Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Still, Small Voice

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on this day back in 1968. The night before he was killed, in a speech to followers at Mason Temple (see photo) King stated prophetically that he could "see the promised land" but that he might not get there with us. He didn't, but the civil rights movement carried onward, inspired by his memory.

Martin and Jesus must have been exchanging high fives and hallelujahs yesterday when the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, told a multinational group of young people in Strasbourg, France that he plans to set an agenda "to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons." Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we will be free at last from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

In memory of Dr. King, I want to leave you with the words of this wonderful song to reflect upon as we enter Holy Week. Are we listening to the many loud voices tempting us to stray and place our trust in other things, or are we open to that still small voice?

A Still, Small Voice
(Music and original lyrics by David Wilcox, additional lyrics by Bob Franke/Charlie King)

In a still small voice in the middle of the night,
Brother Martin heard the simple truth
And he followed its pleading, though it led to a crossroads,
Parting in the days of my youth.
From the heart of my city came a single scream
And I heard it through all the white noise.
And the papers told us that they'd killed The Dream,
But they never killed the still small voice.

All the lies come at you in a million ways
Some you hear and some you tell yourself
And they say that virtue is a pile of gold
And that weapons are a nations wealth
But when kings stand naked in their ugly schemes
Will the poor of this world rejoice
Will they sell their children down a bloody stream
Or will they listen to a still small voice

Now the one-eyed bandit in your living room
Will convince you that you have no time
And it will swear to take you on your one free ride
While it's looking for your one last dime
But the light of heaven is a simple gift
And you can see it when you make that choice
It will shine like riches in your inmost heart
But it will speak in a still small voice

Oh the skies will open when the trumpet sounds
and its echo will shake these halls
And these stones so silent as they ring us round
they will shatter when they hear that call
And our chains will clatter when they hit the ground
and the people make a joyful noise
But when My Lover comes to call me home
it will be in a still, small voice

Friday, April 3, 2009

La Santa Muerte: Folk Catholicism Meets Law Enforcement

Mexican law enforcement authorities have decided to take the war on drugs to the spiritual level. Five shrines were destroyed on March 21st around Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, four of them devoted to La Santa Muerte and one to Jesús Malverde, another popular folk saint whose followers include drug traffickers. Two days later, near the Texas border, federal and municipal authorities destroyed 34 Santa Muerte chapels that had proliferated in the past couple of years along a national highway linking Monterrey and the border city of Nuevo Laredo.

Followers of La Santa Muerte are not just drug traffickers, though. Indeed, the cult has developed more as a parallel structure to the institutional Catholic Church. According to José Manuel Valenzuela Arce, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, most of La Santa Muerte's devotees are Catholics, who also venerate the Virgin of Guadalupe. He believes that people are turning to La Santa Muerte and similar nontraditional "saints" because traditional government and religious institutions are not meeting their needs.

This view is also supported by Gabriela Galindo, co-editor of the online Mexican arts journal Réplica 21. She believes Santa Muerte appeals to Mexicans involved in delinquent lifestyles, who have faith but who feel "unworthy" of the "official" God of the Vatican and thus create their own altars and saints: "This is how the image of Saint Death has become in recent decades a symbol and icon of those rejected by the power of the Church and of the State," she says.

"Sin embargo hacia la década de los 70 del siglo pasado, el culto a la muerte tomó un nuevo giro: como una transgresión. Surge a partir de un mito popular en el que por allá de los años sesenta, un campesino de Veracruz declaró la aparición de la imagen de la Santa Muerte en la parte lateral de su casa. Este campesino, pensando que era un milagro le pide al cura de la localidad que la santifique, pero éste asustado de la imagen, la califica como un acto diabólico y lo rechaza. Al igual que otros cultos populares, tales como la veneración a Jesús Malverde en Sinaloa (una especie de Robin Hood que robaba a los ricos para repartir el botín entre los pobres), y el cual ya cuenta con más de tres o cuatro iglesias erigidas en su honor; o la leyenda de Juan Soldado en Tijuana, un supuesto asesino confeso que después de ser ejecutado se le concede la duda de su culpabilidad, pero dado que la ejecución ya se había llevado a cabo, la comunidad arrepentida y culpable le rinde honores e incluso lo consideran un "santo milagroso"; estas representaciones se convierten en figuras tutelares de gente que lleva una vida marginal incluso rayando en la ilegalidad y la delincuencia, pero que tiene devoción y fe, sin embargo, de acuerdo a la doctrina católica son indignos del Dios "oficial" del Vaticano, y de ahí la creación de sus propios altares y santos protectores.

Es así como la imagen de la Santa Muerte se ha convertido en las últimas décadas en una especie de icono simbólico para aquellos que son rechazados por el poder de la Iglesia o el Estado. A ella habrá que hacerle un altar, rezarle y ofrendarle cuando se tiene una actividad en la que se pone la vida en peligro (ya sea un lava-vidrios o un narcotraficante), para poder robar sin ser capturado o por el contrario, recuperar objetos robados, encontrar personas secuestradas o al asesino de un ser amado. La Iglesia Católica los considera como satánicos y sus fieles son catalogados como delincuentes a priori."

The cult is organized by a group with a Catholic-sounding name "Iglesia Católica Tradicional MÉX-USA, Misioneros del Sagrado Corazón y San Felipe de Jesús", led by "Archbishop" David Romo Guillén. Romo has stated that he does not consider his group to be heretical, though he adds: "Para nosotros, no nos hace más, ni menos (católicos) esta situación, es más, hay un lema que dice ´lejos de Roma y cerca de Dios´ y nosotros preferimos estar cerca de Dios y lejos del Papa".

The official Catholic Church, however, considers the cult to be diabolical at worst and, at best, considers its followers to be misguided. Hugo Valdemar Romero, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, stated that the Church did not order the destruction of the shrines, but added: "No es ningún secreto que esa devoción (la Santa Muerte) es identificada con el narcotráfico y la delincuencia organizada... esta denominación no sólo es supersticiosa sino diabólica". Mons. Rafael Romo Muñoz, the Archbishop of Tijuana, while condemning the destruction of the shrines, made it clear that devotion to La Santa Muerte is a mortal sin and said he believes those who promote the cult are financially motivated. The bishop of Ciudad Juárez, Renato Ascencio León simply called La Santa Muerte's followers "desorientados".

