where did we go wrong?

September 26, 2007

I’m working on something that is effectively keeping me from blogging right now, but I thought I would share a few articles I have recently read and enjoyed. And now that the New York Times has ended its TimesSelect paid subscription service, you can read them all freely on their site.

The first is from a few weeks ago, and describes the experiences of a few American farmers, who faced with dire labor shortages, have rented land in Mexico to farm. I find this interesting on many levels. Read “Short on labor, farmers in U.S. shift to Mexico.

“Farming since he was a teenager, Mr. (Steve) Scaroni, 50, built a $50 million business growing lettuce and broccoli in the fields of California, relying on the hands of immigrant workers, most of them Mexican and many probably in the United States illegally.

But early last year he began shifting part of his operation to rented fields here (in Mexico). Now some 500 Mexicans tend his crops in Mexico, where they run no risk of deportation.

”I’m as American red-blood as it gets,” Mr. Scaroni said, ”but I’m tired of fighting the fight on the immigration issue.”

The second story was published today, and discusses a New Jersey town that is rethinking their anti-“illegal” immigrant ordinance, which since passed one year ago, has slowed the town’s economy and caused the closure of a number of formerly thriving businesses. Read “Towns rethink laws against illegal immigrants.

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. “A lot of people did not look three years out.”

Brilliant. I’m so AMAZED that anti-immigrant sorts had not thought through the “economic burden” before passing these sorts of laws.  I mean, good lord, if you drive 3,000 young, hard-working, upwardly mobile people with money to spend on entertainment and services and children to feed out of a small town, what the h*ll do you think is going to happen?

I do understand that certain people — those who are ONLY willing to consider the lawfulness of a person’s entry into this country as a basis of judgment — do not care about the health of the U.S. economy, or the benefits immigrants have on underpopulated, fading rural towns, but really, what were the rest of them thinking?

More soon. Promise.


a year of writing opportunities

September 18, 2007

My stint as a Journal Sentinel Community Columnist is pretty officially over, as they new group starts next week, and they have enough columns turned in to get through until then. I was admittedly flaky the past few months, but there’s been something really challenging about the post-immigration-journey analysis of our experience. Besides that, summer is the busiest time at work, meaning far fewer solid blocks of writing time during the day. (Of course, I have no absolutely right to complain about that, so enough said).

Besides the opportunity to share an unusual perspective on immigration in a well-read public forum, the best thing about being a Community Columnist were the responses. For every few legalistic, fundamentalist or blatantly racist e-mails, I received one genuinely supportive one. I also received a few notes from readers who had no idea how strict our legal immigration system is, and were genuinely surprised that there is no legal way into the U.S. without a relative or an existing job offer (and there can be waits for 5-10 years in many of those situations as well). I got into a few very interesting e-mail exchanges and received a few strange snail mail letters (yes Mom, I know I should unlist my address and phone number) suggesting that I am actually the writer behind all the pro-immigrant staff editorials for the Journal Sentinel, among other things.

But one of the best results came today, when I checked my respondtolaura address, the one I use publicly to protect my regular e-mail account from excessive spam, and found two e-mails from women who had read my last column and were desperately seeking information on how to pursue legalization for their undocumented spouse. I can’t express how happy it makes me to be able to introduce people with little hope for their situations to one of the immigration forums, or help them figure out what they need to do next. There is so much bad information out there, particularly from lawyers and immigration consultants, and I feel endlessly grateful that I found immigrate2us when I did. Had I not, some issues with our case might have done the sort of damage that takes ten years in Mexico to recover from.

I plan to continue reading, writing and especially blogging about immigration, and I hope that once or twice next year Journal Sentinel Editorial Editor Ricardo Pimentel might print something I write on whatever immigration news comes up.


September 13, 2007

My office is in an industrial park developed over a wetland, but thankfully a good chunk of the wetland has been preserved. It’s actually quite serene, and we see a good number of interesting birds, including wild turkeys, indigo buntings and sandhill cranes.

Last summer, less than a year after the building was completed and the company moved in, wild turkeys would occasionally walk right up to the building, and in some cases, tap on the glass. One morning a few months after I started here, I heard a co-worker sitting in the next area shouting, “the turkeys are tapping on the window, come quickly!” and everyone around did come quickly. There were two turkeys sitting right next to the window, tapping their little beaks on the glass. Then they ran away.

The turkeys haven’t been around this summer, but right now, there is actually a crane standing about 10 feet away from me, just on the other side of window that I sit about 6 feet from. The cranes have become gradually more adjusted to their human neighbors this summer, to the point where they routinely hang out a few yards from the building for a good chunk of the day. They are really funny, and it’s great to see them up close. I wish I had my camera.

as we see it

September 12, 2007

My dad and I occasionally argue about the successes and failures in Iraq. Predictably I suppose, I see a plethora of failures, while he tends to see success. I don’t buy into a second of the Bush administration’s propaganda-like attempts to link Saddam Hussein with Al Qaida. I generally see this war as a grotesque manifestation of a personal vendetta, with 9-11 used as an excuse. My dad legitimately believes we are a safer country, even world, because of our occupation of Iraq.

