Archives: March 2008
THE LEGACY OF OSCAR ROMERO and ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP
Romero's Legacy and Environmental Stewardship:
How we can become Prophets of a Future not our Own
(A Reflection from the SHARE Foundation)
Environmental sustainability is a global issue that affects the entire world and threatens ever-worsening consequences if greater efforts are not made to reverse the process of environmental degradation. In today's e-news, we will examine this crisis through the microcosm that El Salvador offers in the context of Oscar Romero's commitment to social justice. Together, we can engage and inform others about El Salvador's plight, encourage leaders to craft helpful legislation regarding Latin America, and SHARE our resources to build a better future.
Environmental degradation disproportionately affects poor people's safety and livelihoods. Because the majority of the rural poor live in ecologically fragile areas (80% of the poor in Latin America), when environmental changes like natural disasters or environmental destruction occur, the poor suffer greater relative losses of income, yet are in the weakest position to cope. Salvadorans have already had to bear the brunt of this phenomenon. Deforestation, contaminated rivers, industrial pollution and heavy use of pesticides by small and large farmers alike are just a few of the things that put the delicate eco-system at risk. Only two per cent of El Salvador's virgin forests are left, and the UNDP has declared it the most deforested nation in the world. In addition, mismanagement of hydroelectric dams further exacerbates issues of flooding in river basins all over El Salvador. With most of El Salvador's poorest citizens living in rural areas, their dependence on the environment for livelihood makes them the most vulnerable to the costs of environmental destruction.
A series of cavalier construction projects also threaten the environment of El Salvador and Central America, while neglecting to address the infrastructure needed for sustainable development. The projects that have already begun have caused extensive environmental damage. In El Salvador, the "San Salvador Beltway" construction has caused mudslides that destroyed homes and communities. In addition, poverty alleviation assistance granted by the United States through the Millennium Challenge Account is being used to build a highway that would cut through the northern section of the country. The construction of this highway will not only destroy much needed forestland, but will displace many communities in its path. The way that these grand scale projects can literally plow over the lives of poor people and the environment that sustains them evidences the low premium that this government places on its poor citizens and deteriorated environment.
One environmental issue that is of utmost urgency in El Salvador concerns the ironically named Rio Sucio or "DirtyRiver". Contacts in the area are quick to point out that the name once carried the sentiment more of a muddy river than a river that was in fact dirty or polluted. Many large companies operating in El Salvador fail to comply with environmental law. These companies, including the American company Kimberly-Clark, dump chemicals directly into the Rio Sucio, which feeds into a major water source for the surrounding communities. This river, once full of fish and able to irrigate crops is no longer able to sustain life, as it is contaminated with chemicals such as lead, mercury, magnesium, iron and arsenic. The consequences of these practices have affected the health of the nearby communities, 56% of whom rely on the river for water. The Rio Sucio is a sad example of the global disparity between the rich and poor: the rich and powerful companies pollute the river without concern for those living on its banks, taking away their basic right to clean water.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine that any country is wrought with such pressing issues, but it is our responsibility as concerned citizens to help right this wrong. On July 15, 1979 Romero said, "I am glad, brothers and sisters, that our church is persecuted precisely for its preferential option for the poor and for trying to become incarnate in the interest of the poor and for saying to all the people, to rulers, to the rich and powerful: unless you become poor, unless you have a concern for the poverty of our people as though they were your own family, you will not be able to save society." Romero calls on us to "save society" and recognizes that what we do today can affect our brothers and sisters in the future. He urges us to be prophets of a future that is not our own, by doing our part to reduce the suffering of our brothers and sisters and examining the self-serving attitudes in the structures of power around us.
Please consider holding an event in order to bring light to the environment situation in El Salvador during Romero Justice Week, which falls this year on March 24-31. Romero Justice Week is a fantastic opportunity to put together an event for your local community. As you plan your gathering, please consider the following suggestions:
• Show a movie like Romero, Innocent Voices, or An Inconvenient Truth. Afterward, hold a community discussion about Romero's legacy and environmental stewardship.