One thing is certain: While it is doubtful that the government's actions have done anything to stop the narcotraficantes, they have fueled the growth of the cult of La Santa Muerte by giving her legitimacy, they have renewed the debate over freedom of religion in Mexico, and they have ignited a new Holy War between La Niña Blanca's followers and the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Romo has called for his followers to descend on the Zócalo tomorrow. “Este año será el Domingo de Ramos de la Santa Muerte. No valen los argumentos de que somos otro grupo o tenemos intereses diferentes, esta lucha es por nuestra fe en la Santísima. Llegó la hora de que los devotos se den cuenta quién realmente cree de corazón y quién está por negocio”.

Aquí Estamos: From Guatemala to la Casa Blanca

Yesterday I received some news that reminded me of my oldest and dearest comadre, Norma. She is pictured here with her four children – Olga, Normita, Henry and Willie. They fled to this country – mostly separately – escaping a situation of extreme violence in their homeland, Guatemala.

Henry came first and settled in Northern Virginia. He filed for asylum and started to work, first in restaurants and later as a teller. Olga came next, even though she was still a young teenager. Arriving in California, she called her brother who got her a ticket to Virginia and became her legal guardian so she could go back to school.

When the situation at home in Guatemala became life threatening, Norma fled, leaving Normita and Willie with a foster family, and payed a “coyote” who smuggled her to El Norte. She got a job as a babysitter with a diplomatic family. We talked across the fence and I helped her get the medical, dental and vision care she needed. Helping Norma get her dentures helped me conquer my fear of dentists and start getting regular dental care again for the first time since childhood. The dentist who attended her pro bono became my dentist too.

Whenever she had free time, Norma would come over and we would exchange informal English and Spanish conversation lessons. At Christmas, we would join forces and make tamales at my house. Norma provided the culinary expertise; I helped with the ingredients, a big kitchen, and an extra pair of hands.

Finally, she sent for Willie and Normita and they came up via another “coyote”, getting caught the first time by the Mexican police. On the second try, they made it across the border. Once reunited, the whole family filed for political asylum and Normita joined her sister in high school.

I remember going with Norma to her immigration lawyer’s office to translate. The lawyer was trying to establish that Norma was not an economic refugee and asked her if she had any property. I reminded Norma that, when we were looking at my tomatoes and green beans, she had told me that she had a “little patch” in Guatemala where she planted some vegetables. She smiled and gave the details – acreage and location. But, she added, there was more than that. She began to list all her little holdings scattered around Guatemala and it went on for a couple of pages. The attorney was beaming and I was floored. My friend, the “poor” Guatemalan babysitter with a third grade education, owned more land than I did!

The family won asylum with a lot of prayer, some help from Rep. Jim Moran’s office, and based on the doctrine of “imputed political belief” (persecution based on what the persecutor thinks the person believes, regardless of whether or not the person actually holds those beliefs).

This photo was taken in 1992. Today, Norma is a grandmother. Henry is a manager at a Toyota dealership. Normita is a manager at CVS. She married an American and became a mother herself. Olga became the first person in her family to graduate from college, getting a nursing degree from Howard University last year.

And then there’s Willie. When he first got here, he was bitter and withdrawn. The journey had been traumatic; he had been uprooted from all he knew. Unlike his sisters, he was too old for high school. Norma was worried about him. I asked him what he had done in Guatemala. He told me he had been an auto mechanic. We went to Sears and bought him a basic set of tools so he could work on cars and bring in a little cash. Back under the hood of a car, Willie was in his element and in a few months he earned enough to pay for the tools.

Eventually Willie got his work permit and a neighbor, who had been impressed by the work Willie had done on his car, helped him get a job with a friend in the auto repair business. Willie has worked steadily ever since.

Now, Willie is the father of two sons – William and Kevin – both born here. Yesterday he came by our house to pick up the last of the tools he was storing there, bringing a chapter of our lives to a close. He told us that his sons had entered a competition of students writing letters to President Obama. Their letter was one of those chosen and so these American sons of a Guatemalan family that waded across the Rio Grande many years ago, will be received at the White House as honored guests next week. Dios es bueno.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Padre Chiqui - Part 4: El Padre de los Pandilleros

This is the last part of our Padre Chiqui series. I have translated an article by Fernando Rospigliosi that appeared in Perú21 on 9/7/2008 titled El Padre 'Chiqui' y las pandillas.

Padre Chiqui and the Gangs

Recently, the police command has begun to remove troops from various police units to combat gangs, which have become one of the most serious problems of public safety.

As often happens, they are wrong. Gangs cannot be fought by adding police unprepared for that purpose. Moreover, the fight against gangs is not primarily a matter of repression.

At the end of the Alberto Fujimori administration, very harsh laws were enacted, punishing gangs excessively. They were useless, because the phenomenon has continued to grow.

Instead of learning from some successful experiments, supporting and replicating them, failed policies are being emphasized.

THE GANGS OF EL AGUSTINO. One such experiments with visible achievements is the one led in El Agustino by José Ignacio Mantecón, Padre 'Chiqui', a Saragossa native who has been living in El Agustino 23 years. He heads the Virgen de Nazaret parish, in an area of about 150,000 people.

'Chiqui' began working with youth gangs 12 years ago. At that time, 36 gangs comprising hundreds of young people had engulfed the district.

At first, he joined forces with the commissioner, a police commander who was concerned about the problem and interested in helping young people. However, the commissioner was transferred and the program they had undertaken was aborted.

When there is no policy from the Ministry of Interior to deal with the gangs, the matter is left to the goodwill of each police chief and his ability to understand the problem. This creates discontinuity in any attempt to implement a steady line of work.

MARTIN LUTHER KING. Padre 'Chiqui' went ahead and got involved with the leader of the most violent and most feared gang of El Agustino, Los Picheiros, who had just come out of Lurigancho prison and wanted to go straight and help change others.

The relationship with the gang leader came via Alianza Lima. Gangs are intertwined with the soccer hooligans and Los Picheiros were part of the Alianza fans. 'Chiqui' was chaplain of the club at that time.

About 200 gang members from various groups gathered in the parish church, and Sully [Sullivan], the leader, "talked about Martin Luther King, the [Nobel] peace prize and his fight for his black brothers using nonviolent methods and expectations of leaving the world of violence, living better, having an honorable job, changing their lives, being able to walk the streets without fear." (Padre Chiqui, Asociación Martin Luther King: Una experiencia de trabajo con las pandillas de El Agustino, Ciudad Nuestra).

LINES OF WORK. 'Chiqui' understood that he had to take advantage of the positive aspects of the gang and use them to reverse the negative ones. Gangs are organized, they have solidarity and leadership, which began to be used for different purposes.

'Chiqui' and his collaborators engaged in four lines of work:

- First, training and education. With the help of volunteer teachers and institutions like Fe y Alegría he included the young people, many of whom had dropped out of school, in primary and secondary programs.

