Short Profile on my Border Work

A migrant bathes in the hills of San Diego, CA near the fields that he works.

Thanks to the University of Arizona and it’s team of student journalists who run the Border Beat blog. Special thanks to Tim Glass for taking the time to listen to me go on and on about the border.

Take a look: http://www.borderbeat.net/people/1661-todd-bigelow-an-eye-for-storytelling

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DREAMING of a Future

Young boy peers into the U.S. from Mexico.

The final days of the lame duck Congress are upon us and Democrats are scrambling to pass significant legislation before ceding their power to an influx of conservative Republicans. The tax cut debate was settled last night, though many democrats were quick to voice their displeasure with the extension of tax breaks to the wealthy. Nonetheless, that was one piece of legislation President Obama was dead set on pushing through now. The second piece of legislation that has caused partisan debate is the Dream Act.

The law that would grant legal residency to undocumented immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, lived in the U.S. for at least five years, graduated from high school and completed two years of college or honorable military service. Essentially, it’s designed to take the unfair burden off of our next generation of scholars or veterans who, by no fault of their own, were brought to the country illegally as young children and have lived in the shadows despite achieving academic excellence.

Alma, an undocumented immigrant, was brought here as a toddler. The couple waited nervously outside Federal Building for the outcome of a deportation hearing.

Why should children be punished for something they had no role in? A child who was carried across the border illegally at age 5,  raised in a loving family, excelled at school and gave to their community should have the opportunity to be a citizen of this nation of immigrants. Further, our country benefits from these students who have endured hardships and know the meaning of perseverance. They have and will contribute to our country the rest of their lives by becoming teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and business owners.

This is not an amnesty. This is an example of humanity. It’s doing what is right in the best interests of all parties involved, including the country as a whole.

As if on cue, the United Nations recognizes tomorrow, December 18th, as International Migrants Day. The 10th anniversary of this day is meant to honor all the immigrants who have contributed to the country. The timing for this day couldn’t be better. I hope Congress pays attention and realizes the best way to honor International Migrants Day is to pass the Dream Act and open the door for the next generation of immigrant success stories. Let’s pave the way for the young kids who had no choice in their legal status to step from the shadows and give back to the only country they call “home.”

The Food on our Plates

In the world of journalism, it’s well understood that timing is a great asset. Time the story right and it will often receive more attention. A poorly timed story will languish in the background of a world of information overload.

With Thanksgiving, the end all holiday for food, upon us the Southern Poverty Law Center released a special report long in the making about women in the food industry. “Injustice on Our Plates: Women in the U.S. Food Industry” takes a look at women toiling in the fields picking grapes and fruit to women across the country working in fields and factories producing food for our consumption. Living on the margins of society and impoverished by most accounts, these women often are victimized in a multitude of ways. From unsolicited sexual advances to unfair labor practices and pay, women in the food industry often suffer out of fear of being outed as an undocumented worker. It’s worth noting that many of the women who I photographed as part of the report are reluctant to complain. Humble and grateful for what they have, it’s not always easy getting the women to open up about abuses.

Migrant woman working Central California field

I spent a bit of time photographing various women in central California who either worked or are currently working in the fields. From the Grapes of Wrath to many other accounts, much has been written about the plight of migrant field workers. But when you see them twisting vines, snapping twigs and yanking oranges, it gives you a new perspective. This is truly tough work. The women, hands offering a contrast of nail polish and hardened dirt, work long hours in tough conditions. And as the SPLC report clearly defines, the wages are low and the workers are destined for a life of poverty.

No matter where you stand on the immigration debate or your political leanings, the next time you pick up some grapes at the store or enjoy a glass of vino at Thanksgiving, just give some silent appreciation for those who picked them.

Give the report a look here. It can be downloaded as a PDF: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/injustice-on-our-plates

One last thing! SPLC is one of the nation’s most diligent non profits working on behalf of those with no voice in society. They have fought the long hard battle for decades dating back to the Civil Rights movement. Please consider donating, even a small amount is helpful. Go here if you can swing a small gift: https://secure.splcenter.org/donations/donate/overview

President Obama Announces Immigration Reform Package

By now there isn’t much new to say about immigration reform. President Obama made his plan for comprehensive reform known today and, to no one’s surprise, Republicans for the most part slammed it. Claiming the reform package which, incidentally, is co sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, is nothing more than an attempt to legalize the millions of undocumented in the country, the Republican party is once again trying to engage in politics instead of engaging in problem solving. My earlier post about Arizona Senator McCain’s pandering is case and point. Many Republicans who backed similar proposals when Bush was in office are now opposing Obama’s measure. If they voted for it once, why not again? Politics, folks.

A man covers his his heart and recites the Pledge of Allegiance at a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens.

It’s simply time to stop playing to the cameras and do the job our elected officials were hired to do. Govern our country so that we go forward. There is no way to do that without finding a path to citizenship while strengthening security at the border and in the workplace. Enough posturing, just get it done. It’s a good start at true reform, not just a ceremonious “border build up” that on its’ own is ineffective.

