Young People in the Rio Grande Valley Receive Rough Treatment from Authorities

By Nick Braune

Youth in the Rio Grande Valley (on the Tex-Mex border) face frequent attacks by various authorities who increasingly consider youth as “the other.” I’ll offer a few examples momentarily; but first, some context. The Valley, with some of the poorest counties in the country, is over-policed — progressives here even speak about the “militarization of the border,” referring to the semi-occupied atmosphere inside the Border Patrol’s “checkpoints.” And perhaps because local to federal authorities know that if resistance sentiment should arise in the long-impoverished Latino population of the Valley and similar places, it would massively involve youth, the authorities tend to focus their attention (suspicion, irritation, snap judgments, etc.) toward young people.

If socialist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-87) were here, she would mock the various official claims that authorities must police the young people to prevent them from acting irrationally. Dunayevskaya would say that the officials are not worried about occasional irrationality in youth but are far more afraid of the opposite: the insights and reflective qualities of young people. Authorities are afraid of “youth as reason,” so youth are consistently targeted in tense areas.

True, no group formally voted to target youth, but with a hundred little nervous vectors almost spontaneously nudging in one general direction during the evolving economic and social crisis, no one had to vote; there simply evolved a more watchful mentality toward the young, and a “smack ‘em down quick” mentality. (I am reminded of the town of Raymondville following the onion field strike of 1979. The documentary “Valley of Tears” shows how after the strike, for some crazy reason, the authorities – they had supported the rich onion growers — began kicking many Mexican-American kids out of the high school. Raymondville activist, Juan Guerra, just out of law school, set up his own “school” in a garage to combat the expulsions, and with help from those youth, waged a bitter fight to get on the school board.)

Here are four examples of ways youth, viewed as “the other,” have been smacked recently in the Rio Grande Valley.

First, there have been continuing reports that the Evins Regional Juvenile Facility is Edinburg still has not created a safe climate for the youth held there. The Justice Department intervened in 2006, and in 2008 a reform plan was worked out to keep inmates from beating each other and to keep nut-case guards from beating the young inmates.

But on May 5th The Monitor of McAllen reminded us that problems are lingering on there; it told the story of a 17-year-old youth, Brandon, who had felt so terrorized that he “secluded himself in the isolated security ward…He has refused to rejoin the general population for seven months after a beating he received from other inmates.” (I wonder if Evins provides proper psychological help for youth with PTSD.) In case you are wondering, Brandon was sent to Evins, to undergo hell, because of a graffiti charge — this is how to treat youth?

Second, a Brownsville Mexican American, Francisco Dominguez, was tried as an adult and given 20 years in prison this summer for killing his Anglo high school drama teacher, who was prominent in Valley cultural circles. The prosecutor refused to see the 16-year-old as a victim, although there was evidence the kid and other male students had been lured several times to the teacher’s house to do odd jobs and were asked to pose with their shirts off to show off muscles. Dominguez was very vulnerable psychologically, starved for attention by the father figure who also introduced kids to some male stripper friends at his home.

I spoke with Dominguez’ attorney, who was startled at the way the state aggressively prosecuted the youth and refused to give any credence to the kid’s explanation that he had stabbed the teacher (who outweighed Dominguez by 100 pounds) in self-defense during a sexual assault.

Why didn’t the jury listen to Dominguez’ side of the story? A partial answer: On his first night after being transferred to an adult facility, the youth had been interrogated by a Texas Ranger, and confessed. Because no lawyer was present at the 10 p.m. interrogation, which took three hours, and because the interrogation was not videotaped, it is not surprising to me that the Ranger got Dominguez to confess that he had killed the high school teacher not in self-defense but as part of a planned robbery. The kid signed the statement. Afterward, the youth could not explain well why he had confessed the way he did to the Ranger if the confession wasn’t true.

(Some students in a South Texas College philosophy class recently critiqued the standard Reid Technique of interrogation to see why it is so successful — so “successful” that it results in many false confessions — and the students even discovered that in England it is illegal to use that interrogation technique on juveniles. A 40-year-old Texas Ranger, experienced in interrogation, can get an insecure, scared 16-year-old to confess to anything.)