- Second, jobs. The Asociación Martin Luther King (MLK) signed an agreement with the municipality of El Agustino to provide work for young people. A couple of microenterprises were set up.

And he obtained the invaluable support of an employer -- one of the largest -- who went with his wife every Saturday for six hours to prepare a group of young people to enter the world of work. They also opened the door to their business to several of them.

- Third, sports -- always important to young people. They formed a sports club with coaches who not only handled the physical and technical aspects, but also the training of the young people and children.

- Finally, they committed to making repairs to the community for the damage they had caused. It is important that the former gang members acknowledge and take responsibility for the havoc they caused, and, at the same time, for the community to welcome them again.

To this end, they engage in public cleanup work, participate in celebrations of Christmas or Mother's Day by bringing gifts to the people who were affected by their acts, and so on.

SE PUEDE. Some young people are recidivists and go back to the streets and violence. Others cannot get rid of their addiction to drugs. 'Chiqui' estimates that 95% of gang members use drugs and, worse, hard drugs -- highly addictive and extremely destructive ones such as cocaine base paste, which has replaced marijuana.

However, many have recovered. (See the interview with 'Chiqui' in Justicia Para Crecer, No. 11, "Lo Mas gratificante es ver a los muchachos encontrar un nuevo horizonte").

The problem of youth gangs is explained mainly by families that have fallen apart in an environment of poverty and lack of opportunities. The school usually does not help young people to integrate and adapt. What welcomes them is the gang.

Society has to find ways to integrate and give recognition to these young people. Experiences such as Padre Chiqui's show that it is possible. As he says, "a timely and adequate response means saving a huge contingent of young people for the productive and social life of the country."

Additional items of interest:

The Catholic Church and Catholics: A Moral Disconnect

Despite the Roman Catholic Church's official opposition to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, a Gallup analysis finds almost no difference between rank-and-file American Catholics and American non-Catholics in terms of finding the two issues morally acceptable.

And those are not the only two issues on which the average Catholic differs from the Church. On several issues -- death penalty, sex outside of marriage, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, and gambling -- the majority of even regularly practising Catholics do not share their Church's moral perspective. This Gallup survey did not ask about artificial contraception but we know that this is another area where Catholics fall into line with their non-Catholic brethren rather than their hierarchy.

Some may view this as a symptom of growing secularization; others may perceive it as the increasing irrelevance of the Church in the lives of modern Catholics; and still others might be wringing their hands and lamenting the Church's inability to get its message across. My question is: How do we teach supposedly eternal truths in an environment where those truths are considered by the majority of the faithful to be outdated and not applicable to their lives? How long is the Church going to proceed like a person who thinks if they repeat the same thing the same way often and loudly enough they will be heard? In other words, how are we going to deal effectively with this moral disconnect?

Moral Acceptability of Issues Among Catholics and Non-Catholics (% morally acceptable):

Catholics: 40%
Churchgoing Catholics *: 24%
Non-Catholics: 41%

Death penalty
Catholics: 61%
Churchgoing Catholics: 52%
Non-Catholics: 68%

Sex between an unmarried man and woman
Catholics: 67%
Churchgoing Catholics: 53%
Non-Catholics: 57%

Catholics: 71%
Churchgoing Catholics: 63%
Non-Catholics: 66%

Embryonic stem cell research
Catholics: 63%
Churchgoing Catholics: 53%
Non-Catholics: 62%

Having a baby outside of marriage
Catholics: 61%
Churchgoing Catholics: 48%
Non-Catholics: 52%

Catholics: 72%
Churchgoing Catholics: 67%
Non-Catholics: 59%

Homosexual relations
Catholics: 54%
Churchgoing Catholics: 44%
Non-Catholics: 45%

*"Churchgoing" is defined as "those who attend church weekly or almost every week"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Padre Chiqui – Part 3: Paul Maquet’s Biography

I first learned about Padre Chiqui from a Web page designed by Paul Maquet in 2004 as a digital journalism project at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Unfortunately, the University has now removed the project from its Web site. I found a copy of the page in the Internet Archive, though without all of its wonderful photos. Here is a translation of Maquet’s biographical article on Chiqui:

In El Agustino, there is nobody who doesn’t know his name. "Cura Chiqui, Padre Chiqui, Padrecito Chiqui”. Who is this Spanish priest who came to Latin America following the trail of Che Guevara and the music of Silvio Rodriguez, who became a buddy of the bravest gang members in the Southern Command when he was chaplain of Alianza Lima, their beloved team, and who, according to popular myth, is one of the founders of Los Mojarras, as well as a confessor of Fidel Castro?


The beginning

José Ignacio Mantecón, better known as "Cura Chiqui”, was born in Saragossa on March 16, 1949, during the administration of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. One may wonder where the son of a wealthy right-wing family in Franco’s Spain, got the impetus for social change that led him, years later, to Latin America. Except for one Republican uncle who fought in the civil war and therefore had to go into exile in Mexico when fascism triumphed, Chiqui did not have much of a "leftist" background in the family. But since he only knew his Mexican relatives many years later, we must wait until his 17th year, when he entered the Jesuit novitiate, where he found another world, a world of committed people. Thanks to the work of the Company, he discovered the reality of the poor in Spain, inequality, popular struggles. The labor unions, for example, came clandestinely to the parishes to print their fliers, because the only available mimeograph machines were those of the Church, which was not, as is usually thought, completely “in alliance” with Franco.

After the novitiate, he moved to Madrid and was in the classroom for 4 years, studying the material required to become a priest. Chiqui confesses that his experience with philosophy was "a disaster" because he didn’t like it. However, he liked to sing, something he had begun to do in the Latin American clubs he used to frequent. Thus he established his first contacts with the sudacas. He made Peruvian friends and was linked very strongly to Latin music and folklore, listening to Victor Jara, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Silvio Rodríguez ... He also got to know liberation theology and was seduced by our continent, where revolution seemed to be just around the corner. "The problem," he says, "is that the block never ends.”

In Peru

In the 10 years that separated his leaving the novitiate and his settling in Peru in 1980, he spent two years at a high school in Alicante, four working in a support center for children from marginal sectors, and came for four summers to support the work of Fe y Alegría in Lima. Finally he decided to settle here. "I came to Peru as I could have come to any other place," he admits. However, priests usually come once, help out, visit and go back to their homeland. "But I do not know this was how it was done and I came four times."

Once settled, he returned to the old ways and the hectic life. He worked in the office of Fe y Alegría, an international organization for popular education that had about 30 high schools in Peru in those days. Part of Chiqui’s work was visiting all of them from time to time, so he was able to get to know north, center and south, coast, sierra and jungle. He was often in Cusco, Huaraz, Jaén, Piura, Tacna and countless places in which Fe y Alegría is present. According to him, he travelled "by air and by truck, with pigs and lambs."