• Conduct a worship around the issues mentioned in this article.
• Host a community clean up day or take a nature walk and gather afterwards to discuss the environment issues El Salvador faces and how they relate to your community.
• Join the “Think Outside the Bottle Campaign”: Take the pledge to challenge corporate control of water. www.ThinkOutsideTheBottle.org
• Ask all those gathered to sustain efforts for a just environmental policy by supporting IFCLA with a monthly contribution
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IMMIGRATION: Call about the Shuler-Tancredo (SAVE Act)
Locally: Akin MO-2, Graves MO-6, Blunt MO-7, Emerson MO-8, Hulshof MO-9, LaHood IL-18 and Skimkus IL-19 have signed the discharge motion. Thank the others for not doing it and encourage them NOT to. Can't hurt to put a word in to Ike Skelton (especially), Lacy Clay, Russ Carnahan and Emanuel Cleaver.
It's time for action! Instead of finding a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system, House Republican leadership (with help from some Democrats) filed a "discharge petition" on the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act (H.R. 4088) earlier this week. This petition would force this deportation and encorcement-only bill to the House floor for an "up or down" vote if enough signatures are gathered.
Please urge your Representative to OPPOSE the SAVE ACT!
What would the SAVE Act do? The SAVE Act calls for the continuation of a failed model of border security; more money for fencing and infrastructure and an additional 8,000 border patrol agents on the ground by 2012. The SAVE Act would also force local police to act as immigration agents, shifting already limited resources away from community security and solving crimes. SAVE also calls for an underfunded, unrealistic attempt at an employer verification system. The bases of this system are "no-match" letters sent out by the Social Security Administration. The SSA receives about 245 million wage reports each year and there are frequently spelling errors and other mistakes that lead to "no-match" letters being sent. If passed, this bill would require employers to fire workers within 10 days of receiving a "no-match" letter if they were unable to reconcile the situation with the SSA. This will trap U.S. citizens, right along with their undocumented counterparts, leaving them without work and placing an enormous burden on the SSA.
We need to tell Congress that the SAVE Act won't save us.
Instead, we need Congress to focus on thoughtful legislation that provides an earned path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants who are already living here and contributing to our economy. We also need a new model for border security, one that respects the human rights of migrants and incorporates the concerns of border communities.
Representatives Shuler (D-NC), Bilbray (R-CA) and Tancredo (R-CO) are the primary sponsors of the SAVE Act. To find out if your Representative is a co-sponsor of the SAVE Act, click here. Quick fix, "enforcement only" strategies like the SAVE Act are an ill-fitting band-aid for a seriously broken system. Call your Representative TODAY and tell them to OPPOSE the SAVE Act (H.R. 4088).
To reach your Representative, call (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to their office. (If you are unsure who your Representative is, click here). Tell the person you speak to that you urge your member of Congress to do the following:
Do not sign the discharge petition and vote against the SAVE Act (H.R. 4088).
Encourage fellow members of Congress to oppose bringing the SAVE Act to the floor.
Oppose all "enforcement only" legislation like the SAVE Act that spread fear, waste millions of taxpayer dollars on more detention facilities and push undocumented migrants further into the shadows.
Urge colleagues to focus efforts on a comprehensive solution for our broken immigration system that unites families, provides an earned path to citizenship for undocumented workers already living here, and incorporates the concerns of border communities.
Thanks for your continuing support and activism to promote humane immigration and border policies! We are counting on you!
H.R.4088 Secure America with Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act.
Title: To provide immigration reform by securing America's borders, clarifying and enforcing existing laws, and enabling a practical employer verification program.
Sponsor: Rep Shuler, Heath [NC-11] (introduced 11/6/2007) Cosponsors (145)
(Todd Akin MO-2 is a co-sponsor) Related Bills: S.2366, S.2368
Latest Major Action: 3/11/2008 Motion to Discharge Committee filed by Mrs. Drake. Petition No: 110-5.
