Candidatos para Fiscal del Condado Jefferson compiten por el Voto Inmigrante

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En un debate ayer 18 de Abril para la Fiscalia del Condado de Jefferson-Metro Louisville llevado a cabo en el Centro La Casita (el primer foro para este puesto para la comunidad inmigrante) el Fiscal actual Mike O´Connell y el candidato desafiante Brent Ackerson (actual miembro del Consejo Metro) compitieron por el voto inmigrante con pasión y adornos retóricos.  Respondieron a preguntas formulados por miembros de la comunidad inmigrante y pronunciadas por la Profesora Enid  Trucios-Haynes.   En un momento dado varios miembros asistiendo el debate pensaron que el Fiscal Mike O´Connell estuvo a punto de desafiar fisicamente al candidato opuesto  Ackerson cuando se levantó de un golpe y tomó un paso hacia el otro, rojo en la cara y sin esperar a la traducción de las palabras anteriores al español.

Al parecer lo que enojó a O´Connell fue la acusación por Ackerson que el presupuesto del Fiscal no era lo suficiente transpariente para el Consejo Metro para que el Consejo pudo tomar acción frente a supuestos fallos de parte de la oficina del Fiscal en entender la realidad injusta para los inmigrantes involucrados en el sistema judicial.  O´Connell se indignó por esa crítica.

La abogada de inmigración Rachel Mendoza-Newton había comentado desde la audiencia que los inmigrantes confrontados por cargos legales muy a menudo debían decidir entre dos opciones:  quedar preso porque no podrian pagar la fianza, o declararse culpable a los cargos para poder volver lo más pronto a sus familias y sus trabajos.   Muchas veces, lo que parece la opción menos mala es declararse culpable, sin darse cuenta de que de una vez pierden su derecho a procesos legales, y que se va a caer de inmediato en manos de la Migra entregados como criminales convictos sujetos a la deportación.  Este testimonio contradijo el pensamiento de O Connell que aún en su papel de prosequir a criminales dijo que su oficina entiende y considera las malas consecuencias de tales auto-declaraciones de culpable en cuanto a su estado migratorio, una crítica que el candidato Ackerson quería aprovechar.

Otro tema importante fue el programa de Fianza Efectivo que Louisville, junto con Detroit, Michigan, ha sido seleccionada, dónde un fondo rotativo está disponible para pagar las fianzas para personas de bajos ingresos.  O´Connell al parecer tomó el crédito por tal programa para Louisville y dijo que fue un avance importante para la ciudad, declaración que algunos en la audiencia concurrían.  Ackerson sin embargo dijo que la oficina del Fiscal debe hacer más en cuanto a persuadir a los jueces a que dejen en libertad personas cargados con delitos menores, sin cobrarles fianzas, como otra manera de resolver el problema de la injusticia de que personas pobres se queden presos mientras esperan su audiencia judicial.

O´Connell presentó como uno de sus logros a favor de la comunidad inmigrante los 50 visas U que su oficina ha ayudado a procurar para víctimas de violencia doméstica o de tráfica de personas.   Además,  O´Connell describió su papel en defender al Condado de intentos de parte del Fiscal de EEUU Jeff Sessions para intimidar y amenazar a la ciudad por haber pasado una ley prohibiendo la cooperación entre la policia de Louisville y la agencia ICE, la migra, en su agenda de detenciones y deportaciones de residentes del condado.  Además,  O´Connell  porfió no tener conocimiento y prometió tomar acción sobre el problema expresado por personas en el público en dónde personas encarceladas son detenidas más tiempo de su sentencia para que la Migra pueda tomar custodio de ellos con el fin de deportarlos.  El candidato Ackerson agradeció tal debate público para concientizar a oficiales desde el público sobre asuntos tal vez desconocidos, y estuvo de acuerdo sobre la solidaridad del Fiscal actual y dijo que si el fue elegido, seria un aliado más fuerte aún para la comunidad inmigrante que el Fiscal actual.