A third case of youth being targeted was exposed in The Monitor this year; the piece criticized an Edinburg Justice of the Peace who has thrown 137 teens (17 or older) into jail on truancy-related issues. “Some students stayed as long as 49 days, continuing to miss classes and in some cases jeopardizing their chance of graduating.” (Although judges cannot legally send a youth to jail for truancy, the JP would incarcerate them on “failure to appear” charges related to truancy, or incarcerate them if they failed to pay off truancy-related fines. Jailing kids for skipping school — is this sensible?)

The situation is so serious that the ACLU has announced a federal class action lawsuit. The Monitor, (7/10/10) reports: “Francisco de Luna spent 18 days in jail last year for a list of offenses as minor as wearing saggy pants to school. Elizabeth Diaz was kicked out of her high school for excessive absences — incurred during two weeks she spent locked up for missing class… The lawsuit alleges that local justices of the peace routinely failed to offer teens access to attorneys and to verify whether they had the financial means to pay off their fines on their own.”

The Monitor quotes an ACLU attorney: “The schools and the county should be providing services that will help keep these kids in school instead of punishing them to the point where they cannot return to school.”

As a fourth example, let me conclude by sharing an interview I conducted for my weekly column in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, August 18, 2010. I spoke with Victoria Garza, an intelligent, socially conscious young woman (perhaps early twenties) who describes herself as a mother, a musician, and a member of the G Collective in Edinburg, where she lives. Although this interview involves a relatively small incident, it may provide some insight into the current situation in the Valley.

Braune: If I understand correctly, the Edinburg police recently overstepped their boundaries in response to a routine noise complaint they claimed to have received. Briefly, what happened? And what was the attitude of the police?

Garza:A little after 9 p.m., I was informed about a police officer outside my house. I immediately went outside to address him. We were having a punk show so everyone was coming inside the house and the music was stopped, because we figured it might be a noise complaint. I found the officer banging on the front window, pointing at someone inside, yelling, “YOU, COME HERE!” I asked what was going on and the officer was demanding to see the owner of the house. I remained calm and repeated, “I live here, what’s going on?”

He continued to yell, demanding to see the owner, so I explained that no one here owns the house because we rent it. He then asked for my ID. I lost my ID a month ago and haven’t had time or money to replace it, so I said politely, “I don’t have an ID, but I can give you my information.” I gave my first and last name, address, and date of birth.

He said that there was a noise complaint and that it’s against a city ordinance to have amplifiers in our house. I told him that I was unaware of this ordinance and that it was my understanding that we can have a reasonable loudness before 11 p.m. I calmly explained that enforcing the ordinance tonight doesn’t make sense because we were using the same speakers we practice with. He then said that there is a fine of $500 and went to his car to get the citation. I waited.

When he came back, he asked for my middle name. I told him and he told me to put down the food I was eating, grabbed my wrist, and handcuffed me. “I have a warrant for you.” Being barefoot, I asked if I could get some shoes, and the officer scoffed and said, “They can bring them to you.” I remained calm and respectful; he was aggressive, rude and macho.

Braune: I understand you had an unpaid fine, so your friends went down, paid it, and you were released. Were the young people doing anything to antagonize the police?

Garza:Not at all. Everyone came inside the house in a calm manner because no one likes to talk to police, who have a reputation for aggression. They had no reason to harass anyone either, people were just hanging out in the back porch: no pot smoking, no minors drinking, nothing besides the loud noise at 9 p.m., and that stopped immediately.

Braune: You explained last week to me that your house provides a space where young people can talk, chill and enjoy common culture. (I personally visited your Edinburg collective last spring for a potluck dinner fundraiser.)

Garza:Yes, we host an array of events, from thought-provoking films and skill-building workshops to punk shows and Son Jarocho workshops (Afro-indigenous music from Veracruz). We provide one of the few “venues” where people under 18 can go for shows and events.

Braune: Often police attitudes (like anger, rigidity toward youth), their “community interactions,” are puzzling.