All this activity did not prevent him from resuming his bohemian habits. He began to frequent Barranco and its bars where, apart from making friends, many of them musicians, he started to sing again, even if only once in a while. He was a regular at "Taberna 1900" in the center of the district.

The choice of El Agustino

Little by little he became convinced that he should live together with people he worked with. Thus in 1985 he moved from downtown Lima to Cerro El Agustino. From then on he worked in Virgen de Nazaret parish, a few blocks from the municipal building. Gradually, Chiqui became known in the neighborhood, working with the street musicians, playing soccer with the boys from the area, working with civic organizations, which were more vigorous then than today. Among other things, he help to form Los Mojarras and organize the first Agustirock in 1989, a historical event through which some of the best rock bands in Peru were discovered.

Chiqui came as El Agustino was reaching its peak of political violence. More than 70 agustinianos died during the war between Sendero Luminoso, MRTA, and the state. The three private banks that existed in the area were blown up then. It was a time of fear: civic leaders, managers, workers, some of them close friends of Chiqui, were killed. During the same years, Chiqui developed a ministry of personal support for the many prisoners in jail for terrorism in Lurigancho, Castro Castro, and Chorrillos. Coming every week, he met with the prisoners, talked to them, and offered Mass.

The work today: Gangs

The Shining Path terror ended, as we know, in the early 90s. However, the long experience of violence, extreme poverty, family disruption and drug use became a dangerous cocktail that encouraged the emergence of up to 53 youth gangs. Chiqui’s love of sports and his aliancista heart, which led him to be chaplain of Alianza Lima, enabled him to gain the confidence of the then most dangerous leaders of the Southern Command, the hooligan fans of his beloved team. So, for those things in life and thanks to the initiative of individual staff members concerned about street violence, Chiqui has spent the last decade involved in the rehabilitation of gang members, who are currently serving their community.


Chiqui is a priest. He is, officially, since he got out of the novitiate in 1970. However, there seems to be no way of identifying him, physically, as a priest, unless one knows. He only wore a cassock for two years, a black one that had nothing to do with the colorful character that he is today.

Service, hope and dignity

"What does the priesthood mean to you?" I asked. "It's a way of serving the needy" he replied with confidence. "But," we insist, "you have a very distinctive way of being a priest." "Well," he laughs, "there are as many ways as there are people." Chiqui is upset when we say that he stands out. He prefers to go unnoticed, as he has always done. In high school, on the soccer team, in the novitiate, in the bands he has played in ... he has always been the smallest. Hence his nickname.

"The gospel of Jesus," – now he is inclined to talk -- "leads me to try to do what He did with His life. He worked with the marginalized: the prostitutes, the poor, the social sinners -- because they were not "sinners" in the religious sense but were marginalized. If I, as a Jesuit priest, have given up other things, it has been to bring words of hope and dignity to those in need."

Mass with Chiqui?

"Chiqui has always gotten into our heads that a Mass does not have to be dead," says Daniel, a friend of El Agustino. His homilies (or, in common terms, his sermons) are very brief, lasting only 10 to 15 minutes and aim to encourage people to participate, to think. He always deals with issues of social context and can say controversial things, or use double entendres, seeking to light a spark and for the faithful to “come out of their shells,” says Daniel. And he doesn’t just talk, but celebrates the Mass in such a way that the participants have an active role.

As a priest, Chiqui has a very strong profile. He doesn’t view the gospel from a contemplative perspective, but as a living testimony that makes sense with, for and among people. At the same time, he doesn’t worry about priestly "paraphernalia". "I am as I am," Daniel tells us he once heard him say, "and I feel that God accepts me this way. I have no reason to live with hypocrisy." He only wore a cassock for two years in the novitiate and one other time: in the extremely Spanish allegiance to the flag ceremony, when young men finish compulsory military service. Chiqui did not serve, since he was exempt thanks to the priesthood. But, yes, he had to attend the ceremony, and he had to do it in his black cassock. For two years he has worn an earring in his left ear. He says he always wanted to wear one, but was recently inspired after working with the gang members: all of them wear some kind of chain. He also wears all sorts of chains and, when he still had enough hair, he wore it long. When we took the photos [no longer available, alas] for this Web page, we asked him to wear a small cross – at every moment we would say: "Look at the cross, hold the cross in your hands, point to the cross ...". At one point, being fed up, he surprised us by saying: "What a fetish you are making of this cross, when I never wear a cross!"

"What does being a Jesuit mean to you?," we asked him at another time. He replied that the Society of Jesus has always been a kind of "frontier post" of the Church: its priests settle in places where nobody else goes and work from there, where it’s happening. He is not just referring to the communities in the Paraguayan jungle, in the colonial era. There are also the anti-Franco worker priests, American priests who supported the civil rights movement, and the Church committed to the poor -- in Latin America, to liberation theology.

Daily revolution

Religion is not just offering Mass and blessing images, and our character has serious problems of principle with the latter role. Viewing the priesthood as service and commitment has led Chiqui to some political participation. We asked how he has combined both aspects in his life, and the first thing he told us was that there is one human being, and you cannot artificially separate the various aspects.

Daniel told us that Chiqui is distrustful of broad social change and he has chosen to make the revolution in everyday life instead. Through direct contact with those around him, bearing witness and being an example in the trenches themselves, understanding people, listening to them. Chiqui, however, felt uncomfortable when asked again if he tried to make revolution in his daily life. "The true revolutionary would say that I haven’t done anything," he said. "I'd love to, but I’m not up for it." Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Monseñor Romero, Che Guevara made revolutions ... those who risked their lives to make "what the world should be" a reality.

We insisted, and we asked him what he thought of that phrase that is so popular in this era of (anti) globalization: "Think globally, act locally." "Acting locally, in any case," he says with conviction. It is very easy to say "I love the whole world," but if you don’t love those around you, those are empty words. "In this global world dominated by the few, I hope that some of the things I do in my particular world will serve the rest of humanity."


Popular legend has him as one of the founders of Los Mojarras, the agustiniano rock group that, led by Cachuca and fused with chicha, criolla music and other local rhythms, was an icon of Peru in the 90s. Chiqui said it wasn’t that much, he only sang with them a few times at the beginning. What is true is that, in many ways, music has been a consistent feature on the life of our character.

