General Assembly 2012 Event 436
Maria Hinojosa believes we are living in a profound historic moment. Things are happening before our very eyes that are wreaking havoc with the core values of who we are as a country. As a journalist, Hinojosa has been able to see much of what is hidden in plain sight in the story of the detention and deportation of immigrants, both legal and not. What is of concern is not only the treatment of these human beings, but what this entire experience is doing to American citizens, their rights, due process and the core values of a free American society.
From NPR: For 25 years, Maria Hinojosa has helped tell America’s untold stories and brought to light unsung heroes in America and abroad. She is the anchor and managing editor of NPR’s Latino USA.
In April 2010, Hinojosa launched The Futuro Media Group with the mission to produce multi-platform, community-based journalism that respects and celebrates the cultural richness of the American experience. In addition, Hinojosa is the anchor of the Emmy-award winning talk show Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One from WGBH/La Plaza.
Hinojosa has reported hundreds of important stories—including the immigrant work camps in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, teen girl victims of sexual harassment on the job, and Emmy-award winning stories of the poor in Alabama—previously as a senior correspondent for PBS’ Now and currently as a contributing correspondent on PBS’ Need to Know.
Throughout her career Hinojosa has helped define the conversation about our times and our society with one of the most authentic voices in broadcast. As a reporter for NPR, Hinojosa told groundbreaking stories about youth and violence and immigrant communities. During her eight years as a CNN correspondent Hinojosa took viewers into communities that had never been shown on television. Her investigative journalism presses the powerful for the truth while giving voice to lives and stories that illuminate the world we live in.
Hinojosa has won top honors in American journalism including two Emmys, the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Reporting on the Disadvantaged, and the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Overseas Press Club for best documentary for her groundbreaking Child Brides: Stolen Lives. In 2009, Hinojosa was honored with an AWRT Gracie Award for Individual Achievement as Best TV Correspondent. Three times over the past decade, Hinojosa has been named one of the 100 Most Influential Latinos in the United States by Hispanic Business magazine. She has received the Ruben Salazar Communications Award from the National Council of La Raza and was inducted into the “She Made It” Hall of Fame at the Paley Center/Museum of Television and Radio in a program that honors women trail blazers in the media.
Hinojosa is author of two books including a motherhood memoir, Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and My Son.
Born in Mexico City, Hinojosa was raised in Chicago. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College at Columbia University in New York.
REV. PETER MORALES: Buenos tardes.
REV. PETER MORALES: There is no small amount of irony in my introducing this year's Ware lecturer, Maria Hinojosa, for Maria is so well known perhaps she should be introducing me. For 25 years, Maria Hinojosa has helped tell America's untold stories and brought to light unsung heroes in America and abroad. She's the first Latina to anchor a Frontline report, Lost in Detention, about deportation and immigration detention, aired in October of 2011.
REV. PETER MORALES: And that documentary sparked public engagement and conversation from Capitol Hill to mainstream media to the Spanish language media. It is a powerful documentary and if you haven't seen it, please make a point to do so. As the anchor and executive producer of her own long running weekly NPR show, Latino USA, and anchor of the Emmy award winning talk show, Maria Hinojosa One-on-One, Maria has informed millions of Americans about the fastest growing group in our country.
Maria has also won top honors in American journalism, including two Emmys, the Robert F Kennedy award for reporting on the disadvantaged, and the Edward R Murrow Award from the Overseas Press Club for the best documentary for her groundbreaking Child Brides, Stolen Lives. Maria, I am delighted and honored that you accepted my invitation to be the 2012 Ware lecturer. Bienvenida, esta es tu casa.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Thank you. You're right, I have been kind of talking for a while. 25 years. I guess, there you go, forever young. 25 years means I started when I was, what, three? Can you all see me? Because everybody, when they first meet me, they're always like oh my God, it's so nice to meet you, and you're so short.
So I'm sorry. I'll stand tall. I'm already wearing the four inch heels. We had a little reception and one of your people said, well, I love the style. I was like, OK. And somebody else said, how can you be talking about shoes at a time like this? I was like, you know, it's OK. I like my rockin' shoes.
It's great to be here. It's a total honor. Dia just thanked me once again and Peter thanked me. And it's just like, don't thank me, I am so honored to be here. To get to know all of you and see this part of America, to me, is an absolute joy. And I'm really happy to be standing on the side of love with you.
MARIA HINOJOSA: So, I'm really watching the time and I know that my words are up there, so I'm going to try to make—but I would urge to not read the words. Watch and listen. Because I want to be able to be very fluid.
So really, I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So much gratitude. [SPEAKING SPANISH]. I mean, my heart overflows that you would ask me, because what your invitation says is that you want to begin the conversation. That for me, that's already a major step forward, because you want to hear, you want to make the invisible visible, and for that, of course, I'm going to thank you.
In my life as a journalist, this core value of making the invisible visible is what moves me. As a young Mexican-American immigrant growing up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s and '70s, my story was invisible from the mainstream media. We were not poor immigrant Mexicanos who came to work the fields or factories. My father is a medical doctor who came to work and do research dedicated to the cochlear implant at the University of Chicago.