Note: On 3/11/2008, a motion was filed to discharge the Committees on Homeland Security, Judiciary, Ways and Means, Education and Labor, Oversight and Government Reform, Armed Services, Agriculture, and Natural Resources from consideration of H.R 4088. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures for further action. (Discharge Petition No. 110-5: text with signatures.)
Here is the Catholic Position on the bill:
What does this have to do with my faith? Our faith teaches us to uphold the dignity of every person and to act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters worldwide, especially the poor. The U.S. Catholic Bishops have clearly stated that immigration policy should be designed to enhance and affirm the basic protection of human dignity and human rights.
What is the problem with the Shuler-Tancredo bill? The Shuler-Tancredo bill, H.R. 4088, only addresses issues concerning immigration enforcement and will fail because it does not fix the wider problems with our broken legal immigration system. The U.S. Catholic Bishops believe that, if enacted, this bill will drive undocumented immigrants and their families further underground, creating a hidden society of persons without full rights in their communities. It also would strengthen the operation of unscrupulous smuggling networks that exploit desperate migrants looking for work in the United States.
What is the Church's position on immigration reform? The Catholic Bishops of the United States have repeatedly urged Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that not only addresses border security and strengthens immigration enforcement but also requires undocumented immigrants to legalize their status and deals with future immigration flows. For more information visit the Justice for Immigrants website www.justiceforimmigrants.org
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COURT RULES SECRETARY CHERTOFF VIOLATING THE LAW IN BUILDING BORDER WALL
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 7, 2007:
In a 32-page decision issued today, a federal judge in Brownsville ruled that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff violated federal law in his rush to build several hundred miles of border fencing in Southern Texas.
In a lawsuit filed by Secretary Chertoff in January against Dr. Eloisa Tamez, the Department of Homeland Security requested an expedited court order condemning Dr. Tamez’s land so it could immediately commence a survey for the planned border fence. Dr. Tamez is an indigenous land-grant property owner in South Texas who refused to voluntarily give the U.S. Government a six month right to enter her land to survey for the border wall,
About twenty cases filed by Secretary Chertoff to condemn land along the border have been consolidated before federal judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, and delayed pending the outcome of Dr. Tamez’s case.
In response to the government’s suit, the court held a lengthy hearing on February 7 at which Dr. Tamez’s lawyers with the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law argued that Secretary Chertoff had violated federal law by failing to negotiate with Dr. Tamez to arrive at a “fixed price” for the six month access it sought before suing to condemn the land to allow the survey to proceed.
In the decision issued today, judge Hanen ruled that “Dr. Tamez correctly asserts that negotiations are a prerequisite to the exercise of the power of eminent domain” under federal law. The court further concluded that Secretary Chertoff had presented “insufficient evidence ... as to whether there has been bona fide efforts to negotiate with Dr. Tamez.” As it has done for over a month now, the court refused to sign an expedited order condemning Dr. Tamez’s land so that the Department of Homeland Security can start a survey for its planned border wall.
The court also decided that a clause in the 2008 Appropriations Act for the Department of Homeland Security enacted in December 2007 that requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to consult with property owners to minimize the adverse impacts of any border activity is not a defense to the temporary access the Department seeks to conduct a survey, “but that it still may be a defense to later activity by the Government” when it seeks to enter her property: “Given the mandatory language of the consultation clause, that ‘the Secretary of Homeland Security shall consult . . .,’ this Court may find it proper to require compliance with the consultation clause, when appropriate, as a condition prior to entry onto the property after the taking has been completed ... Dr. Tamez’s objections concerning the failure of the Government to abide by the consultation clause are denied without prejudice to her ability to reassert those objections at a later point in time” if the Government actually seeks to enter her property.
