Friday, February 25, 2005

Who is driving the immigration issue?

When we first hear the word “immigrant,” most people have the tendency to attach some negative feeling to it, although this country is made up mostly of immigrants. But Americans thinking poorly of immigrants is nothing new. Whether it was the Irish, Polish, Germans during WWI or Japanese during WWII, somehow we have this little gnawing sense that we’re the only ones entitled to this great land.

Today, its not any one particular country or culture that we don’t want any more immigrants from, it seems it’s every immigrant. “Illegal immigration” is what people cite as their most common fear when it comes to people from other lands, even when these people don’t even know what that exactly means.

Take HR 418, The REAL ID Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week. On the surface, it looks like a bill everyone would want to support. Issuing driver’s licenses to “illegal immigrants” is a very controversial subject. Some states, such as Kansas, which did issue driver’s licenses to those who couldn’t prove they were in the country legally prior to 2000, voted not to do it anymore. California has faced similar discussion. In Kansas, it isn’t only Hispanic social services agencies and advocacy organizations that have been fighting the state legislature; it’s been law enforcement as well.

Yes, that’s right. Law enforcement feels it is better to know who is in the country by issuing undocumented people id, rather than not know. They also feel it is safer for you and I on the streets to have a licensed, insured driver, rather than one who can’t get insurance because he has no driver’s license.

However, HR 418, if it passes the U.S. Senate, would strip the states of their rights to make that decision. Congressman Dennis Moore issued a statement, which read that the law would “further subject the states to unfunded mandates to conform their driver’s licenses and identification cards to federal standards.” That’s unfunded—as our states are going to need more money to adhere to the new federal guidelines. And where do the states go when they need more money?

The bill contains a few more provisions, which local social service agencies have called “disturbing,” including allowing bail bondsmen the right to apprehend undocumented immigrants, even though they are not trained in immigration enforcement and many of them are questionably trained in anything.

Even more disturbing is the rest of the bill, which will require people who are seeking asylum based on religious or political persecution to prove that those reasons are the primary reason of persecution if they return to their home country. That provision is why some human rights organizations have joined Hispanic organizations to oppose that bill.

In speaking with a representative of El Centro, Inc., this week about the bill, she said they oppose such legislation because instead of using our vast economic resources to fix a broken immigration system, we are using it to construct a fence along the Mexican-American border. I’ve spoken with several immigrants who are undocumented in this country. Many of them were once here on visas and because the immigration system is in such shambles, after 5 or even 10 years, their applications for permanent residency had still not been addressed. When their visas expired, they left the country, sometimes leaving U.S. born American citizens here with relatives who have been approved. Rather than keep their families apart, they re-enter the country “illegally.” Other families who’ve applied for residency simply stay once their visas expire, rather than uproot their families and their new and often, better lives. Who would not want that for their children?

So, when people here say, “Well, my ancestors came here ‘legally,” these people aren’t even talking about the same immigration system. It’s like comparing the current Republican Party to that of Abraham Lincoln.

The people who understand and work with the immigration crisis everyday would like to see a real conversation about why there are so many “illegal” immigrants here and what really can be done to fix the problem. Rather than promise undocumented immigrants in this country worker visas to court the Hispanic vote, it’s time that this administration take some real action on immigration and work to fix a system that is in chaos.

Like many people in law enforcement will tell you, this legislation will do nothing to protect the citizens of the U.S. at all.

An American tradition, good old immigrant bashing at its finest.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Let Them Eat Moral Values!

Immediately following the election, political pundits, particularly those on the left, were scratching their heads trying to figure out why so many Americans voted for Republicans in national and local races, especially when it would be directly detrimental to them economically?

The answer they all came up with is that it all boiled down to the Republicans claiming moral values for the country.

Gay marriage, abortion, God and Country.

In Missouri, where an in-fight raged on between Democrat incumbent Governor Bob Holden and challenger Claire McCaskill in the primary, the Republicans began rubbing their hands together for the coup.

McCaskill won the Democratic primary, and although she prevailed in urban St. Louis and Kansas City during the general election, she failed to connect with rural voters, as did Democrats in most elections in many States.

Democrats failed to ride the theme of social pro-life moral values such as the question of pre-eminent war, giving assistance to the country’s most vulnerable people and raising questions regarding possibly executing innocents in our prisons.

To rural voters’ own economic detriment, they bought into the moral values line and in 100 of 107 counties, voted for Republican Matt Blunt for Governor. In addition, they voted in Republican State Senators and Representatives to back him. Blunt’s current budget proposal in Missouri slashes medical insurance for some of the state’s poorest and other benefits for some of the states most vulnerable-it’s children.

