Things That Matter

A Veteran And Former Border Agent Was Fired After He Found Out He Wasn’t Born In The U.S.

If you’re Latino, have a Latin-sounding name, are protesting immigrant rights, or speak against immigration officials, or your employer, look out, there could be a target on your back. We mean that metaphorically, sort of, but all of the examples above have proven to be real. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal agencies are keeping tabs on all those individuals, and, if there’s anything suspicious in your record, you could face deportation. 

A Latino who worked for the border patrol for 18 years was fired after they probed into his background and found out he has a fraudulent U.S. birth certificate. 

Credit: @latimes / Twitter

This summer, Raul Rodriguez, a 51-year-old native of Texas, was told that he could no longer work for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He had been with the agency for 18 years, and also is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, but none of that mattered after government workers looked closely into his U.S. birth certificate, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

Last year, we reported that the government would be looking into birth certificates that were issued by midwives in border towns, including in Texas. 

Credit: @Centaur1207 / Twitter

It was last year that Latinos who were renewing their passports were getting denied due to specific details on their birth certificates. This controversy stems back to the Bush Administration based on investigations conducted by the government. The government claims that countless of fraudulent birth certificates were issued between the 1950s through the 1990s by midwives and physicians. These birth certificates in question occurred along the Texas-Mexico border. It is only now, under the Trump Administration that the officials have begun inquiring about this matter once again. 

Rodriguez is one of about 246 people that have had their U.S. citizenship overturned or have been deemed to have a suspicious birth certificate. Rodriguez only found out that he wasn’t actually born in the U.S. last year. 

Credit: @msn / Twitter

Rodriguez has always believed to be a U.S. citizen, but last year he attempted to help his brother apply for a U.S. passport. When Rodriguez provided his birth certificate to authorities, they inquired because the certificate said he was born via a midwife during the dates in question. What authorities suspected of Rodriguez was true. He was actually born in Matamoros, Mexico. 

Rodriguez recalled to KRGV News the moment U.S. officials presented him with his original birth certificate. “‘Have you ever seen it?’ I said, no. I’ve never seen it before. I’m almost 50 years old, and I’ve never seen it,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez still couldn’t believe this claim was right, so he approached his dad, who lived in Mexico. His father, Margarito Rodriguez, confirmed that he was, in fact, born in Mexico. Rodriguez told the Los Angeles Times that this information was “his worst fear.” 

Rodriguez immediately applied to be a U.S. citizen, but his application was denied because he “lied” about being a U.S. citizen and because he voted illegally. 

Credit: @sethimaz_law / Twitter

It’s incredible that the U.S. can fault him for an action he never committed. Rodriguez didn’t issue the fraudulent birth certificate, he didn’t know he was born in Mexico, and he certainly didn’t think he was voting illegally because he didn’t realize he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. As KRGV News notes, a 1996 law prohibits a person from getting U.S. citizenship if they have lied about being a U.S. citizen. As of now, his case remains open, and officials are not commenting on the status. 

Now, Rodriguez is without a job, health insurance, and is risking losing his retirement benefits.

Credit: @starandstripes / Twitter

As of now, the Los Angeles Times reports that they are remaining in their Texas home but are too scared to travel anywhere else because they fear being stopped at checkpoints. 

The worse part is that now Rodriguez fears the same people he worked alongside for years. 

“Every time I see a cop or a police officer, I kind of stiffen up or get nervous to see Border Patrol. These are people that I worked with, and now I have to fear these people,” he told KRGV News. 

While less than 300 people have been flagged for having a questionable birth certificate, it’s too early to say how many of them will be deported. 

READ: The U.S. Government Is Questioning The Citizenship Of Some Latinos Along The Texas/Mexico Border

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Things That Matter

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Tomkiefer.photographe / Instagram

Photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a custodian at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014. When migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Southern border officials would throw away their belongings, medications, and nonessentials during processing. Kiefer collected all of those belongs, arranged them systematically, and photographed them.

The photos will be displayed in the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

The result is eye-catching and colorful art that, upon closer inspection, reveals the rich inner lives of migrants. Kiefer’s photographs of the CDs they were listening to, the medications they were on, and even diary entries provide insight into the almost ordinariness of migrants. These were just people carrying things that meant something to them the way anyone else going somewhere would. Then the U.S. government deemed those personal and sentimental items trash. 

What Kiefer provides is a rarely seen snapshot of what migrants cared about when they came to the United States looking for a better shot. 

Kiefer was documenting American history through his lens and labor. 

“It was my way of documenting a piece of our nation’s history,” Kiefer told the Washington Post

In one of his haunting photos, there are 32 CDs lined up. Some CDs are from artists like Trapt but others are mixed CDs with intimate labels like “Brown Pride” or “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2.” The image reminds the viewer that these migrants were real people — and we don’t know who any of them are and because of the United States’ ever-changing immigration policies, we don’t know if they’re even OK. 

Kiefer began to find the belongings when he asked if he could donate the canned goods that Border Patrol authorities seized to food pantries. He went through the trash bins to look for the nonperishables, but what he found instead was a wealth of humanity. 

“The Bibles, the rosaries, the family photographs. I was shocked,” he said. “And I didn’t know what to do, because it was obviously being condoned.”

Kiefer knew he would get into trouble if he took other items so everything he gathered was by intuition. Altogether in his years working there he collected 100,000 items. 

