Immigration and Border Policies Criticized, Short Interview with Arizona Activist Dan Millis

By Nick Braune

In 2008, Dan Millis was on a team which discovered the body of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador who had been trying to find her way through rugged deserts and mountains in Arizona’s southern border. Traveling with her little brother and hoping to link up with her mother in the U.S., the girl died of dehydration, after becoming sick and somehow being left behind by the coyote. (See The Death of Josseline by Margaret Regan, Beacon Press, 2000)

With Josseline on his mind, Millis was in the desert again two days later, leaving sealed gallon containers of water around for any lost travelers. He was cited for littering, refused to pay, was convicted in federal court, but after two years of fuss, finally won in appeal court. (Millis, visiting Texas this week as a spokesperson for Sierra Club and for No More Deaths in the Desert, is speaking on Monday, August 22 at Galeria 409 in Brownsville and Tuesday, August 23 at St. John the Baptist Parish Hall in San Juan. Both presentations begin at 7:00 pm.)

Braune: Are there still people who die crossing the Arizona desert despite the construction of the wall?

Millis: Construction of 650 miles of border walls has not decreased the number of people who die attempting to cross our borderlands. In fact, walls, sensors, helicopters, cameras, and thousands more agents have only made the voyage more dangerous for border-crossers. The crashed U.S. economy and higher prices being charged by border trail guides have contributed to lower overall numbers of people crossing the desert. But people continue to die in large numbers, and so the risk of death for those who cross has increased dramatically.

Braune: How do you assess President Obama and Secretary Napolitano on the immigration issues and the wall? – Just like Bush?

Millis: I think Obama’s administration would like significant reforms in trade, immigration, and perhaps even border policy. However, they are wedded to an ideology that these reforms can only happen once the border is “secured.” Their definition of “security” on the border is the same as that of the Bush administration: more walls, agents, helicopters, guns, technology, etc. More militarization. But safety and security are not the priority, as demonstrated by the hordes of well-armed young men driving above the speed limit in white and green [Border Patrol] SUVs, the vast majority of whom have less than minimal first aid training or supplies.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has deported more people per year than any of his predecessors, showing a mistaken allegiance to Bush’s doctrine of deterrence through death, detention and deportation. That’s a lot of ‘D’s…

Braune: Here’s something puzzling me. A year or so ago, Arizona passed some nasty anti-immigrant legislation, and last January a liberal Arizona congresswoman and 13 constituents were shot by a fanatic. Is your state becoming polarized?

Millis: As for the Giffords shooting, I would hardly characterize Gabby as “liberal.” She is a blue-dog Democrat, which is how she is able to hold on to her seat in a whacko, gun-crazy district.

That said, I worked on Giffords’ campaign in October, and felt the heat leveled on us by her genuinely whacko and gun-crazy Tea Party opponent, Jesse Kelly. Though he is obviously not directly responsible for the murders of January 8, I also doubt that shooter Jared Loughner would have ever even known of Gabby’s existence if it weren’t for the constant stream of venomous personal attacks unleashed by extremist zealots and their Citizens United-enabled funders. So I suppose you could say Arizona is polarized, but I think a better word would be irresponsible. And the lack of maturity and competency, especially of the Arizona legislature and Governor’s office since the elections, to me is reflective of an uninformed and indifferent electorate.

[Written for “Reflection and Change,” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, August 21, 2011]

Author Warns about the CIA on Campuses, Short Interview with Philip Zwerling

By Nick Braune

It’s available next month — tell your library to order it now — The CIA on Campus: Essays on Academic Freedom and the National Security State, edited by Philip Zwerling (McFarland Publications, 2011). Professor Zwerling teaches at University of Texas-Pan American, a site of considerable controversy about CIA recruiting.

The publisher’s blurb: “This collection of nine essays in diverse academic fields explores the pernicious penetration of intelligence services into U.S. campus life to exploit academic study, recruit students, skew publications, influence professional advancement, misinform the public, and spy on professors. With its exhaustive list of CIA misdeeds and myriad suggestions for combating the subversion of academic independence, this work provides a wake-up call for students and faculty.”

