law,” says Isenberg. “It’s not the same as murder.”
“The Ibrahim family were told they were in the country illegally, but they were trying to appeal their status. Once that appeal was considered, instantly the family went from being unlawful to lawful,” says Isenberg.
“The same thing may happen with the Hazahza family very soon. We have asked Joshua Bardavid and Ted Cox to prepare their writ of habeas corpus,” says Isenberg. ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] should release the Hazahzas or shut down their prisons altogether, which would be just as good.”
Further South, Johnson-Castro’s voice crosses the border as he drives across an international bridge into Reynosa, Mexico.
He agrees that the public voice began to speak with the November elections, and he thinks that hard-right border policies had something to do with it.
In weeks leading up the November elections, Johnson-Castro started a campaign of conscience against a proposed border wall. Last week, when he returned to the Rio Grande Valley with activists from other border states, he found media and mayors eager to carry a message of border compassion.
If proponents of hard-line immigration policy think they are going to win with fear and prejudice, they need to think again.
“We have taken their trump card,” says Johnson-Castro. “And we have torn it up!”
Driving through Reynosa, Mexico, Johnson-Castro talks over the cell phone about the social and economic landscape.
“I have documentation that people here are getting paid eight to ten dollars a day for 9.6 hours of work, six days a week,” says Johnson-Castro
“Often they are not given their bonuses. If the factory they are working for changes hands, they lose all their seniority and have to start all over again from scratch,” he says.
“There are toxic waste dumps near these factories, and many of the workers are single moms,” he adds.
“Then when they want to cross the line to work for minimum wage, they are treated like criminals by the same powers who are exploiting them in their country back home.” Many of these Reynosa factories are American owned and pay dividends to American pensioners and other stock holders.
“We now have labor camps that are American owned a couple of minutes from the USA, we have prison camps for profit from the USA. We have plans to build a Berlin wall on USA soil–for profit!
“Prsident Bush is going to totally militarize the Texas-Mexican border, doubling troops and equipment for profit.
“Now we have secret cemeteries where people are buried who die along the border. We don’t know who they are, yet they are buried for profit.
“Where have we seen all this before? Let’s learn form the Germans and tear it all down before it’s built.”
On Monday evening at 5:30 Johnson-Castro will resume a series of nonviolent vigils outside the Hutto prison camp.
“People with true American spirit who recognize they are immigrants or descendants of immigrants will stand up to these imperialistic, nationalistic, supremacistic, and racist tactics,” says Johnson-Castro. “And I think it will happen fast.”
Indeed the placement and tone of news stories about the Hutto prison are evidence that a certain line has been crossed among news audiences across the country.
Back in Dallas, Ralph Isenberg reflects on his long-standing battles with ICE and the way he has been treated by business partners and friends.
“Not one has complained about my cause this time,”says Isenberg. “My business partners and friends are saying, ‘go do what you need to do; this is wrong.'”
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.