“I had to do it all very quick, discreet,” he said. “It was just rapid-fire, split-second decisions about what I could keep and what had to go in the trash, stay in the trash.”

Throwing away migrants’ possessions is particularly cruel, Kiefer feels.

 “[It] underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people. It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family,” he told the Los Angeles TimesWhen Kiefer first began going through the trash looking for cans, he found mostly toothbrushes. However, when things appeared to be more personal like religious items and diaries, he felt compelled to save them because, he says, “no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.” He purposefully used colorful backgrounds to humanize the items. He didn’t want a cold, white background that would make things look sterile, more like products than personal items. 
“[The photos are] like a knife to the gut, and that’s precisely something that I think gives this work its power — that it draws you in with its beauty and then it has this really profoundly sad backstory,” Laura Mart, Skirball curator, told the Los Angeles Times.

He hopes the legacy of his exhibition is empathy above all else. 

“Dora the Explorer. A personal belonging carried by a migrant or someone seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert most personal belongings considered non-essential or potentially lethal are confiscated and discarded,” Kiefer wrote in a caption of a children’s Dora the Explorer purse. 

Things like children’s toys, backpacks, and clothing items are enough to infuriate and sadden just about anybody.

“Whether it’s an individual object, shoelaces, I present them in a way that I hope the viewer can not just identify, but just kind of be empathetic, or put themselves in the person or persons’ shoes: ‘Wow, a person carried that.’ ‘That’s the same cologne I use, the same toothbrush or toothpaste,” Kiefer said. 

While he was a custodian during the Obama administration, Kiefer says he didn’t witness the abuses of powers reported under the current president. Kiefer personally condemns the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and hopes his exhibition will change some peoples’ stances. 

“Is this the nation we want to be?” He said. “The way things are now is not sustainable.”

A Toxi-Tour Will Take Activists To Seven States In Mexico That Host The Country’s Most Polluted Spots

Things That Matter

A Toxi-Tour Will Take Activists To Seven States In Mexico That Host The Country’s Most Polluted Spots

ChilangoMX / Instagram

Like most countries that depend heavily on coal energy and on manufacturing to keep its productive wheels running, Mexico is deeply affected by the environmental damage that many industries cause. Added to local production, Mexico has also been the site of maquilas, factories set up by foreign investors who are lured by cheaper labour and by lax tax regimes, as well as by looser rules when it comes to environmental impact. Both industry and public opinion need to be better informed of the toxic hot spots in the country.

Mexico sits at an strategic political and commercial position, and industrial powerhouses such as the United States and Canada, whose companies have set shop in the other member of NAFTA, by far the most disadvantaged. 

The toxi-tour caravan will travel the country for ten days in total, December 2-11.

Participants include environmentalists and scientists from both Mexico and overseas. The objective is to raise awareness and to denounce the companies that cause most damage. Perhaps shaming is the first step towards change. Besides Mexicans, there are representatives from the United States, Europe and other Latin American Countries. 

The journey began in El Salto, Jalisco, where a polluted river has led to cancer and death.

Credit: Regeneración radio

In this site industrial pollution of the Santiago river has caused the death of more than a thousand people due to cancer and kidney failure. People from cities in the United States affected by pollution in places like Flint, Michigan, can surely relate. A river is generally a propeller for economic development and productive activity, as well as a source of an increasingly scarce commodity: water. However, this river is basically poisonous now and has brought death to those who live nearby. 

The caravan will visit sites were more than three million people have seen their health diminished by pollution.

Credit: Notimex

The rest of the Toxi-tour stops include Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato; Apaxco, México state; Atonilco de Tula, Hidalgo; Tlaxcala; Puebla; and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. The journey will conclude in Mexico City on December 11. As you may lmow, Mexico City is deeply affected by high levels of pollution. Its high altitude and the fact that it is nested in a valley make it prone to elevated pollution levels that have damaged the upper respiratory tract in millions of its inhabitants.

In the photo we can see the cement manufacturing plant of Apaxco, which releases fine particles that have caused upper respiratory tract issues for both the workers and the people living near the factory. Imagine breathing grainy, minuscule cement dust day in, day out. Another big issue is the unlawful disposal of waste in landfills which end up pumping chemicals into the soil and rendering it sterile. 

The organizers have a pretty clear idea of who is to blame for the environmental crisis in these places.

As Mexico Daily News reports: “The Toxi-Tour will “denounce United States, Canadian, German, French, Spanish and Mexican companies” that cause environmental damage, said Andrés Barreda, a representative of the National Assembly of Environmental Victims, which organized the caravan.”

Yes, Mexican companies share the blame, but the fact that Global North companies have caused physical damage to the land and people of a previously colonized nation brings back memories of colonial times and trauma. So for these companies the lives of Global South countries are less valuable? It would appear that is the case. This is afforded of course, by corrupt authorities. The caravan will also get political and will engage local community leaders and people that have been affected or displaced by industry.

As Mexico News Daily reports: “In Tlaxcala on Friday, caravan members will learn about the community proposal to clean up the Atoyac–Zahuapan river basin, while on Saturday they will visit contaminated areas of Puebla city and speak with locals who have been dispossessed of their communal lands.”

Mexican history is a history of dispossession, and environmental violence is another way in which those in power have decimated the productive capabilities and future survival of communities that live and die by a deep attachment to the land and nature.