And now, the Democrats, who vowed to tell Republican voters, “I told you so,” could say it with a grin on their faces. And it would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. Children with developmental disabilities will be cut from the state’s First Steps programs and other people who depend on medical aid from the state will no longer be afforded insurance.

Blunt’s response in the media: The cuts are long overdue.

A rural Southwest Missouri couple was recently profiled in The Kansas City Star as being two people who would loose their Medicaid benefits under Matt Blunt’s proposed budget. They voted for him because of his stance on gun control and gay marriage. Now the couple is having second thoughts about voting Republican.

And a Democrat voter’s response: “Maybe the Republicans supposed moral values will save them. God knows compassionate conservatism won’t.”

Friday, February 18, 2005

Right to Die or Right to Live?

Imagine being in a horrible accident and not being able to communicate with those around you for 20 years. Now, imagine being the family of the person in the accident. How many people would not have it run through their minds to simply end what they perceive to be the suffering and low quality of life for their loved one?
It’s yet unknown what, if anything Sarah Scantlin was aware of during her 20 years in a catatonic state in a Hutchinson, Kansas acute care facility. What is clear now is that she inexplicably regained the ability to communicate earlier this month. Scantlin was a pretty 18-year-old college freshman that had just made the drill team when she was the passenger involved in a terrible accident in 1984. Her parents were told that she would remain unable to communicate, walk or move by herself for the rest of her life.
News reports haven’t made it clear if the family of Scantli never thought of ending her suffering. But her parents did say that, sometimes, in order to cope with the wide range of emotions, they sometimes had to pretend that she was gone.
An open house was recently held at the nursing home where Scantlin has lived since the accident. Scantlin recognizes her parents, her brother and even remembers pets from her childhood. She says simple things to her mother such as “hi,” and “I love you.”
Scantlin’s doctors have told broadcast reporters that they have no explanation except that the brain “Sometimes re-wires itself.” They do not yet know her prognosis, or even if she might suffer a relapse.
Many of us would not want to live on life support, hooked up to machines that must breathe for us or that keeps our heart pumping and blood flowing. But what about comatose or catatonic states, where as long as there is life, there is still hope?
That is the position that Terri Schiavo’s parents have long taken in Florida. Telling doctors they know their daughter is cognizant of some things and they have the hope that she will regain her life. Schiavo is not on life support, but must be on a feeding tube. Her husband said that his wife would not want to be kept alive in such a manner. He’s petitioned the courts and in the latest battle has won, to have her feeding tube removed.
It is unknown if Scantlin was on a feeding tube, but what, if anything, does Scantlin’s amazing and unexplainable recovery mean for Terri Schiavo? At the least, it must make us reconsider how far we want our doctors and loved ones to go with hope and what constitutes quality of life, life support and the right to die.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Legal Animal Cruelty