But in essence, what my invisibility from the mainstream did to me was to deepen my sense of not being a real part of America. And if I was invisible as the daughter of a doctor, what about all those people I saw in Pilsen, the Mexican barrio where we went almost every weekend to buy our food and to be in [SPEAKING SPANISH].
Now, this invisibility has consequences, especially when it continues in the media. But you see, it led me to think at that time that I could never grow up to be a journalist because there were none like me when I was growing up. After going to New York City, it's true, I really wanted to be an actress. It' didn't work out.
But I went to study at the all women's college, Barnard College, and I got involved with the college radio station. And I began to believe then that, in fact, I did have a voice. And that my American narrative was, in fact, important. And I began my career as a journalist. And I began to define what was important, what was at the core of my raison d'etre as an American reporter.
Now, already in my work, I was focused on the other, the outsider stories. The knowledge that I was the first Latina to be employed, for example, at NPR, then the first Latina correspondent at CNN, then as an anchor on PBS, made me realize that it was not just about my voice. I did, in fact, have the responsibility on my shoulders to represent an entire community in those editorial meetings. And as a young journalist, I assumed this role with gusto because I understood I had a seat at the table of the mainstream.
Now, at point in my career, when I was producing for NPR about the Salvadorian war in Central America, I stared at my green card. And I said, hmm, maybe one day, one border guard, one immigration agent might decide just not to let me back in. I was always proud to have my green card and equally proud to have my green Mexican passport. But now I had to think about becoming an American citizen.
So I studied. I thought about it. I thought about the constitution. And I learned the basics to prepare for my citizenship exam. Citizenship in the United States is a core value for me. I wasn't born here, so I take these duties and rights very seriously.
Now, many people accuse me of having an agenda and I want to deal with this head on. Because if you know me as a friend or as a coworker, you know that I deal with the truth. And part of that truth is that because I'm different, and because I was one of these firsts, and because of my core journalistic values, I do get accused of having an agenda. A pro-immigrant agenda, a pro-women agenda, a pro-Mexican agenda, a progressive agenda, and if they could see me, my critics might say I have a pro-short people agenda, too.
MARIA HINOJOSA: But, I am, in fact, a professional journalist. And that means I deal in the truth and in fairness and I do not judge. I report. I share the same values and quest for the truth as Edward R Murrow. I want to make the invisible visible. I want to give voice to the voiceless. I want to shine light where there is darkness. And I want to make my media consumers feel something through my reporting. And yes, I want to hold those in power accountable to the truth.
MARIA HINOJOSA: But the funny thing about it is that many people—my critics believe that I have an un-American agenda. So today, I am not advocating for anything. I'm not advocating for a specific policy, for a political party, for open borders or closed borders. I'm not here but to share the stories that are fact-based.
Stories that come primarily from a year long work in in-depth reporting for my one hour long Frontline documentary that aired on PBS, Lost in Detention. And the role of the Obama administration in defining this policy. Of course, you know that I've also been reporting on immigration since 1985, so I will be sharing these stories with you. They are all fact-based.
Now, is it crazy enough to believe that we all just lived through history last week when the President made his announcement about an executive order that limited—limited temporary protective status for immigrants, named by Obama, is the first major piece of legislation on immigration since 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act took place. Don't applaud. I'm sorry. I'm a critic of everyone and everything. So I don't believe—I am very happy that the President acted, but I don't believe that an act solves our problems. They are unresolved as of yet.
So today, I'm here to simply share stories, factual stories, of what I heard or saw during the time that we filmed the Frontline. Now, in these 25 years of my career, though, this Latino population has been exploding demographically, and it still is. The Latino demographic is one of the fastest growing demographic groups in our country. It's almost doubled in the last decade—43%. And not because of immigration, but because of US Latino births. Let me get back to the documentary.
When we filmed the documentary, we were the first group of American journalists who had this level of access to a large part of the daily workings of what has become immigration policy under this administration. Now, another fact that you should know is that this administration has overseen the highest number of immigrant detentions and deportations than any other in recent history.
Now, this was not a policy designed by the Obama administration. It was voted on and passed by your congressmen and women. At that point, Congress decided that money should be allocated to ICE, Immigration Customs Enforcement, to effectuate the deportation of 400,000 immigrants a year. The administration told us that there is no quota. But former ICE officials told me that if the numbers were not hire enough, then they would get called into Washington, DC and have to answer for that.
And why not deport 400,000 people a year? Republicans and some Democrats asked. We have 12 million undocumented people. We should be able to deport this many every year, no problem. At that point, they were not talking publicly about the issue of money. But this was happening at the same time that the private prison industry was beginning to grow. We'll come back to that.
What has happened under the Obama administration is that they have, in fact, carried out the laws that Congress passed effectively. They have delivered. What the Obama administration did not do was deliver on the President's promise to fix this issue. In fact, in his first campaign speeches, then candidate Obama pointed out that this enforcement only policy was having other impacts. Very real human consequences for many immigrants without green cards and immigrants with green cards. Immigrants like me.
