Thursday, May 7, 2009, 11:56 am
Fighting H1N1 Hype
This week's Wire focuses on the opportunities for change that crisis can introduce. From the H1N1 "Swine" flu's declining fervor to 2009's May Day marches for worker rights and immigrant solidarity; from the tragic killing of Luis Ramirez to legislative movement on immigration, these are tumultuous times. But it is precisely such conflict and challenge that provides the best opportunities to make lasting change.
Last week, we highlighted how anti-immigration voices were exploiting the nation's fear of the H1N1 flu to their own advantage. While still no joke (except in biting satire), the flu is an overhyped event used by Republicans to push an anti-immigration agenda, according to the Colorado Independent's Daphne Eviater. While not all immigration comes from Mexico, the country and its people are often used as convenient scapegoats.
Mexico is suffering most from both the virus and an intensifying conservative backlash, as New America Media (NAM) revealed in several articles this week. As if the confluence of these forces weren't enough, an April 27th earthquake struck Mexico, adding to the atmosphere "in an almost surrealistic fashion," writes NAM's Kent Paterson. At least truths are beginning to surface as to the flu's origin:
News reports link the possible start of the health crisis to a huge, runaway U.S. pig farm located in the Veracruz-Puebla borderlands. The farm in question is owned in part by U.S.-based Smithfield Foods, the largest hog and pork producer in the world and a company with a record for environmental violations on this side of the border.Will the government or agricultural industry look into the complaints against Smithfield farms' with the fervor of anti-immigrant pundits? Unfortunate events like the H1N1 flu can be opportunities to make positive changes to the systems involved. The agricultural sector and its crowded animal farms are clearly in need of reform.
Many supporters of workers' rights and humane immigration reform came together on May 1. Yes! Magazine's Colette Cosner explains why solidarity around immigration reform is stronger this year, and why May Day is so inspiring. Workers are standing united, rather than divided: "Work-place raids are being preceded by union drives," Cosner writes. "Traditional labor groups are recognizing that these raids hinder their organizing capabilities. So too do the immigrant rights activists now see the unions as an integral part their work-place security. ... The united platform is spun from our collective desire to live lives free of fear. This fundamental concept is the backbone of each of the May Day demands."
Fearmongering from the Right has been crowding sense from the airwaves, and it's a distraction from issues that matter. Such was the case for Luis Ramirez, a recent hate crime casualty. RaceWire's Michelle Chen tells his story, which echoes civil rights-era cases in its iconic extremes of race-based violence and subsequent lack of justice:
Harsh words between Luis Ramirez, 25, and a group of four local boys, including the convicted teens Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17 ... escalated into anti-Mexican epithets and a physical confrontation. Despite efforts by his friends to intervene, Ramirez was soon lying on the sidewalk, his skull cracked open by a kick to the head, and his assailants had bolted off into the night.
This brutal murder ended with simple assault charges for the white teenage assailants. The all-white jury threw out charges of third degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation. Equally amazing is the eyewitness account that reveals willful police negligence in pursuing the killers. The Mexican American community and growing numbers of human rights and immigration activists are springing into motion to demand accountability.
The Ramirez murder is, like the H1N1 flu, another opportunity to examine what protections are in place to guard human health and life. As Chen notes, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act has passed the house and will soon be before the Senate. It would be a grievous error and abdication of opportunity to not pass this into law, given the ubiquitous waves of hostility aimed at immigrants as well as gays, transgendered people, and others.
RaceWire also covers the Supreme Court's May 4 ruling that nullifies another injustice: Charging immigrants who use a sequence of numbers in place of an actual Social Security number with willful identity theft. In To catch a thief: SCOTUS on undocumented workers, Michelle Chen discusses the ruling, which sides with Mexican immigrant Flores-Figueroa, who worked at a steel plant in Illinois. Flores-Figueroa was flagged, then arrested, when he tried to arrange his situation more legitimately. While the case has changed law for so many other immigrants, Flores-Figueroa will most likely be deported, once done serving his time.
In other immigration news, Maryland's state assembly ruled that undocumented high school graduates should pay three times that of citizen high school graduates attending college; Homeland Security signals a new focus on employers, not workers; and Oregon hopes for a new wave of income by urging the U.S. Senate to legalize the state's nearly 400,000 undocumented and put them on the tax rolls.
Finally, do take a moment to celebrate the spirit and actions of Arizona public defender Isabel Garcia, profiled recently for In These Times. Garcia's fight against injustice is well-documented. She works tirelessly to change to the surreal and perilous game that is played out in the borderlands human rights struggle. Garcia was the first non-Mexican to receive the National Human Rights Award from the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos de Mexico, but refused to speak at the acceptance ceremony because her speech about the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border was censored. Garcia is not concerned with image, but with changing the standards of living on the borderlands. Let's hope that while President Obama buys time to negotiate a humane solution to the immigration issue, he keeps this in mind.
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