The west is expanding, as is the north, south and east of the greater Kansas City metropolitan area and as we continue to sprawl, the needs and wants of humans will continue to clash with those in the animal kingdom. However, the story out of Kansas City this morning is not about residential neighborhoods encroaching on wild animals. Instead, it is that of a trapper clashing with domestic animals. For trapping to even still be legal in the 21st century and for the fur trade to be flourishing is something for civilized human beings to ponder, and is subject matter for another column. Still, trapping is legal in Missouri and many other States. As residential areas are built further into the countryside, many homeowners are starting to complain that trappers are catching domestic animals and pose a danger to children in the area as well. Trappers say that homeowners are encroaching on public lands they have hunted and trapped on for generations and affecting their livelihood.
The story out of Belton, Missouri, a once rural area in the not-too-distant-past involves Savannah and Bubba, two Mastiffs owned by Marcela Egea. Last Sunday morning, Egea allowed her dogs out on a usual Sunday morning run. They left their rural property and wandered onto public land, and got caught in fur traps owned by Michael Kartman. According to news reports, the traps were under an overpass, just 100 feet beyond a pond in Egea’s pasture. Kartman shot and killed the dogs when he said they became aggressive when he tired to free them. He told The Kansas City Star he’s killed dogs before and that going to nearby houses to find the owners would cost him time. “Those dogs were interfering with my business,” Kartman said in the article, which appeared on February 13. The Missouri Conservation Department said Kartman did nothing wrong, but was cited for littering the banks of the creek where he was trapping with “undesirable” animal carcasses such as a skunk, opossum and a raccoon. He snares fox, river otters and bob cat for money. He was also cited for not labeling his traps with his name and contact information.
A quick search of the Internet found that this is happening in areas becoming more populated all over the country. In Montana, when a trapper shot a couple’s beloved dog, they successfully lobbied for stricter trapping laws. In Arkansas, where my family owns over 30 acres of land, this became an issue just three months after my aunt moved there with their dogs. One of them became ensnared in a trap set along the bank of Bull Shoals Lake while roaming their property. My aunt could hear the dog howling, but couldn’t locate her in the dense brush and woods, where, in the mountains, the direction of sound plays tricks on the mind. The dog was missing for several days and finally limped it’s way home, dehydrated and a few pounds lighter. That same fall, hunters wandered onto their property with shotguns. After they were told they couldn’t hunt on their land, the hunters said they had been hunting there all of their lives and they would just come back and “burn their house down.” The land has been in my family for 20 years.
Last fall, another of their dogs met the same fate. But this dog, a rescue animal that spent most of its life fearing human contact, until finding my aunt and her husband, had only recently began to trust people enough to not cower under the deck. Again, the location of his yelping and barking couldn’t be located for two days. Finally, the trap was found and he was freed. Besides having a severely injured leg, two years of rescue work and training was set back. He spent the next few months once again cowering under the deck, afraid someone else might hurt him.
After a quick scan of the Internet, I found some chat boards discussing this story. Most were in favor of trapping—one participant even accused a writer of knowing nothing of trapping, saying that animals are not injured when caught in a trap. Huh? Is that why the Missouri Department of Conservation recently said in a release that they were partnering with federal wildlife management organizations to find the “most humane and effective ways to trap furbearers?” The release cites a study that says that the “most humane traps produce the fewest injuries (to the animals.)
According to the release, 200,000 people nationwide trap and it is a $1.2 billion industry. In Europe, trapping is banned.
My aunt, along with many other rural people realizes its time for a fence immediately surrounding their homes. They can no longer afford to allow their animals to naturally wander their acreage, as dogs don’t know where property boundaries stop and public land begins. I was recently struck by a quote hanging in my vet’s office that went something like, “I feel sorry for the man’s soul who has never been the beneficiary of a dog’s love.”
Gandhi said that the moral character of a nation is judged by how it treats its animals. It is also time that we, as a nation, not just give lip service to compassion. It will not only benefit our loyal companion animals, but also animals in the wild. It might even benefit our soul.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Kansas Science Standards

Woe it be to Kansas that ultra-Conservatives have once again taken the majority of the Kansas State Board of Education 6-4. Nearly six years ago, I wrote an article for the former Pitch Weekly, in which it was uncovered that the Creation Science Association of Mid-America (CSAMA) had a hand in re-writing the Science standards back in 1999(See the artilce at my website, under articles). After Kansas became the laughing stock of the country and the world, the Science standards were revised once again after moderates took back control of the board. Today, we find ourselves much in the same position in Kansas as we did in 1999. Only now, the ultra-conservative base has Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline on their side. They also feel they are in a better position, given the slight leaning of the right that the country is in today. In a flagrant flip off to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, Kline called all six conservative members of the Kansas Board of Education to his office, three at a time, to supposedly relay to them that if they wanted to place stickers on text books saying that evolution was a theory, he would support them in court. The Kansas Open Meetings Act requires meetings to be open when a majority of a quorum is present. Kline said he did not violate the act, nor the spririt of it because he had the members there to tell them his feelings. However, it isn't really known what was discussed in the meetings, since the meetings were closed. According to a report in The Kansas City Star, the Cobb County school district in Georgia placed these types of stickers on books in 2002. The stickers are now the subject of a court battle, as a federal judge ruled them unconstitutional because he felt the stickers sent a message that the school board agreed with the theory of creationism. While I agree that the theory of evolution is just a theory, it should still be taught in the science classroom and not downplayed. Creationism is also a theory, but has no place in the science classroom, as it is theological theory. I can remember being taught the theory of evolution in the 8th grade very clearly. A little confused because this was not the theory I had been taught in my church, I came home and asked my parents, who explained that scientists believe in the theory of evolution, but we, as Christians, believe in creationism. Case closed. I went to school and listened to my teachers, completed my worksheets and took tests in science on the theory of evolution. All the time knowing, thanks to my parents, that there is more than one theory on how humans came to be on this planet. It opened my mind to critical thinking and made me a better student at my university. The point is, that theological theories are taught in the home and should continue to be taught in the home today, if parents so choose. Science and theology can exist hand in hand, but they shouldn't co-exist in the public school system. If it did, then every scientific and theological theory would have to be presented, including UFOlogy. How many of the ultra-conservative base want their children to be told that some people believe the human race began as space aliens? And doesn't Kansas have anything better to spend their money on, such as providing adequate funding to schools in the first place?