So I guess I was smart when I decided to become a citizen. I'm sorry to say that if there are any of you in the audience who hold green cards, they offer very little protection. That's a fact. So I think you should really sign up for citizenship right away. And if you have friends who have green cards, please talk to them about this.
Giving up your citizenship is not easy. So it's important they understand that because of what's happened now with these laws, they really don't have any protection. And if they're your friends or family and you care about them, please bring this up.
But I bring this up because the reason why the stories I'm going to share with you matter to me, not because I'm a Mexican immigrant, but rather because I'm an American citizen. And because I chose to become an American citizen, this matters to me. So I want to give you these facts. And I want to let you do with those facts what you do in a democracy.
I suppose it is important to mention that another one of my core beliefs—again, not an agenda—is that I believe in democracy. And I believe in a democracy that is alive and vibrant and active, where everyone's voice is valued. So that's why I want to give you this information. To empower you with facts.
Let me detour for a moment for a story about what it was like when I was growing up in the 1960s on the south side of Chicago, in another divisive time in our country. And I remember hearing about a man named George Wallace. And I remember hearing this when I was in about second grade.
I didn't really understand what he was talking about, but I knew that he didn't like people like me or my best friend, who was Jewish. So one day walking home from school, she and I talked about where we would hide if George Wallace was elected. What basement we would hide in. Children are talking like that today, this many years later. And it shouldn't be happening.
But for me, my historical moment was that I was allowed to hear someone like Martin Luther King, a black man who made this little Mexican girl feel that my voice mattered even though I was not part of the majority. And so once again, thank you for giving me the honor to share the same pulpit that my American hero, Martin Luther King Jr. once had. Now, the Unitarian Universalists have been committed to this notion of making the other your own story. And I believe this, too, is a core of who we are as Americans. And yet, I will be told once again that this is the agenda that I have.
Can I only point to you to Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims who came with no permits or permissions or visas, truly the first undocumented immigrants, were prepared—it's the truth. And they were prepared to share a table with the people most unlike them, the indigenous Americans. And prepared to see themselves in the person most unlike them in order to save our country and to move forward. So yes, owning the other is not an agenda, it is part of our American history.
OK. So I'm going to ask you to really put your thinking caps on because a lot of what I'm going to tell you really is going to sound counter to conventional wisdom. It's going to sound really hard to believe. Although you are so educated on this issue that I know that for many of you, you already understand this. But for some of you this may be still quite foreign to you.
So what I want you to know is everything that I'm telling you actually I witnessed or I heard from someone. So this is all facts. There is another America that is operating parallel to this one. In fact, it is here in Arizona where these two Americas have come face to face. This is an America where people live in fear of any kind of authority.
Imagine looking at police officers and feeling fear because they have the capacity to tear your family apart. You don't understand that, as a child, the police will hand you over to immigration who will then separate your family. The point is, you fear the police all the time.
I met a woman here in Phoenix two years ago who told me that she couldn't drive her kids to school anymore after SB1070 was signed by the governor. And that if her American born son were to drive her to work, he would be arrested for smuggling his mother and she would be placed into deportation. That's what that fear looks like for a family, an American family. It's not a judgment, it's a fact.
Right now, people today, just blocks from where we're gathered, people are living in fear. So imagine if you're the victim of a crime. Would you dare report it? Can you imagine that happening in your town or in your neighborhood or in your city? You're held up at gunpoint and you don't tell anyone. Or you're raped and you don't tell anyone. Or you're burglarized and you don't say anything.
Is this really happening in our country? In fact, it does happen. Or here in Arizona, you'll be stop for a broken tail light and that will land you in jail for breaking state law, for driving without a license. You'll end up in an un-air conditioned tent that can get as hot as 139 degrees. Wearing pink underwear and pink socks to humiliate you and make it harder to run away. Is this who we are? Is this who we are?
This is also an America where double jeopardy exists. How is that possible? An America, also, where every night our government sanctions the misrepresentation of law enforcement. Where immigration agents who are not police wear outfits that define them as police. If you watch the Frontline, the opening shot takes place in Los Angeles. And all you see there are men wearing outfits with baseball caps that say police, jackets that say police, on the back it says police, and in little letters over here it says ICE.
Now, this is also an America where, if you're a detained immigrant, you do not, by law, have guaranteed access to a phone call or a lawyer or a chance to present your case before a real, live judge. Sometimes if you see a judge, it's only via video camera.
An America where your treated like a criminal even though you're not charged like a criminal. It's an America where a sector of people have been dehumanized. And I'm simply repeating what I was told by people who used to work in these detention centers, and solve the ultimate in real life dehumanization of people.
Of course, this happens in our country in other ways. All criminals are dehumanized and forgotten to a certain extent. But what happens that we must pay attention to is that this dehumanization is based on ethnicity.
So someone whose father was held in a Japanese internment camp just three hours from here, picked up when he was four years old, released when he was five, of course, she says that she finds this poignant, and that she's angry. This happened. Targeted for people, because we were supposed to be made safe by putting certain people away. And we're hearing that more and more.