Playing and listening to all good music

As a young man, over there in Spain, he says he started, without knowing English, listening and playing the folk songs of the 60s, especially Bob Dylan. Then he discovered Latin American folk music and was enchanted. He knows all kinds of cuecas, Argentinian zambas, and Brazilian, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan music... In Alicante, where he stayed for two years, he frequented the Latin American clubs that had become popular and began to sing in them. He was also part of a group called "Mezcla" ( "like Mocedades," he says) that played with voices and sounds. They were 7 boys and girls who played at festivals.

Through music he made his first contacts with Cuba, a country with which he has close ties and for which he has great admiration today. He was also in Nicaragua in the mid-90s, and met Carlos Mejía Godoy, a well-known popular singer linked to the Sandinista Revolution and author of the famous "Misa Campesina." In Peru, in his early years, he was a regular at the barranquina "1900 Tavern," where he also sang, for example, songs by Joaquin Sabina, another of the musicians he admires.

Then we asked him what music he liked. He answered: "All good music" and then, recognizing that this phrase is tantamount to saying nothing, he made a list. He listens to classical music, especially Baroque -- Mozart and Beethoven. He loves world folk music, and in terms of rock, he prefers the 60s. He says that blues is essential and that he loves salsa, but is a disaster when dancing it. And, of course, he listens to the so-called "singer/songwriters": Sabina, Silvio Rodríguez, Serrat ...

What about Mass music?

When we talk about music and a priest, we immediately ask about the songs of the Mass. On this issue, Chiqui is withering: "Church music is usually very bad." In previous centuries, the most beautiful melodies were composed to be played during Mass. The classical symphonies of Beethoven and Bach, the Gregorian chants (which fascinate him), are all examples of music with a religious purpose. "How is it possible," he complains, "that now there is nothing that compares to that?" For him, what is played during Mass is boring, inappropriate and simply wrong. But he can’t do anything. The choir sings, and he usually lets them.


"Agustirock" is the well-remembered annual agustiniano rock festival. Its first version took place in 1989 and was a tremendous boom for national music. Los Mojarras and La Sarita came out of it, among other local groups, and played Mar de Copas, G3 and other important Peruvian rock venues.

Chiqui says that a group of kids who played and composed went to SEA (Servicios Educativos El Agustino, an NGO located in the local parish), and it facilitated space for them. Later they got to know Cachuca, who had emerged as a local youth leader. With the support of the parish they got their first instruments, then the idea of organizing a great musical event came up. The dream, still unfinished, was that El Agustino would become a cultural district, a center of attraction and dissemination of Peruvian culture. In the earlier versions, Chiqui sang some songs accompanied by Los Mojarras. Chiqui insists that, in fact, he is a terrible singer and that those who have played with him have a lot of patience. Due to work, he has stopped playing continuously for several years, even though there is a rehearsal room in the parish.

Kura Chiqui" was announced on the poster for the most recent “Agustirock” organized on October 30th of this year, and titled "In October there are miracles", since up until 6 years ago it didn’t happen. We attended to listen to him. However, he failed to participate: a baptism, a marriage and a Mass prevented him from doing so. Anyway, we took the opportunity to see the latest versison of the historic concert and listen to Cachuca live. All kinds of groups played -- some very bad, others remarkably good. Almost invariably, the songs talked about reality. The audience was mixed: there were the youngest ones, dressed in black and imitating the anarchist aesthetic, who boogied again and again in the center; and there were also those who were kids in 1989, who shouted, when the “main dish” came out: "Cachuca, I love you!"


He's Sullivan. Once he was one of the most dangerous members of “Los Picheiros”, the primary one among the 53 youth gangs in El Agustino. Today, none of those gangs is active, and Sullivan is president of the Asociación Martin Luther King, which does community work, organizes sporting events and empowers young people as workers and microentrepreneurs. How did this change?

The first experience

In 1996 about 53 active gangs existed in “El Agucho”. Violence between them was an everyday occurrence. On any given day they could take over Riva Agüero Avenue, and in their war without quarter, confront each other with chains, knives and firearms, damaging shops and houses around the area. The gangs, spontaneous youthful fraternities built around theft, intertribal fighting, drugs and unconditional support for a soccer team (in the case of "Los Picheiros", Alianza Lima), was one of the problems characteristic of El Agustino.

The first experience of community work with gang members began at the initiative of Pablo the “chino”, a neighbor who, concerned by this problem, began to meet with other interested people in his home. He summoned the mayor, Chiqui himself, since he was an important figure in the neighborhood by then, and Commander Vizcarra, the chief of police. The latter was particularly enthused with the subject and began to meet with the gang members. Because of all this, the first inter-gang [soccer] championship was organized. According to Sullivan, that was "very cool, because the gangs got together but for something else, something healthier."

From prison to association

Unfortunately this first experiment ended thanks to a bad move by the mayor, Francisco Antiporta, who used his work with the gang members as political capital but never allowed access to a fund created to support this project (a fund that no one still knows anything about). After that, Sullivan, who was president of the Alianza hooligans, the dreaded "Southern Command," was arrested for attempted murder and remained in Lurigancho prison until 1998. There he had time to reflect and ask himself what he wanted to do with his life. And he made the decision to change. That's why today he can tell us that the first step, definitely, is to want to transform oneself. When he was released, he resumed contact with Chiqui, who was then serving as chaplain of Alianza, and he proposed to continue the project. From there the Asociación Martin Luther King emerged, which takes its name from the famous black fighter for civil rights. "He is a person who understood the value of peace and fought for racial equality," Sullivan explains.

Today they are all 100% dedicated to the success of this work. The association conducts training workshops and job training courses, finds psychological support for its members, organizes soccer tournaments (the association has 3 teams in different categories) and tries to spread this experience. They work together with gang members from other parts, who they locate from the squads, and encourage them to organize themselves in a similar way. Chiqui was recently invited by the Jesuits in Ayacucho, along with two boys of the association, to get to know the situation in Huamanga, a city now experiencing a very violent youth gang phenomenon, and trying to put together a similar project. The last time I talked to Chiqui, he was in a hurry. They had an important meeting because the El Agustino district had been chosen for a pilot project for rehabilitation of minors who commit a crime, so that, instead of going to jail -- where, on the other hand, "rehabilitation" is often purely hypothetical – they would do community service work.

"We are still a gang"

The gang is a type of brotherhood. They proliferate where the family has been broken, where parents have to work all day and the children see how they can get some money themselves, and along the way they get together with the other kids in the neighborhood and they find friends in them, accomplices who they trust completely. That situation has not disappeared. The gang as a human group continues: it plays fulbito, cleans the neighbors’ walls, which it used to daub with paint, organizes a Christmas party for children in the area, including chocolate. "We continue to be a gang," says Sullivan, "but not to do harm."