Braune: Congratulations, Dr. Zwerling, to you and to other UTPA contributors, Dr. David Anshen and Dr. David Carlson, for this important book. Tell me, why did the CIA crowd promise money and push so hard to have a formal niche at UTPA?

Zwerling: After 9/11 (the greatest U.S. intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor) they were determined to have what House Intelligence Committee Chair Jane Harman called “agents who look like their targets.” So at UTPA and other campuses where ethnic or racial minorities constitute the majority, they planned to generate more applicants for clandestine service in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

Braune: So they set up house on certain campuses?

Zwerling: Yes, these CIA campus projects involve recruitment — they want 10,000 applicants yearly — and “curriculum modification” to teach courses their way. Historically they have drawn faculty and students into dangerous mind control experiments, election fraud, and the training of police torturers and military death squads. Such projects always involve secrecy and the subversion of an independent faculty.

Braune: Another thing I disliked about the CIA plans for Pan Am was the “spy school” for high school students. (It reminded me of the Nazis getting children to spy on their families.) Did their “spy school” idea ever get off the ground?

Zwerling: The CIA and the ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) reach out to students as young, and therefore impressionable, as they can. UTPA just concluded their annual Summer Spy Camp (called “Got Intelligence”) with middle school kids. They play spy games, hunt with GPS, etc. But regardless of the activities the goal is always recruitment.

Braune: I understand that the concerned professors and students at Pan Am have had some success recently.

Zwerling: Yes. The elected faculty Council of the College of Arts and Humanities unanimously voted last October to investigate the Spy School, and in response the Faculty Senate held an open debate on the subject last May. The CIA and ODNI don’t like open debates or publicity, and I think any return to the campus will be met by continued resistance.

Braune: Does your book answer a question I occasionally hear: Shouldn’t the CIA have a “right” (academic freedom) to build a presence on campuses?

Zwerling: Academics, faculty and students, are all about public discussion, free speech, and the clash of ideas. That’s how new knowledge is created and shared. The CIA, on the other hand, is a secret organization (we do not know their members, budget, plans, etc.), the antithesis of free speech. Their recruitment of our students relies on subterfuge and lies and has no place on campus.

[This piece appeared first in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, August 15, 2011.]

Wage Theft in the Rio Grande Valley, a Short Interview with Elliott Tucker of STCRP

By Nick Braune

Last summer I interviewed an attorney for the South Texas Civil Rights Project (STCRP), Elliott Tucker, who is working on the issue of “wage theft.” He described plans to meet labor lawyers throughout Hidalgo and Cameron Counties and to initiate community workshops helping workers to know their rights.

Over the last year STCRP’s work has proceeded apace, with a Valley coalition being formed, Fuerza del Valle. Fuerza unites various groups concerned about wage theft: STCRP, La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), the Start Center in San Benito, ARISE, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Have there been successes? Yes, with employers finally paying up and others facing lawsuits. The big success is that more workers are learning they can fight unscrupulous bosses.

Last week Tucker sent me a press release, “STCRP Stands up for Hotel Cleaning Employees in Weslaco: Workers file suit to protect their fundamental right to fair pay.” The suit charges that a local inn employed workers (regularly vacuuming and sweeping) but didn’t bother to pay hourly wages in accordance with federal law. Apparently the workers complained and the employer chuckled, until someone had the sense to contact Fuerza.

The press release states: “STCRP has filed a lawsuit on behalf of these three workers to demand fair payment for a fair day’s work. The lawsuit also includes claims for illegal and insidious debt collection practices — the hotel lured the cleaning ladies into living there for a time, only to hold the debt over their heads and force them to work even longer hours.”

I contacted Elliott Tucker.