Now, the role of an unfortunately undiverse media comes into play here. Again, this is not my opinion, it the facts. In terms of diversity in the mainstream media, while our country's becoming statistically more diverse every year, our media has not changed. In fact, there were more Latinos working in mainstream media, all parts of media, decades ago than there are now. More.
So instead, mild network CNN gave free reign to someone like Lou Dobbs to go on the offensive against immigrants. That's a fact. Every night, Lou Dobbs called them illegal aliens. He was allowed to paint a picture of the person Americans should fear the most, a Mexican immigrant.
I remember standing in the hallways of that same CNN where Lou Dobbs worked, and meeting the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust. This person, who is the most unlike me, was the one who taught me to question the use of the term "illegal immigrant." Those who accuse of having an agenda might believe that I chose as a journalist to question that because of some radical Latino, Chicano Studies professor in college. But in fact, it didn't happen that way. It was Elie Wiesel who said to me, do not use that term "illegal" to refer to immigrants. Why, I asked?
MARIA HINOJOSA: And Elie Wiesel said, because there's no such thing as an illegal human being. You may have broken an immigration law, in this case, actually, a misdemeanor. But that does not make you an illegal person. That's as if you've ever been stopped for speeding and given a ticket—does that make you an illegal driver forever? Right.
Wiesel are said there's no such thing as an illegal human being, and it's a dangerous term to use. Why, I asked? He said, the Nazis declared the Jews to be an illegal people. That was the beginning of the Holocaust.
For 25 years, I have been reporting on the issue of immigration. And yet, when I set out to report this Frontline, there were still things that I didn't know. Now remember, immigration law, factually, is more complicated than tax law. So I know if you're going to be a little bit confused by the facts that I'm giving you.
I laid out that scenario for you beginning—the fact that there's double jeopardy. The fact that there are law enforcement who misrepresent themselves. But beyond all of that, you have two legal systems in our country. One, if you're a criminal. And two, if you are an immigrant—another set of laws applies to you.
In fact, if you're a criminal, you have more rights afforded to you by law than if you're an immigrant. I know, it sounds strange, but it's true. So let me paint a picture of what this looks like. If you're a criminal, when you're arrested, you have your Miranda rights read to you so you understand who is taking you, why, where, what your rights are, that you can remain silent, and if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you.
We believe that these basic rights of due process are afforded to everyone, but they're not. And the only reason they're not is because of the fact that the other person was born in another country. Because you're an immigrant. Now, let me be clear. If you're an immigrant and you get caught committing a crime, you will serve your time for that crime in a correction setting, if you're found guilty.
But once you're done serving your time for that crime now, you will be moved into the immigration detention system. This is the separate system that I'm talking about. Let me put this into real life context for you.
So Immigration Customs Enforcement, ICE, allowed us to join them and film them when they went out one morning on what they call a fugitive operation. Fugitive Ops—Fug Ops is what they call it. This was to track down dangerous immigrant criminal fugitives. The ones who are stated as a priority for ICE. To make us all safe, they must get these people.
Now, what first struck me, I already mentioned this, is the fact that these officers were wearing "Police" everywhere, when in fact they were not. Now, this is of concern to me because, as I understand it, due process requires that law enforcement not misrepresent who they are. That it is unlawful to me represent yourself as police when you are not.
We were told that we were going to witness the rounding up of dangerous criminal immigrants that morning, and that these people were threatening. So to be honest, members of my team and I, we started to get worried. This was 4 o'clock in the morning when they had cited us to meet them in a parking lot of a Denny's in Los Angeles.
We thought we were going to see high level gang members, violent offenders, drug traffickers, dangerous immigrant criminals that needed to be removed from our country. And they told us this. We needed to stay back and watch out. Anything could happen.
It was 6:00 in the morning in East Los Angeles. The roosters were crowing in the backyards of the predominantly Mexican-American barrio. In the humble, but manicured lawns were the statues of La Virgen de Guadalupe and Jesucristo, adorned with Christmas lights, even though it was March. We witnessed that knock on the door. The agents did not specify who they were or what they were looking for. They did not say that they had a warrant.
What these heavily armed men wearing uniforms that said "Police" everywhere, what they did say was, we don't want to talk about this out here on your doorstep. Can we come inside to talk about this? We don't want to wake your neighbors.
In fact, people have the legal right to say no to these officials. But not knowing that, and especially Latinos who respect authority overall, let them in. And at that point, the agents then have the legal right to ask anyone in the house for their immigration status.
So how would you like it if you're awakened at 6:00 AM in the morning and a tax agent comes to your door. But instead of wearing a uniform that says the "Tax Agent," he's wearing one that says "Police." Or if the child welfare agent came to your home on a failure to pay alimony or child support, but instead of identifying themselves as that, they're wearing police insignias. And you let them in without being told that, in fact, you have the right not to let them in. How would you feel, as an American, if this happened to you or to one of your children? Or one of your neighbors?