Andres Tobar for Delegate - Virginia 47th District

Rebel Girl seldom makes political endorsements unless there is an obviously ideal candidate. In the case of the Virginia 47th District seat being vacated by Delegate Al Eisenberg, that candidate is Andres Tobar.

Listen up, hermanos y hermanas! If you are a Hispanic Catholic, you should be supporting and helping an hermano de la Iglesia: Andres Tobar is Mexican American and he is an active member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington. Serves on the Social Justice Committee. He has been running the Shirlington Education and Employment Center, a nonprofit organization that helps the jornaleros (see article below). He is also president of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO) and, as such, has expressed his disappointment in the outcome of the 2008 state legislative session. "This session saw a large number of Virginia legislators introduce over 100 anti-immigrant bills that sent a strong message that Virginia does not welcome immigrants, even though 10% of Virginians are foreign born...VACOLAO is disappointed that the legislature failed to enact even one measure with a positive impact on the immigrant community."

Andres thinks he can do better than that and, after years of advocating for us from the outside, he is asking for a chance to help the immigrant and Latino communities from the inside. We who reside in the 47th District can send him to Richmond by turning out and voting in the Virginia Democratic Party primary on June 9th, 2009. The deadline for registering to vote in this primary election is May 11th, así que pónganse las pilas, hermanos! I don't care who you vote for in the gubernatorial race (at least not yet), pero tenemos que solidarizarnos con este hermano, Andres Tobar, que ha luchado fuerte por nuestra comunidad. Hasta la victoria!

Day Laborers and The Shirlington Education and Employment Center (SEEC)

By Paula Cruickshank
The Advocate
Easter 2009

It is a cold, rainy morning in early November. About thirty men huddle in small groups as they try to keep warm inside an outdoor shelter. Some of them have stood there for hours. A few of them—usually the most determined to work—have been waiting there since dawn. The shelter is located about 50 feet from a busy thoroughfare in Arlington, Virginia. The men inside the open shelter talk quietly in Spanish. Many of them are from Central or South America. Most have risked their lives, often paying smugglers between $6,000 and $10,000 to cross the U.S. border. As the men talk, they often glance at the street to see if anyone has pulled up in a truck or van looking for a day laborer.

Before the shelter was built, Arlington residents and small business owners complained that day laborers were loitering in the parking lots of convenience stores or food markets. Then in 2000, Arlington County approved construction of the Shirlington Education and Employment Center (SEEC). The original mission of the center was to provide a safe environment where workers who are looking for jobs could come to meet with employers seeking temporary workers, explained SEEC Director Andres Tobar. The SEEC center, a non-descript building with a small parking lot in front of it, is within easy walking distance of the day workers’ pavilion; the facility is one block from South Four Mile Run Drive, a noisy road that runs along a strip of repair shops, gasoline stations, and storage centers.

The SEEC office is open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The outdoor pavilion opens at the same time but workers can remain there until 4 p.m. Workers must first register at SEEC before they can become eligible for its services. Tobar’s day is busy, and often hectic, as he explains to the day laborers who are new to the center about sign-in procedures and getting an ID card. Another member of the SEEC staff supervises the workers at the shelter to make sure they follow proper procedures. For unskilled labor, prospective employers select the men in the order of a lottery that is held each day at the shelter between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. Tobar joked that one of the first words a day worker learns when he is asked whether he can do anything on the job is “yes.” However, if it is a skilled job requiring work experience he does not have, the employer is not likely to call him back again. “These are not on-the-job training positions,” Tobar said. By contrast, skilled workers are referred to employers who then negotiate the working conditions and wages. Temporary jobs vary from construction work, yard work, and domestic services to handyman related jobs. Tobar stressed, however, that SEEC is not an employment agency.

When a worker has purchased a $5 SEEC registration card, which displays a photo and an Arlington address, he becomes eligible for some basic services provided by SEEC as well as by local non-profits and other providers. The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), operated by a non-profit group and located across the street from SEEC, provides supplemental groceries to low-income Arlington residents. Registered workers from SEEC can pick up groceries at the AFAC food pantry. Along with the registration card, workers also receive a confirmation letter on SEEC letterhead stating that they are actively seeking a job but have not been able to find work on a daily basis. With the letter, registrants can also receive medical services at the Alexandria Free Clinic.

The ID provides no guarantee that a worker will be picked for a job at the center or pavilion, however. If an employer is looking for a carpenter or house painter, he selects the first worker on SEEC’s sign-in list sheet who has identified himself as having the required skills. That is where the training services provided by SEEC come into play. In an effort to teach the workers marketable skills, SEEC holds drywall and bathroom remodeling classes on Saturday mornings. The men practice using mortar on the walls of a makeshift, three-sided, bathroom. The first step for the trainee is to press the ceramic tiles evenly in a row along the wall. After the tiles are firmly in place and harden, the worker removes them so the next worker can practice how to do it. The same procedure is followed for drywall training. The overall goal of the training class is to build the skill sets of day workers and increase their chances of employment, according to Tobar.

Dave Daly, Training Director at Residential Construction Workers Association (RCWA), teaches the men the basics in remodeling. “These are pre-licensed jobs, Class C remodeling,” Daly explains. Although no licenses are necessary to perform drywall and tiling jobs, the men need documents to prove to prospective employers they are legal workers. Dave said the RCWA helps the men get their papers in order and provides them with documentation stating they are trainees who qualify for temporary special student status in the U.S.

In addition to job training, SEEC also offers tutoring services. Dene Garbow is a retired librarian from the National Building Museum who has volunteered at SEEC for three years. The volunteer tutor said she teaches “a floating class,” with the size dependent on how many men have found work for the day. Grabow uses work sheets and picture dictionaries to help teach the men simple English words and phrases. She teaches the men in a small conference room that is sparsely furnished with one long wooden table and eight chairs. One day in her class, an older man in the classroom is struggling to grasp the words and understand their meanings. A handsome, dark-haired young man named Julio seated at the end of the table assists the older gentleman several times, telling him in Spanish what Grabow is saying in English. Julio has been coming to class for about six months, an unusually long time for a program with so many transient workers. Grabow learned that Julio is homeless and sleeps under a bridge at night. When Julio can’t find a job for the day, the SEEC Center is one of the few places he can find that is safe and warm, she said.

Both the economic downturn and the increased level of immigration enforcement activity have made life even more difficult for SEEC’s clients. The lack of steady work has made it impossible for many of the day laborers to pay their rent and buy food. Even worse, some of the men do not have the sizable sums of money needed to pay back the smugglers that they engaged to enter the U.S. That means they not only struggle with financial concerns, but tremendous anxiety about the safety of their families at home, Tobar notes. In the past two years, day laborer jobs at the center have dropped more than 50 percent, according to Tobar. Nonetheless, he tries to remain optimistic about the future. Although economic times are rough, SEEC plans to offer classes to the men on how to start their own businesses.

