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Sunday, February 18, 2007

You can’t abuse immigrants

“Hopefully this sends a message that you can’t point a gun at little kids,” stated Ronald Morales.
Morales was referring to a jury’s verdict which convicted Roger Barnett of threatening a hunting party with an assault rifle. The group included Morales, his father, his two daughters and a friend of theirs.
Barnett took them for illegal immigrants who were trespassing on his property. He yelled at the hunting party, insulted them with racial slurs, and threatened to shoot them.
Because of his actions, Barnett will have to pay $98,000 in damages.
The jury in Bisbee, Arizona, included seven whites and one Hispanic. It deliberated only for three hours and then reached its verdict. It convicted Barnett of unlawful imprisonment, assault, negligence and inflicting emotional distress.
Barnett has a great deal of experience with people trespassing on his property in Arizona, 22,000 acres of which he leases form the government. Typically, trespassers have been illegal immigrants.
Barnett is very concerned about illegal immigration. He told the ABC program “Nightline” that illegals are “flooding across, invading the place.”
Barnett has boasted of having captured 12,000 illegal immigrants. He has become one of the most visible vigilantes who patrols the U.S.- Mexican border. Barnett likes to dress in military garb and caps with insignia which resembles the United States Border Patrol uniform. Some people consider him the “godfather of vigilantism” and an inspiration for the Minutemen group, who have patrolled the U.S. border with Mexico and whom president George W. Bush labeled vigilantes.
The lawsuit which Barnett lost is not the only one causing him legal problems. Another lawsuit alleges that he, his wife, and his brother pointed guns at 16 illegal immigrants, threatened them with dogs, and also kicked one of the women in the group.
In another lawsuit which Barnett won, he himself was accused of trespassing as he pursued illegal immigrants in a fellow rancher’s land. And in still another case a lawsuit against Barnett was dropped. The plaintiff returned to Mexico and decided not to press charges.
When Morales asked the county attorney to bring charges against Barnett, he was told it’d be pointless because no jury would convict Barnett.
Eventually the lawsuit against Barnett was brought forward by the Border Action Network and the Southern Poverty Law Center, two civil rights groups which hope to set legal examples that migrants will not be abused.
The civil rights groups were encouraged by another case in Texas in which two Salvadoran illegal immigrants won a case against Casey Nethercott who had held them at gun point in 2003. Netehrcott lost his ranch to the Salvadoran immigrants.
Jesus Romo Vejar, Morales’ attorney, was encouraged by the verdict. He hopes others who may have been abused by Barnett will now come forward. He also hopes that the government will reconsider leasing him land given his conviction.
It’s unlikely that others will come forward. If indeed there have been other abuses, victims are probably long gone, back in Mexico. If they are in the U.S. and have no legal papers, they are probably very reluctant to come forward. The Morales are American citizens and sued because they felt strongly that their rights had been violated. Had the Morales been undocumented workers, they might not have pressed the case.
Yet, Morales’ victory can be an example to others who somehow think that undocumented workers can be abused because of their illegal immigration status.
The verdict clearly says that no one’s humanity can be abused regardless of immigration status. It also serves as discouragement to other ranchers on the border about letting militant civilian groups on their lands because of potential lawsuits that may arise if abuses are reported. In essence, the message of the Barnett verdict is that abusing illegals is in itself illegal in the U.S.
© Domenico Maceri
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Switzerland: Too Many Languages?