Now, the two men—these dangerous immigrant criminals we were told that were being rounded up were not, in fact, drug dealing gang bangers at all. They were men in their late '50s, overweight, moving sluggishly. They worked as gardeners. One had a DUI from 20 years ago. Another had a moving violation where someone was injured. Both men had served their time as punishment already.
But they were at the top of this administration's list, the hit list of threatening immigrants who needed to be deported immediately. Are we all safer now because they've been deported, leaving American-born grandchildren behind? So when these men and women and young people are detained, this is where the different legal system kicks in. Because this is civil immigration law.
They don't have access to a lawyer who can help them to understand what's just happened. You only get a lawyer in this case if you can afford one. You are held in our country and you don't have access to a lawyer. You need to take a moment and sit with that, because we are all convinced that due process in our country means you have access to a lawyer no matter what, if you can't afford one. Not in civil cases involving immigration.
Now, here's another of these parallel realities that exist for you, that I'm going to lay out for you. United States of America has the largest prison population in the world. These are criminals who are held in prison, in corrections settings. But immigrants who are detained for immigration issues are held in a parallel universe. A universe called civil detention.
And now, the United States of America has the largest population of civil detainees in the world. The men we watched being rounded up were, in fact, not been held for their crimes. They were being held for their immigration status. They were civil detainees, not criminal inmates.
In fact, you call them detainees and not inmates. It's another one of these concepts that we have to begin to wrap our heads around. Because the problem is, we actually don't have a system set up in our country to run civil detention. And we have the largest population of civilly detained people in the world.
Dora Schriro, who was once the commissioner of corrections here in the state of Arizona, and is now commissioner of corrections in New York, and who's an academic, says, you can't run one with the philosophy of the other. One is corrections and one is holding people for processing. One is corrections and the other one is processing. And yet, all the immigrants who are held in civil detention are dressed like inmates, are housed like inmates, are treated like inmates, even though they're not.
So what would you think if your son or daughter, who failed to pay her child support, was housed in an open population, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, with no privacy whatsoever? How would you feel about that? How would you feel about the fact that your son or daughter could be subjected to double jeopardy?
I know, it's confusing, but here goes the story. It goes like this. We met a man who lived in New York City who had been in this country since he was 20 years old. Came from Jamaica with a green card. He was 22 years old, it was the height of the drug trade in New York City. He was arrested, charged, and he served a sentence. But after two years, 20 years ago, he never had a problem with the law.
He, too, was targeted as a criminal immigrant who needed to be removed because of threat. He said, why are you taking me, I already served my time? They said, too bad. He said, but I have a green card. They said, too bad. He said, but I haven't done anything wrong. Too bad. Double jeopardy is alive and well in America. Is this who we are? Really
OK, I'm sure you're reeling a little bit right now because this is very confusing, and a lot of it is basically going to the core of some of the basic rights that we assume we have. So we have a separate and not equal legal system. We have a separate and not equal system of detention. We have double jeopardy.
You have officers misrepresenting who they are. You have people holding you and not explaining to you clearly why you're being held. Where you don't have access to a lawyer. Where you may not even see a human judge, only through video. Where you're awakened in the middle of the night and taken from your home, and yes, disappear sometimes for days.
This is the other America. But it is a factual one. Not based on my opinion, but on facts. The question for you is, what do you think about this? I know that as an American citizen, I expect due process to be upheld in every circumstance. And here is my opinion. Yes. I believe, I worry, that if due process can be denied to some people in our country, then it becomes easier for that due process to be denied to me, or to someone I know.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Who is this new America? Have we, as a country, in fact, been afforded the facts to look at this, study it, and say, yes, this is what we want. We do believe that immigrants should be treated differently. People who are not born here are subject to an entirely different set of questions. Unfortunately, my friends, without this dialogue, it only gets worse. Because we don't talk about it, because we don't know about it.
OK. So remember how I mentioned that accountability was one of those core issues for me? And how important accountability and oversight is. Because here's another problem where due process is denied these immigrants in civil detention. There is no oversight, because many of these detention centers are privately run—the federal government pays a private company that runs it less expensively.
So now, these privately run corporations have a financial motive to keep these detention centers full. They have to be able to report a profit to their shareholders. You all are shareholders in other companies. You know that you want whatever investments you have to report a profit. A return on investment. But the only thing is that, here, they make a profit out of a body in a cell.
There's a lot of money to be made in detaining immigrants. Just look at the numbers. We taxpayers pay over $100 to privately run companies that take care of housing this exploding population. Taxpayers have paid billions, millions of dollars to these companies. But because they're private and they don't have the same strict government regulations, they can skimp on the quality of the workers, because they pay lower wages. On the food, on the dentists, on the health care.
And because they're private, they don't have to open their doors to people like me who are journalists. And because we don't have a thorough and proper detention system, there are no legally binding standards for the immigrants who are held. So no legally binding standards.
That's another one of our basic due process—accountability. Being able to sue for your rights. But it's complicated. These people in these privately run detention centers have no legally binding standards. No one is held accountable for when they're abused.