When the center closes at 11 a.m. on that November day, it is time for the men to leave the warm office space and venture out into the cold drizzle. Tobar watches as they stream out of the office. Some of the men head over to the pavilion and join the small gathering of workers who remain there. At this hour in the morning, it is unlikely that any of the men will find work for the day. Yet many of them, shivering in their lightweight jackets or well-worn sweatshirts, keep looking at the busy road anyway.

Photo: Andres Tobar (speaking) with Chris Zimmerman and Walter Tejada.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, César Chávez!

Today is the birthday of the late César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers union. It is a holiday in California and every year Rep. Joe Baca (CA-43) has introduced a resolution to make it a national holiday. Last year, when he was still a senator and candidate, President Obama supported the resolution, saying:

"Chavez left a legacy as an educator, environmentalist, and a civil rights leader. And his cause lives on. As farmworkers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what César Chávez accomplished so many years ago. And we should honor him for what he's taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation. That's why I support the call to make César Chávez's birthday a national holiday. It's time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union."

The United Farm Workers has changed since César's day. The San Diego Union Tribune ran an interesting article a couple of days ago about how the union has revised its position in favor of legalizing undocumented workers, who were once only viewed as potential strikebreakers.

Back in the early 1960s as the Bracero Program was ending, "probably 80 percent [of farm laborers] were documented, and about 20 percent were undocumented. Today it would be just the reverse,” says Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers. It is now estimated that as many as 90 percent of California's farmworkers are foreign-born, most of them here illegally. Nationwide, the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., has estimated that while only 4 percent of unauthorized workers are employed in agriculture, such workers make up the vast majority of farm labor.

This demographic shift has led other unions to join the farm workers in supporting legalization. “There has been a significant change in the mind-set of the labor movement,” Rodriguez says. Today, legalizing workers once seen as competitors has become a priority; the UFW kicked off a new pro-legalization campaign this month.


As a librarian, I would like to share some Web resources with you to help you celebrate and remember César Chávez:

Padre Chiqui - Part 2: "En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo: Let's rock!"

One of the beautiful aspects of the Company of Jesus is that you can be and do a thousand different things and also be a Jesuit. This being said, I doubt that St. Ignatius of Loyola could ever have imagined the day when one of his men would be singing lead vocals with a rock band in that perennial Latin American elegy to Che Guevara, "Hasta Siempre Comandante", much less in his own parish (see video below; Chiqui is in blue jeans, a dark sweater and glasses).

We are continuing our series on José Ignacio Mantecón Sancho, SJ (Padre Chiqui) with an article from Diario La Primera (4/19/2008), El rock y la religión van de la mano, that looks at the
padre as a rockero.

He was born in Spain, but claims to be just another Agustino. José Ignacio Mantecón, better known in the religious sphere (and rock) as Padre Chiqui is a fan of '70s rock and although he didn't attend the concert offered by the new The Doors in our country, he enjoys the melodious voice of Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix' solos and the depressive lyrics of Janis Joplin.

"I am a child of God and 70s rock, I love rock, but above all music, especially anything that teaches you, that's why I organized Agustirock and that's how my relationship with young people was born and is best integrated," says the priest who came to Peru 30 years ago as a guest to collaborate with the campaigns of Fe y Alegría.

"I am just another Peruvian, I became nationalized in 1990, but I wanted to come to Latin America and thank God I came to Peru and after such a long visit I said to myself: 'Why not stay?'," he said.

The parish and the guitars

Padre Chiqui loves the electric guitar, Che, and God, without a doubt, and, in that sense, the community of Virgen de Nazaret parish, where he officiates as a priest, supports him in every way. "If you like rock music and want to play with your neighbors, it's good. That happened with the community. Thanks to music and other things we have been able to help many young people to reintegrate into society," he said.

But his hobby is not limited to personal enjoyment. The priest has launched into singing on the latest album of the band Tabarra, a group that was born in El Agustino, where he takes over the vocals on the song "Radio el Arenal."

Chiqui also talked to us about his experience with Asociación Martin Luther King, the youth association he helped to form. "Although it may not be apparent, El Agustino is one of the districts that has fewer gang problems", he added.

A challenge to Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates

Right now this field of three white men talking essentially about the same issues in the same way looks really boring and same old, same old to me. I don't see any obvious reason to turn out for the Democratic primary to vote for any of you.

I looked at your Web sites. They are depressingly similar and none of you seem to be interested in talking to me. Pretend I am one of the 149,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Virginia. Do you care enough to talk to me in my language -- Spanish -- about the issues that most affect me? Do you care enough to advertise in the media I read? Why should I vote for any of you? My vote contributed to Virginia going for Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Doesn't that tell you anything at all? As my friend Fr. Hoyos would say: Pónganse las pilas, hermanos!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Padre Chiqui - Part 1: The Father of El Agustino

The latest issue of Boletín Intercambio from the Apostolado Social of the Peruvian Jesuits which I get thanks to my friend P. Miguel Cruzado, SJ contains a promo for a new booklet by P. José Ignacio Mantecón Sancho, SJ, aka "Padre Chiqui", a Jesuit priest from Spain who has lived and worked for more than two decades in El Agustino, one of the poorest and toughest neighborhoods of Lima. The booklet is called "Asociación Martin Luther King: Una experiencia de trabajo con las pandillas de El Agustino" and details how Padre Chiqui founded his nonprofit gang intervention association and the work they are doing.

Padre Chiqui is an interesting, unconventional dude. In addition to his gang intervention work, he also has started his own rock group, Tabarra, which released their first CD "Sangre Bendita" last year. Padre Chiqui enjoys rock and occasionally sings and plays the maracas with the band.

There is, however, virtually nothing about him in English so I'm going to translate several articles that highlight different sides of this fascinating priest.

This first article is an interview with Padre Chiqui published in Perú21 on 3/6/2006, titled "Padre Chiqui: 'Yo conseguí la primera batería de El Agostino'":

I studied in Spain, in a Jesuit high school, when a strong anti-Franco movement was beginning. They opened our minds and put me in touch with the world of the poor, so I joined the order [the Jesuits] in 1966. In those days we entered the various orders at a very young age; I don't know if it was because we were more mature or more insane (laughs)", Padre Chiqui begins.

How did you come to Peru?

If you use "usted" (ed. note: the formal "you") with me, this interview is over. Latin America has always enthralled me, maybe the music, which is what I first knew. I came in 1976 for three months, to support the campaign of Fe y Alegría (a Jesuit social organization), and then in 1980, I came back to stay.