El debate al parecer mostró la ventaja que tiene el Fiscal actual, especialmente cuando este tiene algunos logros concretos que podria describir al público votante.  Tambien se mostró la necesidad para más transpariencia y contabilidad de los oficiales con la comunidad.    ¿Como la comunidad inmigrante podria entender el sistema judicial tan complejo, y mucho menos levantar sus voces con oficiales tales como el Fiscal, si no habia asistido a tal debate y escuchar la invitación del mismo?

Agradecimientos por el anfitrión del debate portavoz de Mijente Jesús Ibañéz,  a la Directora de La Casita Center Karina Barillas y a la Profesora de Ley en la Universidad de Louisville Enid Trucios-Haynes quien facilitó el debate.  ¡¡La lucha sigue sigue!!

 

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Jefferson County Attorney KY candidates vie for immigrant vote

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At a candidates debate yesterday, April 18, 2018, for the Jefferson County Attorney´s office held at La Casita Center (the first such forum for this office organized by and for the immigrant community), the incumbent Mike O’Connell and challenger Brent Ackerson (current member of Metro Council) vied for the immigrant vote with passion and rhetorical flourishes.  They responded to questions formulated by members of the immigrant community and asked by the debate moderator Professor Enid Trucios-Haynes.  At one point members of the audience thought incumbent Mike O´Connell was about to physically confront challenger Ackerson when he abruptly got to his feet and took a step in anger toward his opponent, visibly red in the face and not waiting for the interpreter to translate the last statement into Spanish.

What apparently enraged O´Connell was an accusation by Ackerson that the budget prepared by the incumbent Attorney´s office was not transparent enough for Metro Council to address perceived shortfalls in that office in understanding the unjust reality on the ground for immigrants caught up in the judicial system. O´Connell strongly objected to this criticism.

Immigration lawyer Rachel Mendoza-Newton had commented from the audience that immigrants confronted by legal charges often faced the following dilemma:  remain in jail because they could not afford the expensive bail while awaiting a trial, or plead guilty to a crime so they could quickly return to their families and jobs.  Often, what seems like the expeditious choice, pleading guilty, is done without the realization that they thereby forego due process and are immediately turned over to the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a criminal subject to deportation.  This testimony flew in the face of O´Connell´s assertion that even in their role as prosecutors, his office understands and considers the ramifications of guilty pleas for immigrant defendants, a criticism that challenger Ackerson tried to press home.

Another big theme was the Cash Bond program that Louisville, along with Detroit, Michigan had been chosen for, whereby a rotating fund is made available to cover the bond payments for low-income defendants unable to afford the posting of their bonds.  O´Connell appeared to take credit for Louisville being selected for this program and asserted this as an important advance for Louisville, to which some audience members audibly concurred.  Ackerson nevertheless asserted that the Attorney´s office could and should do more to encourage judges to allow defendants  ¨freedom on their own recognizance,¨ without the need for posting bond while awaiting trial, instead of simply relying on an external funding source to partially alleviate this injustice for low-income defendants.

O´Connell presented as one of his achievements in favor of the immigrant community:  50 U visas procured for undocumented persons under his watch.  (U visas are provided to proven victims of violence, whether domestic or due to labor trafficking).  In addition, O´Connell described his role in defending Jefferson County from attempts by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intimidate and threaten the city with a loss of funding for the police department due to the ordinance Metro Council voted into law that prohibits Louisville Metro Police from cooperating with ICE in their detention and deportation actions.   In addition, O´Connell claimed to be unaware of  and promised to take action to address, a problem aired by members of the audience, wherein incarcerated persons are held in jail beyond the time of their sentence in order for ICE to take custody and put them in deportation proceedings.   Challenger Ackerson praised such public debates for allowing public officials to learn new things from the public, and agreed that if elected he would be even a stronger advocate for the immigrant community than the incumbent.

The debate seemed to underscored the advantage enjoyed by the incumbent, particularly where he had accomplishments under his belt he could describe to potential voters.  It also underscored the need for more public accountability of public officials.  How could the immigrant community even understand the intricacies of the US judicial system, let alone voice their problems to officials such as the County Attorney, without attending such a debate and hearing that invitation from the standing Attorney himself?