Garza:I don’t know why the police get hostile. Maybe it’s a power-trip, or when they don’t find just the response they expect, it makes them angry. They definitely don’t expect us to know our rights, such as our right to refuse them entry without probable cause. Everyone here knows to go inside when cops show up, shut and lock the door, locate the people who live at the house, and remain quiet until we figure out why they are here by someone going outside to talk. They may think they can push their way into our home, but we don’t let anyone in if we don’t trust them, and we don’t trust the police.

Braune: Any follow-up?

Garza:Yes, because of this incident, our collective recently handed out ACLU “Know your rights” flyers at Edinburg’s National Night Out. Everyone we met agreed the police are usually aggressive. Some already knew some rights they had, like not consenting to an unlawful search. My advice to young people is to remain calm and respectful. Don’t talk back or resist arrest. Most importantly, learn your rights.

Braune: Victoria, thanks for your comments.

A youth terrorized in Evins for graffiti offenses, another one targeted by a Texas Ranger (and a vigorous prosecutor) for fighting back against a predatory teacher, 137 teens going to jail for truancy, local police trying one evening to rattle the G Collective which is reaching out to youth — listing these examples admittedly does not prove anything. But older people in the Valley should seriously examine the hypothesis that the younger generation is being targeted as the suspect “other.” I doubt, however, that the youth will want to wait until the older people wake up: Although the young appear to have few allies, they do have reason on their side.

Embassy Letter to Saad Nabeel

We have typed the following letter from an image file provided by Saad Nabeel via email. It is the letter he was given at the American Embassy during his interview of Aug. 17, 2010–gm

The Embassy of the United States of America
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Date: (Handwritten) 8/17/10

Dear Applicant:

We regret to inform you that you have been found ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa based on section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under U.S. immigration law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas must satisfy the interviewing officer that they are entitled to the type of visa for which they are applying. A denial under section 214(b) means that you were not able to demonstrate that your intended activities in the U.S. would be consistent with one of the nonimmigrant visa categories established under U.S. immigration law, or, more commonly, that you were unable to satisfy the requirements for the particular nonimmigrant visa category for which you have applied today.

The requirements of each nonimmigrant visa category differ from one another. However, one of the most common elements within the various nonimmigrant visa requirements is for the applicant to demonstrate that they have a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning. Applicants to whom this requirement applies usually meet the requirement by demonstrating that they have strong ties overseas which would ensure their return to a foreign country after a temporary visit to the United States. Some of the ties that may be considered during the interview include professional, employment, educational, family or social linkage to a foreign country. You have not demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States.

Today’s decision cannot be appealed. However, you may reapply if you have additional evidence to demonstrate your qualification for a visa. If you do decide to reapply, you must submit a new application form and photo, pay the visa application fee again, and schedule an appointment from Saimon Overseas Ltd. If you choose to reapply, you should be prepared to demonstrate that your circumstances have changed since the application. There can be no guarantee that you will receive a different decision. Only a new interview can determine that.


(Handwritten initials)

Consular Officer
Nonimmigrant Visa Section

Saad Nabeel Denied Student Visa for Second Time

On his second visit to the American Consulate in Bangladesh, Saad Nabeel found an interviewer who was up to speed on the latest publicity, but still unwilling to approve a student visa so that he could attend SMU as an Environmental Engineering student.

The Consulate official Tuesday afternoon suggested that Nabeel attend the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

“Even when I told her I didn’t speak the language, that two of my cousins who are IN SCHOOL here in Bangladesh told me lectures are in Bangla (not English), she kept repeating ‘Why don’t you go to BUET!? They speak perfect English there!'” said Nabeel in an email.

Nabeel said he saw highlighted printouts of articles about him.

“She asked me, ‘How did you get into SMU in March? I was on the site and it said that the deadlines were in January!'” said Nabeel.

“Someday, people will respect me I hope,” said Nabeel. “One day they won’t talk to me like I’m trash. That day is a dream for now.”

Nabeel was also turned down for a student visa during a visit to the consulate in June.

