Immigration Reform is Once Again the Topic of Conversation

On January 28, the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennet, and Flake) presented their principles for new legislation[i].

President Obama spoke to high school students the next day outlining his plan.  Both begin with “enforcement first.”

While I whole-heartedly support Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I am very concerned about the prospect of more militarization on the border. Drones are an expensive and dangerous (they can be armed) means of surveillance of the US-Mexico border.  There are currently 6 drones and 124 planes present on the border.  How much more enforcement do we need?

The effects of current US economic and military policies around the world need to be addressed for true comprehensive immigration reform.  The Free Trade Agreements, Extractive Industries and large scale Development projects have impoverished and displaced many families in Latin America.  The push and pull factors are as important as the status of the undocumented sisters and brothers among us.  One reality will not be resolved without dealing with the other.

The response of the Obama administration has been enforcement with an emphasis on deportation.  More people have been deported (cost $12,500/per person/per deportation) in six years than all who were deported before 1997[ii]. Go here to see a running count of how many people are being deported under President Obama.

Once again police and military training and assistance for Latin American countries bring unnecessary force as small farmers resist land takeovers and mega projects by large corporate interests.  Under the guise of the “Drug War” and “Anti-terrorism” security forces are growing in size and scope.  We remember how this played out thirty years ago: repression, low-intensity war, death squads, and thousands fleeing for safety.

One of our IFCLA partners, the Alliance for Global Justice, has put together a Border Militarization Study Guide.  I am going to follow the classes, perhaps you will too.

The Border Militarization Study Guide

Click here to watch this short, informative video of a visit to the border by the Alliance for Global Justice Board of Directors to learn about the impacts of border militarization.


[ii]Mapping the Shift from Border to Interior Enforcement of Immigration Laws during the Obama Presidency.Social Scientists on Immigration Policy, Jan. 25, 2013.

Contributed by Marilyn Lorenz, Program Coordinator for the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America

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A ‘SweatFree’ Future

It has become a habit of mine to take a peak at the tags before I purchase any clothing item.  It seems that nine times out of ten when I look at the label it reads:  “Made in China”, or recently, “Made in Bangladesh”, as these two countries have become the top clothing manufacturers in the world.  But, that isn’t the only thing they hold in common.  As well as the top manufacturers, they both have less human rights protections for their workers and citizens. Coincidence? Not at all.  In fact, their lack of protections is how they have been able to hold the title of mega-world-clothing-manufacturers.

Bangladesh and China are able to compete so well in the apparel industry because they can offer the cheapest of the cheap when it comes to their products.  These clothing factories are able to produce more-than-affordable apparel items because they slash their costs by lowering their employees wages and cutting corners when it comes to factory safety.  In other words, these factories are running on sweatshop practices where their workers are subject to extreme exploitation. These sweatshop laborers usually work 60-80 hours per week and are not paid enough money to put food on the table and care for their families. Often, the sweatshop environment they are forced to work in is unsafe.  They are harassed, they work overtime without compensation, and are made to work in dangerous and unhealthy environments.

So, these workers produce a cheaply made product, which is then sold to retailers here in the United States, and then we purchase these items at ridiculously inflated prices.  And then the cycle continues, keeping these factories open and allowing sweatshops to become the norm.  Sweatshops are not a thing of the past.  They are a trend today and will continue unless it is made possible for these factories to run in an ethical manner.  Let’s not allow sweatshops to be the norm. Let’s push for improved workers rights and better-quality products.

Easier said then done?  I think not.  Think before you buy.  Look for ‘fair trade labels’ or search around for stores that boast about their ethically made products.  Do a little investigating and check into production practices of your favorite clothing stores.  Sweatshops are being exposed and the information is out there.  A simple google search could surprise you.  Some searches may return positive news stories, and some may show you an ugly truth.  Either way, it’s time to start thinking before you buy.

If you’re like me and you have an inner-activist in you waiting to get out, then ‘thinking before you buy’ won’t be enough.  It’s surprising how few people know how their products are being produced.  Education is another step we can take to help end sweatshop labor.  Get the word out there.  Write a letter to your local government telling them how important this is to you.  Government is a force, and that force can be used to put an end to labor injustices.  Along with that, you can build a ‘SweatFree’ community in your town.  We are doing this right here in St. Louis and we hope the trend spreads.

SweatFree Communities, a campaign of the International Labor Rights Forum, assists sweatshop workers globally in their struggles to improve working conditions and form strong, independent unions.  If your local government decides to become a SweatFree Community they will sign onto a Resolution or create an ordinance that will require them to look into buying practices of their own uniforms and apparel.  SweatFree Communities have become a national trend, and their website is filled with useful information to assist you and your town.  Even if you are not interested in helping your community become SweatFree, take a gander at their website.  It provides information on ethical clothing producers and up-to-date news releases on sweatshops around the world (you may be surprised to see some are right here in the United States).

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Contributed by Kara Sheehan, affiliate of the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America

Whose 21st Century Is It?

From my history classes in high school and college, centuries were always introduced broadly by what they were most known for.  The 18th century was host to the enlightenment, while the 19th century introduced European imperialism and the industrial revolution. Many scholars believe the 20th century will be remembered for information technologies and global warfare.

Our current century is still in its infancy but our government is eager to set the tone with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Framed as a ‘21st century agreement,’ the TPP is a free trade agreement being discussed by the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. It is also being used as a docking agreement for China, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, among others. The negotiation process is expected to end this October, but the consequences of such a free trade agreement will have lasting impacts on the global economy, the environment, and public health.

If passed, the TPP will accelerate ‘a global race to the bottom’ for cheap employment and poor working conditions, undermining labor standards here in the United States.  Like NAFTA, the TPP encourages off-shoring jobs as a low-cost alternative.  Additionally the TPP is expected to limit federal control of banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds.

Also included is a chapter that grants corporations and banks the right to sue governments over laws, regulations, and former court decisions that violate this pact.  This means that corporations, like Milwaukee-based Commerce Group, can sue governments, like El Salvador, for a ban on metallic mining, as this ban would inhibit the corporation’s “right” to mine gold (even when the ban is made for public health and environmental concerns… and yes, this is a current court case[i]).  Such provisions have obvious consequences for the environment as well as localized populations.

The TPP also rewrites the rules for intellectual property, making it harder for everyday individuals to obtain and afford generic medications.  By lengthening the term of drug patents, the TPP makes it difficult to obtain life-saving medicines and is implementing policies that allow drug companies to challenge governmental health programs. The rules on intellectual property are not solely pertinent to healthcare but also for internet users as the TPP will enact SOPA- esque policies, thus undermining users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process.

The cherry on top of the sundae is that all of these provisions are being decided in complete secrecy.  The public, the media, and congress are barred access from the negotiation process and the content of the agreement.  Instead 600 corporate lobbyists are privy to the details within the 26 chapters that are to be included.

Is this really what we want the 21st century to look like? Do we want corporations to determine the rules for all global citizens?  Do we want secrecy from the 1%? It seems that those behind the TPP view the 21st century as a time of continued pillage and plunder in the never-ending quest for profit.

I vision the 21st century as a time in which we use our technology and awareness of the ‘global other’ to connect, and trade projects and ideas justly and fairly.

What do you want the 21st century to look like?


[i] http://www.stopesmining.org/j25/index.php/commerce-groups

For more information about the TPP and other free trade agreements, please attend Greedtopia: A Teach-In on Global Trade and Climate Change.  The event will be held on February 17th at the Forest Park Visitor’s Center from 12:30-4:00pm.  For more information, see www.ifcla.net.

Contributed by Jillian Severinski, Loretto Volunteer for the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America