The court rejected Dr. Tamez’s argument that if she and the Department of Homeland Security are unable after negotiations to agree on a fixed price for the right of temporary access to her land, that the government may only proceed to condemn her land under a federal law that grants her a right to a jury trial. The decision states that if the parties are unable to negotiate a fixed price for the interest the Government seeks in Dr. Tamez’s land, then the Department of Homeland Security may seek to condemn the land under an expedited procedure known as the Declaration of Taking Act.
The court ordered the Government agents “to either partake in negotiations and/or provide this Court with any relevant evidence they may have concerning the existence of bona fide efforts to negotiate” by March 21.
In a statement issued through her lawyers, Dr. Tamez stated: “The court’s order issued today vindicates my position that Secretary Chertoff has proceeded to seize my land and the land of other property owners in violation of federal law. On the other hand I am disappointed that the court ruled that Secretary Chertoff may use the expedited condemnation procedures after he negotiates with property owners to arrive at a fixed price for the use he seeks of our property. I am also pleased that the court appears to agree that property owners have the right to be consulted before Government agents actually enter our land. Under federal law the consultation we will insist upon must seek to minimize the adverse impact of any entry onto our lands on the environment and our cultural and economic rights. I intend to continue fighting this case to insure that Secretary Chertoff does not violate the law while rushing forward to build an ill-conceived border fence that will in many ways destroy border communities.”
Peter Schey, President of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and Dr. Tamez’s lead counsel, responded to the ruling: “We will carefully study this decision to see how it may be used by other border property owners to protect their rights to the fullest extent permitted by law. Like border property owners, Secretary Chertoff is also bound by applicable laws and may not run roughshod over property owners’ rights in his rush to complete an ill-conceived border wall. The proposed border wall will do little to stop undocumented migration but it will significantly increase deaths and injuries by diverting migrants to more dangerous border crossings. Regardless of how ill-advised the proposed border wall is, it certainly may not be built on a foundation of illegal and lawless conduct by the Department of Homeland Security. We welcome the court-ordered negotiations with the Government to explore a fair price for the property access that Secretary Chertoff seeks in Dr. Tamez’s land. Once those discussions are concluded, we will demand that consultation take place with Dr. Tamez before any federal agents enter her land. By law these consultations must be aimed at minimizing any adverse impact of entry onto her land on the environment and on her economic and cultural rights. We will certainly also seek the same protections for all similarly situated property owners along the US-Mexico border.”
Arnoldo Garcia, Senior Policy Associate with the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights that has been supporting Dr. Tamez’s lawsuit said: “It is time for Congress to reconsider building a Berlin-type militarized wall along the US-Mexico border. The more the border area is militarized and criminalized, the more migrants die trying to come to the US in search of little more than a better life and the ability to join or support their families. This country urgently needs rational and humane immigration reform, not walls that kill people. When Congress musters the courage to enact immigration reform, the need for a border wall will all but disappear. What good does it do to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a border wall when half the undocumented immigrants enter the United States with non-immigrant visas, not through the US-Mexico border. Virtually all migration experts agree that we need to promptly legalize the undocumented population, issue a sufficient number of visas in the future to meet the known demand, and invest in sustainable development in the major sending communities abroad, not turn the United States into a fort surrounded by another Berlin wall.”
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CRISIS in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador
IFCLA is watching with great concern the events of the last days in Colombia.
www.upsidedownworld.org offers a number of articles about demonstrations against the paramilitary groups and responses to Colombia's incursion into Ecuador.
Latin America Working Group www.lawg.org has a link to the letter sent to Sec. Rice co-sponsored by Senators Dodd and Feingold, which was signed by 12 of their colleagues in the Senate, has been sent to Secretary of State Rice about the alarming increase in civilian killings by the Colombian army in recent years.
Washington Office on Latin America www.wola.org does in depth analysis. Currently their webpage has a link to the hostage issue.
Common Dreams also reports the demonstration with intersting commentary: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/03/07/7547/ More...
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