High praise for debate host Mijente spokesperson Jesús Ibañéz, La Casita Center Director Karina Barillas and U of L Law Professor Enid Trucios-Haynes who moderated this debate.  ¡¡La lucha sigue sigue!!

 

Farm Bill Committee Chair Conaway: Make the Hungry Work for Food!

Making heirloom maize tortillas by hand in Louisville:  justice and autonomy not charity!  (Sustainable Ag of Louisville and La Casita partner in a corn festival each year, from crops produced by a volunteer collective.)

The thinking of House Ag Chair Conaway (Texas Republican) regarding SNAP benefit (food stamp) program is revealing as part of the overall strategy of deconstructing the safety net that SNAP benefits provide to those impoverished by our neo-liberal economy.  Like Trump who claims to be advocating for low-income folk, (but actually succeeded in dramatically lowering the taxes of the super rich and the corporations they run and hold shares in) Chair Conaway says he wants to keep food prices low so that low-income folk can buy enough.  The long living “Cheap food” policy, however, has historically meant low prices to farmers- often below the cost of production!-   while maintaining profits for the corporate input vendors, food processors, distributors and mega retailers.  At the same time, Conaway and his Trumpian cohort are pushing to require people receiving SNAP benefits to work 20 hours a week.  Onerous work requirements would not only impose a burden on people already heavily burdened, but it is also another layer of red tape and bureaucracy that Republicans claim they want to eliminate.  Today’s right-wing Republicans notoriously want to deconstruct government safety nets, so that the “faith” community, or basically the churches will be challenged and empowered to provide such help in the form of “Christian charity.”

This recalls the stance of the KY Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles (also a Republican with high praise for Senator Mitch McConnell and Kentucky born EPA head Pruitt) who in a recent presentation at the University of Louisville McConnell Center in “Chao”  Auditorium refused to acknowledge the need for an increase in the minimum wage in order to address the root causes of hunger in Kentucky.  Though he talked for 30 minutes about addressing rampant hunger in Kentucky, Quarles wants to facilitate and expand private (church) charity and not justice or playing-field-leveling policies.  He lauds the hand outs churches who glean Kentucky fields could supply to food banks.  We all observe that the food bank system represents a system of tax breaks and corporate white washing for corporations like Yum! Brands (headquartered in Louisville) who brag about how many hungry people they have fed through “Dare to Care”, while paying their own fast food restaurant workers pitifully low wages and fighting against worker organizing ie the “fight for $15” and while producing cheap fast food that leads to obesity and ill health for consumers.

It is in this kind of job market and cheap food economy that Conaway and his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives want SNAP recipients to go out and work. So how is a single parent supposed to pay for child care and transport while working minimum or close-to-minimum wage jobs, just in order to qualify to receive SNAP benefits?  The overall impact, as with former President Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform political opportunism bill that also required recipients to work (becoming more Republican than the Republicans), ultimately meant throwing people off the welfare rolls, increasing human suffering and expanding the need for charity across the US and the marginalization of those at the bottom of the economy.  Likewise, allowing states to determine the outlines of how SNAP benefits are distributed is an attack on the safety net itself.

With apparently irrational Trumpian trade wars brewing and an agenda of aggressively deconstructing the remaining safety net for the impoverished of our country and even for public school teachers in the heartlands of the US, the Trump wave may soon be fatally threatened by an extremely strong undertow, a social rip-tide both urban and rural that will carry more than House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican majority in the House out to sea.  As they say in many corners of Latin America about the corrupt oligarchy and their politicians:  ¡Que se vayan todos! (Away with them all!)