So what did we see in Raymondville, in Texas? We saw a place that because—I mean, actually, it kind of reminds me of this space. Except that imagine that this was multiplied like two or three times. And this space would be divided up into rooms, like into quarters. So no windows. And only at the very top of a ceiling about this high there was a skylight with gates.
And the hallways extended and extended of rooms where immigrants were being held. I had never seen anything like this before. And that was considered the better area to be housed.
In Willacy, they started with 10 circus tents with no windows. These are tents where people are supposed to be held for two to three days, and people were held for two years. No windows. In circus tents, of course. The one little window that they did have had a red line of tape around it. And you were not allowed to step beyond that red tape. So you were punished for wanting to look out the window.
I was so shocked in the women's detention tent that we saw. And this was one the Department of Homeland Security had prepped for us to visit. It had a complaint box that was nailed shut, so there was no way to put a complaint inside. What? And they let us in and we filmed it?
Imagine that this is a place where there was no clean drinking water. The water from the tap was sulphuric. So every time—imagine, every time in the desert in Texas in that tent, you'd be thirsty, you would have to go to the guard and ask for a cup to drink water. And maybe that guard would give you the cup, maybe not. No TV, no windows, no books. Warehoused.
When we walked inside Willacy, we were separated into a room, and we were lectured by representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Customs Enforcement. And my friends, another level of complexity is that many of the people who are running these detention centers are Latinos and African-American. It's true.
Now, a woman named Maria who grew up in Austin, Texas, and was a single mom, and who never knew that she was undocumented, and who ended up getting detained, she was the one who told us that she was sexually assaulted in that tent by a female guard. Now, I know that this is going to sound horrible. Beyond been sexually assaulted by the female guard who was there to take care of her, she talked about the boredom and mental pressure. So much so that they gave the rats names. That's how we entertained ourselves. We gave the rats names.
She said that they would run out of toilet paper. They would run out of pads for women. And that they would have to plead for more. And sometimes they simply ran out and the guards didn't care. She said that when they smelled food being cooked that they knew that outside monitors were coming to visit. But other than that, they were hungry most of the time.
Our whistleblower who worked inside told the story of how she didn't believe the complaints about the food. And so to prove it, one detainee once came into her office and said—carrying a wrapped up napkin that he had been able to steal from the food plate. Opened up the napkin to her and said, this is what we had for lunch. And there were live maggots in the garbanzo beans.
This is our country? Where Commissioner Dora Schriro, when she visited Willacy, she was so taken aback by the depression and the gauntness of the detainees, that she immediately had them all weighed. Compared to their time of entry weight, and to the time that they had been there held, each one of them had lost at least 10 pounds. It's not that people were fed bad food. They were hungry.
And the thought of people who are not criminals being held by my government, in windowless rooms, with no drinking water, asked to wear—or forced to wear stained underwear, unwashed clothes, dirty sheets. This reality raises core issues about due process denied. And what that means to me as an American.
Now, understand that even if these detainees wanted to complain, there's no way for them to sue. So we heard stories of women detainees who were raped by guards. And when they complained about it, they were simply deported the next day. That's the perfect solution, isn't it?
You assault a detainee, beat them up, rape them. They don't speak English. You get the detainee pregnant. And if she complains or threatens to complain, you simply deport her. Case closed. What happens? Case closed.
The Canadian woman who we interviewed for our Frontline, overstayed her visa from Canada and was picked up for a traffic violation, and then was found that she had bounced a $200 check. She was sexually assaulted by a guard more than once, who told her, I know you like it. And when she asked another guard if she should complain about this, that other guard said, don't do it. It'll be worse for you.
Where is this America where you're told not to speak up? Isn't this like our basic core of our right as Americans that we speak up? And yet, day after day, these invisible immigrant detainees are being silenced and censored.
Now, I've never told this story before in public. But because I wanted to base my speech on facts, I decided it was time. The young woman who I told you about—thank you. The young woman who I told you about, who was detained and sexually assaulted. A single mom from Austin. The one who told me about the rats. [INAUDIBLE]. She was not very smart. Doesn't mean that somebody who's not very smart or sophisticated should be detained. But she had a certain humbleness about her and simplicity.
So she began to tell me this story about what would happen in those circus tents when they would find lice or a bed bug. She said, you know, then, what they would do is they would take all of the bedding, all of the pillows, and they would put it into a big pile. And they would strip us all down of everything. They would put everything into a big pile and take it away.
And she said, and then all the women would be standing naked in line for the showers, which were all in the open. And this woman said to me, you know, Maria, there was this movie I used to watch when I was a kid. I felt like I was in it. Did you ever see Schindler's List?
Our America. I don't even think she understood the whole context of Schindler's List, but the thought that she could say, I felt like I was in it, of course, I have to tell you these stories. This is my job. That's the immigration detention story.
The other part of the story is what's happening here in Arizona. What will be decided on withing a matter of hours, really, when the Supreme Court will more than likely ratify all or parts of Arizona SB1070. Legal scholars say this will federalize racial profiling, specifically against Latinos. But generally, against anyone who looks or sounds foreign born.
