Who killed the Victoria 18?

The death of 18 Latino immigrants inside a locked semi-trailer near Victoria, Texas, May 14, throws a hideous spotlight on the criminal trafficking in human cargo across our southern border. A seven-year-old child died in his father’s arms inside that stifling trailer while a woman cried, “El niño! El niño!” (The little boy!). The Bush administration would shift the blame to the truck driver and the so-called “coyotes” who guide the undocumented immigrants across the border. But The New York Times was closer when it wrote that the disaster “is a reminder that Vicente Fox and George Bush have failed to deliver on their ambitious pledge to craft a landmark immigration agreement that would make it easier for the United States to fill its labor needs without forcing young Mexicans to run a deadly gantlet in the desert.” It denounced the “hypocrisy” of U.S. immigration policy which “virtually posts two signs on its southern border – ‘Help Wanted, Inquire Within!’ and ‘Do not Trespass.’” But certainly Fox cannot be blamed for the stalled agreement. Having refused to endorse preemptive war on Iraq, Fox has been cold-shouldered by Bush. The Bush plan would resurrect the hated bracero program, shipping Mexican workers in and out of the U.S. – cheap labor for the corporate factories, fields and construction sites. On May Day, workers organized by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee demonstrated on Capitol Hill demanding enactment of the Freedom Act, which would provide three years of legal residency with the right to renew for millions of undocumented workers. They would have the right to join unions, bargain collectively, send their children to school and draw all the benefits like Food Stamps and Medicaid they are entitled to by virtue of the taxes they pay. The most fitting memorial we could raise to the Victoria 18 and the hundreds of other immigrants who die each year is to fight for enactment of the Freedom Act, to demilitarize and humanize the U.S.-Mexico border.

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‘Way to go, stand your ground’

Tom DeLay, GOP majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Tom Craddick, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, went down in flames on May 16 when a walkout by 55 Democrats in the Texas House brought the legislature to a standstill and defeated a GOP power grab aimed at adding seven Republicans to the state’s 32-member congressional delegation. The measure enjoyed the public support of DeLay.

Several hundred union members and community activists – many wearing “Killer D” T-shirts – gathered on the capitol steps to welcome the returning legislators, in marked contrast to the corporal’s guard who responded to a call by local Republicans to pack the House gallery in a protest action.

The Democrats holed up in Ardmore, Okla. for their week-long standoff, thus placing themselves beyond the reach of troopers of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) who had been ordered to arrest and bring them back to the House chamber.

The DPS has been mired in controversy over its handling of the incident, with charges ranging from intimidating the families of absent legislators to enlisting assistance from the Department of Homeland Security to bring the lawmakers back across the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Both Craddick and DeLay have admitted that the federal government had been approached to intervene, an admission that brought howls of outrage from Texas legislators and members of the Texas congressional delegation. The controversy became even sharper as information surfaced that DPS has ordered destruction of all records and photos gathered during the search for the missing legislators.

For our part we think country-western singer Willie Nelson hit the nail on the head when he sent greetings and gifts to the truants. “Way to go, stand your ground,” he said in a note accompanying red bandannas and a case of whiskey delivered to the motel where the lawmakers were waiting out the legislative clock.

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