Launch of Reynolds’ VUSE e-cigarette Boycott 4/11 Louisville, KY

Caption: On April 11, 2018 Stephen and Kelsey delivered a letter to the manager of a Circle K outlet near the campus of the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

Today April 11, 2018 marks two days after the date of the brutal 2007 assassination of Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) staffer Santiago Rafael Cruz in the FLOC office in Monterrey, Mexico.  This week FLOC is launching a boycott of the prized e-cigarette product of Reynolds American Tobacco, the ” VUSE” until Reynolds Tobacco signs an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing the right of farmworkers to organize without retaliation and bringing better pay to family farmers and farm workers stressed by excessive toil and low incomes.   KY Field Organizer and an ally made a visit to a local Circle K gas station/convenience store on Arthur Street in Louisville, KY to let them know that in the weeks to come we would be picketing this store until Circle K agrees to remove the VUSE e-cigarette from their shelves.  Store manager Antonio informed us that he has zero authority over what products are sold in his store and agreed to scan the letter we handed to him explaining the boycott and to send it to the corporate higher ups.  We told Antonio, a friendly African American man, and his colleagues, friendly African American women, that the pickets to come at this Circle K store are not aimed at them, but at their corporate bosses, and thanked him for sending the message to corporate.  La lucha sigue sigue…  Viva the struggle for worker rights for farm workers in the tobacco supply chain!!  ¡¡Viva!!

Achille’s Heel of the Trump/Sessions I.C.E. Age Machine

Photo by author:  April 2, 2018 protest denouncing new immigration court in Lousville, KY.  Protesters chanted:  “The Deportation Machine is Not the American Dream.”

 

The Trump/Sessions I.C.E. agenda  of mass deportation and racist immigrant scapegoating has an Achille’s Heel:  growing mass organizing.  What the mainstream media, including public radio (NPR), misses about the immigration crisis is the unprecedented on-the-ground organizing in response to the suffering being experienced by the immigrant community.  The Sanctuary movement in all its diverse decentralized forms is blossoming.  The whole  State of California has declared itself a “sanctuary state.”  In Louisville, Kentucky, in the heart of a Trump/governor Bevin red state, we were able  to pass an ordinance holding the Louisville police and all city agencies to a policy of non-cooperation with I.C.E.

Add to that the intersectional analysis that undergirds that organizing, and you have a potential for significant transformation.  Transformation of the narrative and transformation of the policies.  And most importantly of all, transformation of people and what they prioritize each day.  From being complacent bystanders to the political culture of the US, to becoming actors.  Entering into the making of history.

Chelsea Manning, famous whistleblower who sacrificed so much to educate the world about the criminal savagery of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan,  in an inspirational recent interview on Democracy Now, called for the “abolition” of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agency.  Many of us on the front lines pushing back against ICE activities in Kentucky, have long observed what a rogue agency ICE is.  Their employees union openly supported Trump, which tells you a lot.   For 8 years under Obama, ICE flagrantly ignored many of the restraints Obama, under great pressure from the immigrant community, tried to impose on who should be eligible for deportation.    So, yes, why not call for the abolition of ICE?   The name of the overarching Agency itself:  “Homeland  Security” sounds suspiciously close in name to the dangerous patriarchal and fascist “Fatherland” of Nazi Germany, with its Nativist undertones.

A recent protest at the Heyburn building at 322 West Broadway in downtown Louisville, Kentucky against the opening of a new immigration court there, expanding the number of immigration judges in the country by two or three, illustrates a shared intersectional understanding.  Resistance to the expanded deportation machine represented by increasing the number of ICE judges addresses all of the following in its analysis in our talking points to the media:  the crisis of mass incarceration and social criminalization, predominantly of people of color and impoverished communities of all colors; the flagrant slippery slope of  the privatization of the prison-industrial complex;  the pushing of right wing legislation written by lobbyists from that private industry, seeking to justify more prison beds and greater profits; and the attempt to weaken US norms regarding the internationally upheld human right to seek asylum and migrate.