But in reality, I don’t understand Iraq much better than the average person, and probably neither does my father. Neither of us has ever been anywhere near a situation as dangerous and dire and politically complicated. Sure, there are plenty of complicated political matters that happen in the U.S., but very few (if any) ever become matters of the imminent life or death of thousands of U.S. soldiers and, just as importantly, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

I’ve been quite bothered the last few days as the much-anticipated reports from Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus have urged Americans to have continued patience with the situation Iraq, while making a lame quasi-commitment to bring 30,000 troops home by next summer. But the surge sent 20,000 soldiers to Iraq a few months ago, and at that time the President communicated that this troop increase was going to somehow turn around the situation, and put us in a different place. But has that really happened? If nothing is happening, and nothing is changing, and we are arguably doing more harm than good, then we need a change of policy. Unfortunately, the status quo is always easier than change. And a 30,000 troop decrease by next summer seems like a big affirmation of the status quo. Drawing back the surge, and a little bit more for good measure. Not much else it seems.

That bit of rambling has been inspired by recent listens to NPR stories and commentary on Iraq, and a solemn reminder today after reading the thoughts of none other than a group of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq during the past 15 months.  The New York Times originally ran this controversial op-ed on August 19, one week after one of the soldiers was shot in the head during an operation. Sgt. Jeremy Murphy is still recovering. Tragically, two of the other authors were killed Monday, prompting the article’s re-print on Salon.com. I’m not sure if I can print the entire piece, but I encourage everyone to read it. Here are a few powerful excerpts:

“As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere.”

“… we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.”

The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

It doesn’t make anyone happy to read this stuff, but I’m impressed that these soldiers seem to be analyzing the conflict both in American and Iraqi terms. Ultimately, whatever the results of this war are, they have to be lived every day by all Iraqis, not by Americans, and Americans tend to be incapable of thinking outside how this is affecting us. But very few Americans have ever lived in an environment where one is constantly wondering if they will be blown up today. We can’t even fathom it. We have been brain-washed into believing we are dealing with an imminent security threat in Iraq — one that affects average Americans — when really we are dealing with an insurgency that is relatively local, primitive and sectarian. I hope more and more people will continue to question what is going in Iraq, listen to soldiers and analysts who are not politically driven, and create a more effective, productive path onward and outward.

morphing again

September 11, 2007

Changing the look of my blog is my substitute for changing the color of my hair, which I have never done.

coffee and time

September 9, 2007

It’s a gorgeous day. A day for bike riding, walking, sitting on the patio with a book and a beer.

But today, I had previously committed to spending with my most treasured friend laptop, working on an essay for an internet journal I promised weeks, no, now it’s nearly months ago. I hate that it’s taken me this long to write this essay, essentially a personal narrative on what went on for Fermin to ‘come out of the shadows’ and ‘get legal,’ after we married.

I consider it a privilege to write for this journal, so I feel bad for taking so long to complete this, but feeling guilty doesn’t do anyone any good, and certainly my experience so far has been that the people that manage this journal are exceptionally understanding.

So here I am, looking out the window at the perfect blue sky, watching the cyclists whiz by, trying to write. I have coffee though, and am looking forward to dinner out tonight with the cash I unexpectedly made last night while helping a friend with her budding personal chef business.

Considering how much time I have invested in documenting what has happened during our immigration process on this blog, it’s hard to say why it has taken me so long to formulate good, coherent thoughts about it now that it is all over.

But time to start procrastinating and give it a try.


September 7, 2007

Remember a few months back when I posted a photo of some tomatoes, admittedly not my photo, when I had my first few ripe tomatoes of the year?

Well, apparently you shouldn’t do that. Today I had a comment on that post from a very angry person who e-shouted at me about not stealing his/her photos from flickr. I immediately deleted the original post with the photo and sent a personal apology via e-mail, and then discovered I had an inordinate amount of hits on my site from today. I found that a lot of the the hits came from a flickr page where I, among others, was discussed as having admittedly “stolen” the photo from flickr, but that I was not yet added to the official list of “thieves” and that my flickr account had not yet been terminated. This seemed like a major travesty. WTF?

So I logged into flickr, and posted an apology on that forum, apologizing and asking why I wasn’t contacted, considering this was really just ONE PHOTO and I am obviously not stealing and posting on my blog left and right. For the record, I would understand the reaction if my site were full of such photos, but I rarely even post photos. That apology post was either blocked or deleted, for who knows what reason. I then received an e-mail response from the person who apparently took the photo and posted the original comment, lecturing me for a while about the thievery. But I really didn’t know that photos on flickr, which that are readily available for anyone’s download could be copyrighted. I understand now. It won’t happen again. Please stop the hating.
And I really wish I were here right now:


And yes, of course, this is my own photo.