Braune: A question: Maybe employers start out innocently enough by feeling they’re doing a quick favor to people who are out of work. Am I right? Last year someone knocked on my door, said he needed money and would trim my hedges for $20 — should I have said no?

Tucker: Good people sometimes offer work to help somebody out, we can all understand that. However, the allegations in our complaint — debt labor — show that this was oppressive exploitation, the work of a malevolent mind with a firm grip on employees, not a helping hand. Also, several individuals have joined the suit and corroborated the awful threats and harassment.

Braune: What response has the owner made?

Tucker: It was twisted — he first denied they were employees, then complained that they lacked legal documents, and then said the lawsuit was a “shakedown.” Sadly, among employers in the RGV, there are some wolves dressed as lambs.

Braune: I would think that honest businesses would hate the businesses which cheat.

Tucker: Yes, when dishonest employers operate with impunity and exploit poorly educated low-wage workers, we all suffer. The many respectable businesses that form part of the Chamber of Commerce struggle in price wars with unscrupulous competitors who disregard the law. And poorly paid workers often depend on the social safety net more than if they were paid $7.25 per hour in accordance with the law.

Braune: Should undocumented workers feel nervous about contacting your group?

Tucker: No worker, regardless of immigration status, should feel nervous about contacting my group. [STCRP: 956-787-8171] As non-profits we have no affiliation with the government and exist to serve the people, not divide them with unjust immigration laws or policies. Federal and state labor law protects all employees in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

[“Reflection and Change” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, August 8, 2011]

Falling Back Another Hour in the State of Hate: Texans Ban Gay Marriage

By Greg Moses

OpEdNews / DissidentVoice

Did you ever smell catfish bait? It’s like something died under the house and they mixed it into a doughball. It is that sweet and it competes real well with other smells you get down in the muck of a stagnant river.

Anyway, that’s the smell of politics down here in Texas right after our voters landslided onto a baited amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the better to keep other kinds of couples in their closets. As a work of language the marriage amendment is very impressive evidence of the multiple illiteracies of our elected leadership. They obviously don’t understand the concept of liberty, since they have crafted a definition of marriage that prevents some adults from choosing marriage even when they would be hurting nobody by that choice. But they also don’t know much grammar either since the bare language of the thing seems to prevent the practice of marriage altogether (which is only bad grammar if it’s the opposite of what you meant to legislate.)

So if you thought Bush was the worst leadership that Texas could throw up to the world (bad pun intended) and you’ve taken comfort that his Presidential years are constitutionally numbered then think again. We’ve got a hundred more like him down here all fighting for power.

I don’t mean to say that Texas people are way more hateful than your average state. There’s plenty of mean shit in this world to go around. But if Texans were way more hateful and you could prove it, most wouldn’t care too much. They’d just say, well we’re not that much more hateful. And they’d go right on thinking less of you.

Neither does it seem that we have a leadership that much worse than say California, but we do have leadership that cannot lead and will therefore use hateful means to hateful ends in the fattest, laziest pretense of problem solving, which that’s a dangerous thing if the surrounding crowd has no pride whatsoever in their capacity to love.

So, the clocks in Texas have all been turned back an hour or two and the darkness will be arriving a little earlier each day, purely in consideration of the extra hours needed by night riders to take advantage of this new season of hate.

In fact, eight members of the Klan got so excited about the smell of politics that last Saturday they drove half a day to Austin to proclaim their love for the chance to practice real Christian morality in the aftermath of a landslide. I don’t know how much gas they used along the way, or how much they thought about the meaning of those gas prices, but like I said, catfish bait politics does really well in a muck that’s already stinkin.

So if you woke up early Tuesday and heard Amy Goodman tell you about the phosphorus bombs that burned the people of Falluja to death, and you stayed up late Tuesday night to find out that among freedom loving people, gay adults need to be told what not to do, then you could hardly go to bed thinking anything but revolution, because if you didn’t wake up pushing for some kind of revolution Wednesday morning, there is no question that you would just be begging to be pushed around one more time.