This protest came as one of a series of protests interlinking these issues:  First, we protested in front of the soon-to-open Oldham County Detention Center, and captured significant media attention to the fact that the $23 million project was expanded on the bet that 100 beds of a total of 320 beds would be reserved for ICE detainees, separating and harming nearly a hundred families in Kentucky at a given moment.  Second, the Oldham County jailer organized a fund raiser in an attempt to involve local non profits in support of the new jail, including the “humane” society, whose FB page we attacked en masse until they took down their post.  For $100 a person could participate in a sleepover in the jail as a “trial run” for the jailers prior to opening.  If they raised $5,000 the county judge would spend the night in “solitary.”  With this tone-deaf mockery made of the seriousness of what a jail is, the organizations of our coalition (Mijente, Black Lives Matter, Louisvillians Showing up for Racial Justice) issued a media release denunciation, which was picked up widely by local media outlets, with many interviews of our spokespersons.  Interestingly, weeks later teachers at Oldham County High School invited some of us for a panel with their English classes studying Henry Miller’s The Crucible on the topic of contemporary scapegoats.  Many of the educators at that institution expressed indignation at the prison “sleep over” shenanigans.  Finally, we read that ICE was opening a new court in Louisville.  We understood this to be another link in the overall agenda of expanding and speeding up the deportation machine, integrated into the expansion of the prison industrial complex in general.

So as the analysis deepens, and as the suffering of the immigrant and incarcerated communities expands, public opinion moves in our direction and we have greater access to media spaces to tell our  story.  Hence the narrative is changing around immigrants, except for in the silo of right wing talk shows and FOX national “news”.

Meanwhile with DACA “dead” according to Trump and following the betrayals, grandstanding and blatant lies by our Senators and Congresspersons, a force of 1.5 million youth is re-energized.  “What have we got to lose now?” DACA recipients falling out of status are thinking and saying.  Even those who are being deported are becoming part of an international network of activists with a common experience and understanding.  Narco gangs are not the only groups being internationalized by deportations!!

And so the fight continues and the Emperor’s nakedness becomes more evident by the day.  Only through the use of brute force, a la ICE paddy wagons and plastic cuffs and clubs and tazers and guns, can the growing calls for justice and compassion be suppressed.  And that social tension will only continue to grow.   Hence the aching Achille’s Heel white supremacists Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump must feel.

Add to that courageous judges in the US judiciary who are declaring that ICE detention of undocumented activists is an infringement of the right to free speech for all, and we see clearly a vulnerable point where action can bring transformation.

Mother Earth will heal all.

by Stephen Bartlett

July 20, 2017

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Garifuna children on beach in northern Honduras, photo:  Steve Pavey

From where does hope spring in the times of war on the peripheries and corruption in the center? From the very biosphere of Mother Earth, that’s where, and from people living in direct and intimate contact with that biosphere. I have witnessed the potent force of nature to recover from infertility, fire, drought, plague.  I understand the harmonious ways people can live upon the land, with their light carbon footprints.   If farmers and ranchers could be allowed to walk the path of ecological farming, then we could sequester the lion’s share of the CO2 already emitted into the atmosphere, while restoring the health and economies of communities across the globe.  As it is now, that lifestyle looks counter cultural, even though it is the lifestyle that has allowed humanity to survive and thrive for millenia.

Experiences of abundance and the restorative powers of nature.

Farmers, foragers and foresters the world over do not need to be convinced of the powers of nature.  We live them intimately each waking day.

  1. On 1/3 acre of fertile ground, we can produce enough maize, beans and squash to feed several families for the year.  Considering the vast acreages of land devoted to feed and fuel corn, humanity is no where near its ultimate holding capacity.  But only if we change our ways soon and steward that fertility better for the long term.
  2. Over the course of 27 years on 10 tropical acres, through use of living fence lines, timber tree production and pasturage improvement, we have sequestered an estimated 1,500 tons of additional carbon.  Only a margin from want and hunger can allow farmers to invest in the future and farm the land in a way that increases fertility over time.
  3. A friend near Berea, Kentucky, Susana Lein, has made what was once a barren ridge side into an arable acre of abundance that provides for her and her farm apprentices.  She does this without plowing, by clever use of cover crops, straw mulching and direct seeding, inspired by the vision of Masanobu Fukuoka the “Natural” farmer of Iyo, Japan.
  4. The MST, or Landless rural workers mouvement of Brazil, has agricultural cooperatives that developed on lands recovered through agrarian reform and land occupation, has organic rice production, combined with aquaculture of fish in the irrigation channels.  They barter rice with nearby settlements that specialize in grape/wine production.  Their cups literally run over.  The agrovillages of the MST are idyllic places to live, examples of hope in the midst of mass landlessness and land concentration into the hands of the 1%.