As for the Arizona law due to take affect later this month whereby police can ask people for documents, the Obama administration is challenging it legally. The SPLC has issued a travel warning to Arizona for possible human rights violations of citizens. I have a bet with a high priced, respectable NYC lawyer who has dealt with immigration law for years that SB1070, as it’s known, will be struck down as unconstitutional. He claims it won’t. Time will tell, so stay tuned.

Senator McCain and his Pandering on Immigration Reform

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest against the new Arizona law, SB 1070, that created strict immigration laws against the undocumented.

Nothing drives me crazier than hypocrisy. Nothing makes me want to run into traffic more than a politician who blatantly flip flops on issues and then blames the “interpretation” or “the media” for “misinterpreting” remarks. Folks, when a politician introduces and/or supports legislation, the bill works it’s way through congress. It’s pretty hard to “misinterpret” the clear wording on a bill.

On this election day, consider the opportunistic king of immigration pandering, Senator John McCain. Here is a man who has served his country in war and in congress. He has my profound respect in that regard. But stand your ground, Senator. Don’t pander to the right wing “tea party” activists simply because your poll numbers are down. Sure, you’re in a reelection campaign, but wouldn’t you rather lose knowing you fought for your beliefs than win knowing you changed your stance to retain your job? Sad…….

Read the LA Times story here. If you’ve paid attention, as I have, over the years to immigration issues, you’re well aware that Senator McCain has fought long and hard on the issue. After all, Arizona is on the US/Mexico border. But you’ll also recall, as the LA Times analysis does, that Senator McCain was pushing for legalization of undocumented immigrants and that building a fence was not sufficient. He called for comprehensive immigration reform in a floor speech five years ago whereby a guest worker program, additional security, and a path to citizenship for the undocumented was unveiled. To hear him now, you’d think he always advocated standing on the border with a assault rifle and nothing else. Sure, he took political heat for it back then and alienated a few staunch Republicans, but that’s politics.

Stand for your beliefs. Don’t pander, Senator. You are well versed on the intricacies of the US/Mexico border. Your state is going in the wrong direction. Be the hero you were in war and turn it around. Do what you advocated doing five years ago and fight for true reform as opposed to fighting for your job.

My Time with US/Mexico Border Rancher Robert Maupin

Bob Maupin (r) patrols his ranch, at dusk in eastern San Diego, for undocumented immigrants.

The Los Angeles Times profiled a US/Mexico border rancher today on the top of the front page. I know the man well.

Close to 20 yrs ago I became somewhat obsessed as a photojournalist with the US/Mexico border. Much of that was because of the work done by LA Times photographer Don Bartletti, now a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist. After spending time along the border in San Diego I noticed a new migrant trend and followed my instinct by heading nearly 100 miles east into the rugged mountains dotted by small towns and fiercely independent people. What I subsequently discovered was a world where people like Robert Maupin, the subject of today’s LA Time’s feature, were being overwhelmed in sheer numbers by undocumented immigrants crossing their border properties. After a while, Bob Maupin let me start to document his own border patrol. The numbers have changed, but a recent trip back to do some more shooting revealed that Bob still patrols and repairs his cut fence.

I worked on this personal project for over a year and the NY Times Sunday Magazine eventually published a three page spread. After that, many media outlets contacted Bob and requested interviews to profile his personal border patrol. Is it vigilantism? .

Will the migrant trend come full circle now that Arizona is cracking down even more fiercely with controversial laws and National Guard troops? Time will tell, but one thing is for certain. Bob is always armed.

Speaking of Arizona. Their latest attempt at driving undocumented immigrants out of the state is to pursue a new law that strips American citizenship from anyone born in Arizona to undocumented immigrants. What’s the problem with such a pursuit? Simply the 14th amendment clearly states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Alma Stauth, in white, at her baby shower. Alma is an undocumented immigrant who was brought here as a toddler.

Now the state of Arizona wants to go further and change the Constitution. After SB1070 which will result in a violation of civil rights and a ban on ethnic studies in the state’s schools, it should come as no surprise that Arizona want’s to rewrite the US Constitution. Good luck………

1200 Troops to US/Mexico Border

Undocumented migrants gather along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California before attempting to cross into the US.

President Obama put immigration back on the front burner by announcing today that he’s sending 1200 National Guard troops to the US/Mexico border in an effort to stem drug and migrant smuggling.

Coming weeks after Arizona forced the administration’s hand by implementing a racially charged law requiring all immigrants to carry papers proving they’re in the country legally, President Obama looks to be taking the fight to the Republicans in a effort to show he’s tough on immigration too.

Will the added enforcement put a crimp in smuggling? Probably in the short run, but history has proven that as long as there is a desire to seek a better life, or a desire from a drug hungry society, the suppliers will always find a way to fill the demand.

As ingrained as politics is in the immigration debate, it remains to be seen if the move to place National Guard troops on the border is the first step in a concerted effort at reform or a way to appease the right. Any reform, as the President has indicated, will have to encompass a means to deal with the millions of undocumented already in the country.