Living with Busted Dreams: A Voice from Australia

We don’t have a good answer for Harone when he asks below if there is anything that can be done to help him return to his homeland, America. But we respect his question and his pain. The following letter to the Texas Civil Rights Review is reprinted with permission.–gm

Hi, I am Harone and I was at the US at the age of two until the age of nineteen. My parents took me there when i was a kid and they had applied for asylum. The asylum was denied and we left before being deported in 2005. My dad stayed there a bit longer.

My mom and I left to india in 2005. I went to a village and lived in India and got sick the very first week. I was so frustrated with life and I felt everything was against me. I had no friends and absolutely nothing there. I got angry one day and took my hand and hit it against my bed frame which was wood and I fractured the side of my palm. My experience there was miserable. I didn’t like to stay there one minute. There were many days where I didn’t feel like living.

I somehow managed to land up in Australia on a student visa to pursue Electrical engineering. I ran out of money and eventually had to discontinue engineering. I finally decided engineering was probably not for me since I couldn’t complete it in U.S and Australia too. I didn’t want to go back to India so in 2008, I ended up doing hairdressing since it’s the cheapest course you could do that allows you to live here.

Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be doing such a course and no disrespect to hairdressers but how can you do something you don’t like just because you are forced to, otherwise you have to return to a village where you would be lonely without friends or anything.

I was doing engineering in Rutgers University in America and finished one year where I had such a good life. I am 24 and a half years old today and I have no degree and at a financial loss and it’s been almost six years away from the U.S and not a single day goes by where I don’t think about what life would have been today if I never left.

I would’ve had a BMW, a good education, a house and every other thing students dream of. We ran out of money about 2008 since it’s expensive to live in Australia. I just want to live in Australia since I have no other option. There is no guarantee of me getting permanent residence.

If things don’t work out for me in Australia i have to go back to India with nothing there for me. Without a degree or qualification in India, people disrespect you and your family. Society will tell my parents what kind of kid did you raise? an uneducated spoiled kid who does nothing in his life. Parents would tell their kids to stay away from me.

India is not my home and I still feel Australia is not my home too even though it’s a good country. If I was forced to live in Australia for the rest of my life, I don’t see a point to living anymore. Even if I had a million dollars in Australia there would be no happiness. It would just be a totally sad life.

I did hairdressing and have applied for my permanent residence here. I have no more money, no degree absolutely nothing. I have kept to myself ever since I left U.S. I don’t really socialize anymore and people always wonder why I am so aloof, but they’ve never been removed from a country. They don’t know what it’s like to lose everything you have.

I don’t know what to do. Well I wanted to know if the DRAM Act is passed will I be eligible to come back to the U.S. We left in 2005 and it was under voluntary departure so i wasn’t exactly deported. I graduated high school there and lived there for 17 years of my life. I want to go back there so bad.

There are many days where it feels like I am living a dream and it’s so hard to face this present reality that I am in. Now i believe that you need to study for two years under the DREAM Act or get a degree. Well how am I supposed to do that if i no longer have money to study? It’s not fair. My parents could’ve easily afforded to pay $30,000 or even $40,000 a year if we go back 6 years ago but now they are struggling to make ends meet.

I am sure there are many other traumatic stories out there. My life will never be the same again because I will always wonder what life would’ve been, had I never left. It’s just not right and not fair. My parents were making more than $500 a day in the US and now they struggle to survive and i struggle to survive and i don’t have the money to study even if the DREAM Act passes.

How can the government remove you from the U.S and then let’s suppose they passed the DREAM Act, how can they put conditions on there that we need to show funds to study. How can families support themselves after leaving a country after 17 years and then expect them to find a job in a third world country and then pay bills for my education in U.S.

As far as my knowledge about the DREAM Act, I may not even be allowed to come back since I left in 2005 and I’m not one of the recent departure cases. What if they say you should’ve been in the U.S until 2008 or something so that means they are allowed to get away with cases such as mine.

Every day I still think about the life I had. I am not really looking for publicity, I just want to know if there is a way in which would be able to come back.