What does that mean when we're a country now where we have more non-white births than white births? And so racial profiling, though, is allowed. So from my side, what this looks like is that, when I was packing to come down here to Arizona, I hadn't been since SB1070 was first signed. And my daughter reminded me then that I needed to bring my passport. My New York driver's license is not going to do me any good here if I get stopped.
But how many of you said to yourselves as you were packing, hmm, let me bring my passport because I'm going Arizona and they might ask me to prove my citizenship? I bet few of you. I'm sure that, I think it was probably few of you.
But you see, now we have these two Americas where suddenly, one part of our population believes that at any time, anywhere, yes, us Latinos know now, that the target is on us. It's [INAUDIBLE]. So anywhere, any time, any state, any law enforcement officer can ask us to prove who we are. Are we real Americans? And where we have a part of our country that has no concept that this is even happening.
Now, the thing is is that this core issue of the questioning of some people doesn't just happen to those people. What we have to realize is that it's happened to all of us. It's impacted you, and your rights, and your due process, and your tax dollars. And in fact, your own identity. How?
The ACLU has reported that in Alabama, it would take a locally trained law enforcement about 80 minutes to locate your name in the federal registry. So if by any chance you are stopped and all you have is your driver's license, you're going to have to prove that you're a US citizen. Now imagine being on the side of the road in Alabama, with a local police officer from Alabama, and waiting for the computer to kick in to say, yes, you are an American citizen. But for 80 minutes, you don't know what the answer might be.
So maybe right now some of you are thinking, wow, how would I prove that I'm an American citizen? How would I prove that? And by the way, where is my birth certificate? And so now, the immigration issue has affected you.
Do you see that? That now you're thinking, oh my god, I may have to at some point. And thinking that it's OK? Now we have all been impacted. Not just immigrants. All Americans are changed by this. What does it mean to live in a democracy where you have a separate and unequal and parallel universe?
And what does it mean when we have the highest ranking Latina in the Obama Administration, who won a Genius Award for her work on immigration, and who, when I asked her just about a year ago if she had ever visited an immigrant detention center, and she said no. Why? Why do we not want to see? Why do we not want to see this? We have to see it. We have to make the invisible visible.
Now, I believe that we do, in fact, have the capacity to create this new America together. And I think it's important in our journalism to deal with this issue of change and fear. And so, in my work with my television pilot—shameless plug, September 21. I know you're all going to be watching. It's the first time that a Latina executive produces and anchors a news program for PBS in history. So I'm really proud of it.
MARIA HINOJOSA: And we ask, because I'm not afraid to ask anything, we ask should white America be afraid of becoming a minority? And the answer that we get from our expert is, only if minority continues to be defined the way it's always been defined. As powerless, disenfranchised, isolated. We can change the definition of minority. We can change this America.
All right, I'm watching the time. Let me see what I can do. How much more do I have? All right. OK, good. We're good. OK. So for that piece that's going to run on PBS on September 21—because I really, I love this America. I do, I totally adore the America where I can see all of you. This amazing diversity. And it's really unexpected what's happening. And when you really get beyond the fear it becomes exciting.
So in this place, which is one of the statistically most diversity in the United States of America, and it's actually 10 minutes south of Atlanta, Georgia, here I meet a Somali refugee who is an official refugee, but not yet a citizen. Who loves Obama. Whose best friend, who's a Christian—they're both in the same Christian church—is a Tea Party member of the city council. Black and white. Best friends, hold hands, walk arm in arm everywhere. And the Somali woman became Diane's campaign manager. And got her elected. And they're best friends.
That's the possibility of our new America. And I asked them, I was like, do you try to convince each other of your political views? They're like, we're sisters. We give each other the space to have different political views. That's a moment where I'm like, this is something we can celebrate.
Or the story that I heard just—two days ago? Two days ago in Chicago, at the Illinois Institute of Technology where Latino USA is doing a story about a woman who actually has the position, holds the position to be the undocumented student liaison. Officially, at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And I mean, it's amazing, but it's true. True story.
And I met this kid, a dreamer. And I said to him, explain to me—he said, I always knew that I was different. I always knew that I was undocumented. I understood this from a very young age. A lot of kids don't. I said, well, explain to me how your parents talked to you about this. He said well, maybe the best way to explain it to you is how the teachers talked to me about this.
And I said, what did they say? They said, well, the teachers growing up here in Chicago would say look, you're going to have job opportunities that are going to be offered to you as a result of your education, but you're not going to be able to take advantage of those job opportunities because you're undocumented. So you have to love learning just to learn. It's not going to get a job.
And this kid, little geeky kid, was like, I love learning. I love it. I want to be an engineer, and I like to solve problems, and I'm working on environmentally safe power, and this. And he's like, learning for learning's sake. There are truly uplifting moments and stories that give me the strength to do what I do.
So I'm going to end by telling you one last story. I tell this story almost in every speech because it's true. So I was in New York City after September 11. And I was working for CNN. And as you know, in my journalism, I try to make the invisible visible. And so after 9/11, I knew that there were undocumented immigrants who were going to be—who were victims of the tragedy of September 11.