“Our schools put too much weight on languages at the expense of science and creative activities,” stated Remo Largo, a Swiss author of books on education.
Largo was concerned about the fact that some Swiss cantons introduce English in primary schools in addition to another foreign language. Too many languages for Swiss kids to handle.
With four national languages Switzerland is often mentioned as the model of multilingualism that works. Unlike some other countries which try to stick to one language, the presence of several languages in the country has not prevented the Swiss from establishing a strong economy and a high standard of living for its citizens. The Swiss, in fact, have used their multilingualism and multiculturalism as a strength.
But now English is making inroads and may be displacing some of the four national languages.
In Zurich, a leading Canton in the Swiss Confederation, a proposal would teach one foreign language—English— in primary schools. This would represent a change since Zurich’s elementary school kids now study English and French. Voters will decide whether French will be dropped.
Some educators believe that two foreign languages are too much for kids. Supporters of having one foreign language believe that kids fail to reach strong fluency in German which is supposed to be the mother tongue for schoolchildren in Zurich.
In fact, Zurich kids speak Swiss German which is primarily an oral language. In school they have to learn standard German which in some ways is a foreign language. Thus when you add it all together Zurich kids are learning a total of four languages. Too many languages, according to some teachers and some political leaders.
Regardless of what happens, Swiss kids will be fluent in more than one language which is a definite asset in today’s global economy. It is also a definite asset in learning any other subject. Studies conducted in American universities have found that kids who study in dual language schools outperform their counterparts who are taught in English only. Apparently, kids educated in two languages develop a mental agility that monolingual kids lack.
All of Switzerland will watch what Zurich voters will decide because Zurich is an influential canton and others may follow suit. Yet some German-speaking cantons have already decided to reject plans to reduce the number of foreign languages in school.
Language in Switzerland goes beyond practical purposes. The country has a history of four national languages which have served the country well. English is an outsider since it’s not a native language and does not have a section of the country where natives live in.
In spite of its “outsider” status, English is very popular because of its practical aspect. When you add the number of people who speak English as their native language and those who speak it as their second or third language around the globe, you come up with more than a billion people. In addition to that, the “value” represented by English is far greater than that of any other language.
It’s certainly a lot more valuable in practical terms than Romansh, a Latin-based language, and one of Switzerland’s four national languages, spoken only by 50,000 Swiss citizens.
Of course, French, the language the Zurich canton is considering dropping, is significantly more valuable than Romansh, although not nearly as much as English. Thus Zurich’s voters will have to decide if they want their kids to retain a significant linguistic edge or just an edge over kids in other countries, particularly in English-speaking countries where most kids grow up with just their mother tongue.
Regardless of what they do, Switzerland is a linguistic model that could be studied and some countries, particularly English-speaking ones, might want to adopt some of its programs. Maybe four languages are too many in elementary school, but two is not unrealistic at all.
© Domenico Maceri
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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Illegal Children or U.S. Citizens?

“By virtue of being born in the United States, a child is a U.S. citizen. What more proof does the federal government need?” asked S. Kimberly Belshe, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Belshe was questioning the new federal policy which states that children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants with low incomes no longer qualify automatically for health insurance through Medicaid.
In the past when a woman received coverage during labor and delivery from Medicaid the child automatically qualified for coverage also.
The new policy requires that parents fill out forms to prove the child was indeed born in the U.S.
Doctors are concerned that many kids, U.S. citizens, will go without the necessary care because their parents may not fill out forms, fearing that they will be deported.
It’s a reasonable assumption since undocumented workers in the U.S. tend to stay away from offices that require documents because the fear of deportation always hovers over them.
Hospitals and doctors oppose the new law since they believe it punishes innocent kids. The concern is that kids need care from the very beginning of their lives.
Everything should be done to make sure they receive proper care. If medical care is not provided in the first year, it will not only be the kids who will suffer. Preventive care means avoiding more costly situations later on. That expense will be something we may all have to cover since these kids will grow up in the U.S.
Even those Americans who believe illegal immigrants should be deported would not go as far as saying that the kids are guilty of a crime and deserve no care.
It’s a difficult situation because the kids are U.S. citizens and should have the same rights of any American.
Bureaucracy should not stand in the way of healthcare. Yet, Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Georgia, believes it’s a simple procedure to notify the federal government. Norwood was instrumental in passing the new bill which is part of the Deficit Reduction Act, signed into law by President George Bush. One the features of the law is to prevent undocumented workers from using Medicaid by claiming falsely that they are U.S. citizens.
The law attempts to do what many other pieces of legislation across the country have been doing—restricting those few rights undocumented workers have. Many municipalities and a number of states have passed laws which make it difficult for undocumented workers to obtain services. At the root of these laws is the idea that illegal immigrants committed a crime by entering the U.S. without proper documents. It’s also hoped that the increase in difficulties to obtain services will eliminate or at least reduce illegal immigration.
These laws fail to take into account the main reason why people come to the U.S. illegally—jobs.
There is a myth that people come to the U.S. illegally to use our social services. It’s just that, a myth. Undocumented workers come here to work. What they know is that wages are much higher in the U.S. and jobs are available.
It’s not the benefits that attract people to come to the U.S. Nor is the elimination of benefits going to force people to leave once they are here.
For those who have been here a long time and have created families, benefits become important but they are also deserved. When people work, pay taxes, and contribute to our economy, it’s important to recognize that realistically they’re part of our society. The fact they have American kids is perfect proof and pushes them toward inclusion as well.
Eliminating or reducing the benefits of these kids may be legal but should not be. All Americans should have the same rights. And these kids are Americans in spite of what the parents may have done.
© Domenico Maceri
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