What was El Agustino like when you came?

About the only paved road was Riva Agüero, which looked like it had been bombed, and this incorporated area, and tremendous poverty which continues. There is a lot of poverty and marginalization here, but it has greatly improved. El Agustino has very strong grass-roots organizations -- neighborhood and youth groups, etc. -- and the parish [Virgen de Nazaret] has grown as the district has developed. The first soup kitchen in Peru was born here in El Agustino in a Christian community.

You don't wear a cassock; you have an earring.

And you haven't seen my tattoo of Martin Luther King yet! I don't know why the priest should have a special outfit. I come from the Woodstock generation, and that marks one. I don't know if I'm doing it right or wrong, but I think I get along with the people that I move with -- perhaps it would be harder for others -- and I think that even the little old ladies in the parish like me this way.

I thought the cassock was a rule.

So what if it is?

You've been very involved in youth issues, such as rock. Why?

Now in my old age, they called me to make a record with Tabarra, a very good group. Although I have also sung once in a while at Agustirock with Los Mojarras. I have played soccer with several teams from here, until I was 50 years when I suffered an injury -- they almost cut my foot off. I have also been with the transvestites, we have a Christian community with them. And now I am with former gang members. There is an association through which we already have two businesses and a sports club, which is going to be the best in the country, because we are doing things well. It is the Martin Luther King sports club. I am also involved in a pilot project called Tierra de Hombres, to care for children who are detained in police stations, to offer alternatives to Maranga [a juvenile detention center], for example.

Several good rock bands have come out of El Agustino and I remember that the 1998 Agustirock was monumental. Why did the music take off?

Maybe because they were well received. Here there were many people making music -- in many districts, I imagine -- and I can't remember where I got the drum set, which was a disaster, four cans, but with that the boys had what they needed to rock. Because you can get a guitar, but the drum set was the first one in El Agustino. And they could meet here to play. Before Agustirock, I also organized small concerts in which they could emerge and become known. Whoever had an amplifier set it up, the painters did the decorating, we did everything ourselves. And there were very good people. If Los Mojarras had been from Mexico, they would have been like Maldita Vecindad, and La Sonora del Amparo Prodigioso and Tabarra were like them, and now there's a new generation.

Does Agustirock continue?

Yes, the last was in October, and supported the municipality. The slogan was: In October there are miracles.

Conservative people always think that kids plus rock equals drugs and lawsuits. Why did you have faith in rock?

I grew up with The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Miguel Rios --to name someone from my country. That there are drugs and such, yes, of course. But let's take for example these guys that we work with in Tierra de Hombres. A boy is found with a little bit of marijuana, they add a couple more charges, and he ends up in Maranga. In Miraflores, San Isidro and La Molina people use drugs as much and more, but how many of them are in Maranga?

Janis Joplin is not a great example either, don't you think?

Probably, like some of our boys and some of my friends who have ended or will end badly because of drugs or whatever. But who are we to judge their stories? What if I, instead of having a family, had grown up in the street, taught only one law -- the law of the street, would I be here talking to you? Surely not. But there are many boys who have come up from the bottom, who have been in the toughest penal institutions, in drugs, in gangs, and have left the drugs and are now studying and working. We must invest in people and discover that there is a person even where it seems to be most hidden, with a dignity as important as the son of the minister of whatever.

Immigration News Roundup - 3/30/2009

1. Immigration Courts Backlogged

Today's USA Today reports that "the nation's immigration courts are now so clogged that nearly 90,000 people accused of being in the United States illegally waited at least two years for a judge to decide whether they must leave...Their cases — identified by a USA Today review of the courts' dockets since 2003 — are emblematic of delays in the little-known court system that lawyers, lawmakers and others say is on the verge of being overwhelmed. Among them were 14,000 immigrants whose cases took more than five years to decide and a few that took more than a decade..." Doesn't the Sixth Amendment guarantee the right to a speedy trial?

2. Delay in Immigration Raids May Signal Policy Change

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports the hopeful news that ICE raids are being delayed and reviewed. "A senior [Homeland Security] department official said the delays signal a pending change in whom agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement choose to prosecute -- increasing the focus on businesses and executives instead of ordinary workers." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently denounced the current practices at a Capitol Hill conference on border issues sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "Raids that break up families in that way, just kick in the door in the middle of the night, taking [a] father, a parent away, that's just not the American way. It must stop." The article also suggests that the Obama administration is using the border war against the Mexican drug cartels as a legitimate way to divert manpower and funds into an area of immigration law enforcement that has broader support than the workplace raids.

3. I Have a DREAM

Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) alongside Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) reintroduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (H.R. 1751/S. 729) in Congress last week.

First proposed in 2001, the DREAM act is a piece of legislation that would allow immigrant students an opportunity to earn permanent residency. In order to be considered eligible, the student must:

  • prove that he/she arrived in the US at or before the age of 15.
  • prove that he/she has been in the United States for at least five years
  • be between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time of the bill's enactment
  • have graduated from an American high school or obtained a GED
  • demonstrate "good moral character"

If a student fulfills all of these requirements, they would be given temporary residency for a period of six years under the DREAM act. Within that time frame, they must spend two years attending college or serving in the military in order to earn permanent citizenship. If a student does not comply with the academic or military requirement, temporary residency will be revoked and they can be deported. As it stands, children who are brought into the United States illegally have no path to legal and permanent residency.

The following senators and representatives have already co-sponsored this legislation. If your senators and representative have not signed on, contact them now:

Sen Durbin, Richard [IL] - Sponsor
Sen Feingold, Russell D. [WI] - 3/26/2009
Sen Kennedy, Edward M. [MA] - 3/26/2009
Sen Leahy, Patrick J. [VT] - 3/26/2009
Sen Lieberman, Joseph I. [CT] - 3/26/2009
Sen Lugar, Richard G. [IN] - 3/26/2009
Sen Martinez, Mel [FL] - 3/26/2009
Sen Reid, Harry [NV] - 3/26/2009

Rep Berman, Howard [CA-28] - Sponsor
Rep Cao, Anh "Joseph" [LA-2] - 3/26/2009
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] - 3/26/2009
Rep Diaz-Balart, Lincoln [FL-21] - 3/26/2009
Rep Diaz-Balart, Mario [FL-25] - 3/26/2009
Rep Lofgren, Zoe [CA-16] - 3/26/2009
Rep Nunes, Devin [CA-21] - 3/26/2009
Rep Polis, Jared [CO-2] - 3/26/2009
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-18] - 3/26/2009
Rep Roybal-Allard, Lucille [CA-34] - 3/26/2009