Photo:  Healthy cassava crop on lands where Garifuna flooded out by storm Gamma have settled on the landward side of the fresh water lagoons of their community of Batalla, in northern Honduras

In Vallecito, Honduras Garifuna youth from cities learn to produce food for their communities, as with this plantain near the outdoor kitchen.

 

Who we are losing to the deportation machine?

Louisville, Kentucky

February 22, 2017

Francisco Juárez is being deported to his homeland of Mexico as I write this, after 13 generous and productive years in Kentucky.   His last phone call to me was from an ICE contracted jail in New Orleans where he had been transferred from an ICE jail in Chicago, and before that from a jail in Polansky, Indiana and before that from the Boone County jail in Burlington, Kentucky where he spent a miserable month locked up like a criminal.   The inhumane machinery of criminalization, warehousing and deportation of immigrants is all paid for by US taxpayers to the tune of approximately $130 per detainee per day.

Not long before Francisco was turned over to ICE for lacking legal documentation, he did a wonderful thing for our community.  This past fall Francisco taught 20 mostly latino youth and children the basics of drama over a 10-week period, culminating in a wonderful performance of a play entitled “In Sophie’s Patio.”  The play was about how the community finally drew a little girl, Sophie, out of the bubble world of her iPhone, having tried many colorful strategems to break her addiction to the little screen.

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We still have not told those children about Francisco’s deportation, given the panic already seizing the immigrant community in Kentucky and across the US.  We don’t want to add to their fear or their sadness at the loss of others from the community.

Francisco was one of those persons people consider a gift to the community.  He co-founded with Haydee Canovas the Tercera Llamada  (or Third Call) drama troupe (a name Francisco coined), one of two Spanish language troupes in Louisville, Kentucky that focused on dramas with compelling social and cultural content.  He volunteered regularly for years leading public educational activities organized by the Iroquois public library.  He produced a weekly radio show delving into cultural and civic topics of interest to the community.  His drama achievements alone were impressive.   Like most actors, he complimented his income by moonlighting, in his case painting houses.  He wrote, adapted, directed and acted in plays whenever time allowed.

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Francisco Juárez on left in Los Emigrados with Carlos Manuel, staged in Louisville, KY in May 2014

Photo credit:  Luis de Leon

One of his best roles was in the play Los Emigrados  an adaptation of a Polish drama by Slawomir Mrozek about the immigrant experience, adapted to the situation of latino immigrants to the US.  Francisco and Carlos Manuel drew laughs and made theater goers think about and feel for immigrants throughout their performance.

The inhuman deportation machine built by George Bush, Barack Obama and the US Congress that under Obama deported nearly 3 million people, is now in the hands of Donald Trump, who, with his openly white supremacist and racist cabinet and senior advisors, has taken the gloves off completely and put the machine into overdrive.  Will we come to consider Francisco among the lucky ones, to have been deported to his native Mexico before experiencing the Trump-style ¨deportation force¨ round ups with no due process whatsoever for millions of hard working migrants living among us?  The silver lining, not for us but for Mexico and Central America, is that many of its most creative and courageous citizens may soon be returned to them once more, albeit against their will and at a huge loss to the economies of all countries involved.  Despite the violence and economic marginalization of the home communities they fled, we can only hope that our loss could eventually be their gain.    But how many more immigrant families will be torn apart in the process?  And, thinking ahead a few months, who is going to keep us fed, our children cared for, our houses and buildings built and maintained, our bodies sheltered under roofs that do not leak, etc. etc. here in the US?  Who will teach our children and edify and culturally enrich us the way a down-to -earth intellectual who paints houses like my friend Francisco did?   Will France have to ask for the Statue of Liberty back?