And so we found Julia Hernandez. And she was the widow of Antonio Melendez, with her four children. Antonio worked at Windows on the World. And we did this story on CNN where we hung out with Julia. And it was one of those beautiful moments. People from all over the country—it was when really understanding that what happened, that tragedy there was something that created this extraordinary unity.
And I remember seeing all of the tourists coming into New York. And I'd be like, waving at them on the buses. Because it was like you were coming to us. You were us. Those divisions in our country suddenly went away. In some cases. At that point, of course, there were other people who were targeted. Mexicanos and other immigrants. It was Muslim and Arab men.
But anyway, we put this story of Julia, the undocumented widow of an undocumented American hero. And that was two days after 9/11. December of 2011, I'm in my office and I get a phone call. And on the other end of the phone I hear this voice. (SOUTHERN ACCENT) Hello, Miss Hy-na-jo-sa? Hi, my name is AJ Dinkins. Is this Miss Hy-na-jo-sa?
I'm like, yeah, kind of. Miss Hy-na-jo-sa, listen, I just have to tell you, I am originally from South Carolina, but I live in Augusta, Maine. And I want to let you know that myself and Rudy, my partner, the farmer, we have raised several thousand dollars in our church for Julia Hernandez and her four children. And I would like to know, Miss Eena-ho-sa, if you would please meet me at the airport because I have never been to the Bronx. I have never been to New York. And I'd like to take Miss Julian Hernandez her gifts for Christmas. Would you meet me at the airport?
I said, AJ, I'll be at the airport, but I'm coming with a camera crew to do the story about the day the gay hairdresser from Maine came to give gifts to the undocumented immigrant family in the Bronx.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Wait, wait. It gets better. So AJ, he's a hairdresser, it was Christmas time, he dyed his hair red. So I go get AJ and I pick him up at the airport. And we film him as he gets to the Bronx. And you know, AJ, at that time, Maine really was homogeneous. There were no Mexicanos there. And so AJ had never met any Mexicans in 2001.
And Julia had never met a white gay man that she didn't work for. So there they were. And I really didn't know what to expect. But my god, it was a love fest. It was a total love fest. And they barely spoke the same language. But everybody was hugging and kissing and there were tears and presents. And it was really moving.
And AJ said, oh my gosh, I love this family so much. I want to bring them to my farm in Maine. I want then to come visit. And I thought, you know what, we'll see if that happens. Six months later the phone rings and there's AJ. Hey, Miss Maria. Listen, I want you pack up your husband and your kids because I want you to come on up to Maine because I have invited Julia Hernandez, her four kids, plus a cousin, to come and spend a week up in my farm in Maine. Will you come?
And I said, AJ, my friend, I will be there. I'm not bringing my husband and my kids, but I'm bringing a camera crew. Because I'm going to do the story about the day they gay hairdresser and his partner, the farmer, invited the undocumented Mexican immigrant family to their farm in Maine.
Now, there we were in Augusta, Maine, this motley crew. Rudy, the farmer, is six foot four, in overalls. AJ with now blonde hair. My cameraman, who's a hippie with his ponytail. My African-American sound tech, 250 pounds. Myself. Julia. The four kids. Plus a cousin. And we were all together in Augusta Maine. And people were like, what is going on? Who are these people and what are they doing here? And why are they so happy?
Because all the borders, all the discomfort, all of that was gone. It was only about these kids, and making them feel just a little bit better, because the one year anniversary of their father's death was coming. And so, to me, when I think of the capacity of who we are as a country, I think of what happened with AJ and Julia. Because I believe that in our core, our fellow countrymen and women, and those who are in our country who are not our fellow countrymen and women officially, I believe we all share this core capacity to see ourselves in the person most unlike us.
If we just take the time to talk, to see the invisible, to engage, to call on our strangers who we hear saying negative things about others. When they're talking, using not nice language. When we get out of our comfort zones and we are prepared to speak from love. Yes, standing by the side of love. With caring .
When I leave here later today, at some point, I am going to be looking for people who support SB1070. I want to know who they are. I want to know. And I want to understand their fear because you know what, in this state, the numbers are not on their side. The numbers are not on their side.
But anyway, I think of this picture that I have of AJ with his American flag T-shirt, beautiful, pristine Maine lake. I get why the Bushes like Kennebunkport. Oh my god, I love Maine. And there he is sitting, and on one side he's Julia, and the other side he's got me. That's my image of who we can be as America. That's my image. And we can do it together. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you so much for your work and for standing on the side of love. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I want to hug you.
REV. PETER MORALES: I told Maria before she spoke that she could only be the Ware lecturer if she promised not to run for UUA President.
REV. PETER MORALES: This is why we are going to be bearing witness tonight.
REV. PETER MORALES: And next week and next month and next year. This is why we stand on the side of love. There's a worship starting here at 7:00. Go grab something and be back. Thank you very much.
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Last updated on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.
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