Thursday, January 13, 2011

Veterans and refugees

Hector Luis Ortiz Jr. is an Iraq War veteran. Curtis Krueger (St. Petersburg Times) reports how Ortiz ended up not returning to Iraq when he was home on a pass: "he stabbed a friend half a dozen times in the head and neck, according to police." That was in 2009 and the prosecution has decided to accept not guilty by reason of insanity as a defense. Ortiz suffers from PTSD. And the big question here should be why the US legal system recognizes Ortiz as not being of sound mind but his own unit commander didn't?

Steven Romo (KRISTV) reports
that Iraq War veteran Capt Leroy Torres is suffering from what's "being called this generation's Agent Orange": "lung disease caused by chemicals burned in pits". A registry is something that Leroy and Rosita Lopez-Torres are now working on. It should be noted that were it not for US Senator Jim Webb, the nation would already have such a registery. In October of 2009, then-Senator Evan Bayh appeared before the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee explaining the bill for a registry he was sponsoring, advocating for it. However, it never got out of Committee and that's due to Webb who most infamously, last year, verbally attacked the VA Secretary for awarding Agent Orange benefits to Vietnam veterans. The xenophobic and much-married Senator Webb felt that was a waste of money and that the federal dollar needed to go elsewhere thereby explaining that his opposition to the registry for Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was in fact over nothing but the issue of money: Specifically, he didn't want veterans with health problems receiving it.

The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360 -- and that is the correct link, the one in the KRISTV story is wrong. They are also on Facebook and Rosita Lopez-Torres shares her letter to US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison here.

Veterans are among the groups currently suffering, another is the Iraqi refugees. Asia News notes:

The plight of Iraqi refugees immigrants in Northern Europe continues, where authorities are pressing ahead with forced returns. Britain, France, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, in different ways and forms, see this as the “quick fix” to the drama of Iraqi asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Now the Iraqi government seems intent on finding a solution.

The Iraqi ambassador in Stockholm, Hussain al-Ameri, told Sveriges Radio that his country wants to put an end to the practice already condemned by the European Union. "The Iraqi government is ready to accept those who return voluntarily, but there are serious issues that concern forced repatriation," said the diplomat.

An agreement between Sweden and Iraq on the return of migrants came into force in 2008. Since then, about 5 thousand Iraqis have returned voluntarily, while more than 800 were sent back against their will, according to figures provided by the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet (SVD).

We'll return to the topic of Iraqi refugees later today in the snapshot.

The following community sites -- plus LAT and Military Families Speak Out -- updated last night and this morning:

Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "How The Purhepechas Came to the Coachella Valley" (New America Media):

THERMAL, CA -- Pierce Street sounds like an avenue in any city old enough to name a street after a nineteenth century president. In the Coachella Valley, though, Pierce Street is a narrow blacktop running through sagebrush and desiccated palms, across alkali-crusted sand. Heading toward the Salton Sea a dozen miles south of Coachella, the nearest incorporated town, Pierce Street passes the Duros trailer camp.
The desert here belongs to the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, a Native American tribe whose name for themselves is Mau-Wal-Mah Su-Kutt Menyil, or Deer Moon Among the Palms. In 1876, when the U.S. government recognized the tribe, Toro was the name of the local town here, and the Martinez Indian Agency administered the reservation. Hence the combined name of Torres Martinez.
The Duros trailer camp sits on reservation land, along with a sister trailer park, Chicanitas, on nearby Avenue Seventy. Together they create a unique situation. This small reservation is home to a few hundred Native Americans, that is, indigenous people whose land lies within the present borders of the United States. The reservation is now home also to a far larger number of indigenous Mexican migrants, P'urhépecha people from the Mexican state of Michoacan. Over 2000 P'urhépechas live in the two camps, and the number of migrants here rises to over 5000 during peak harvest in the surrounding fields.
P'urhépechas now make up a significant part of the workforce in the Coachella Valley, one of the oldest agricultural areas in California. It was in the valley's grape fields in 1965 that Filipino farm workers walked out on strike, leading eventually to the formation of the United Farm Workers. Today hardly any Filipinos are left in Coachella fields. The work they did half a century ago - picking grapes and lemons, and cutting lettuce - today is performed by indigenous Mexican migrants.
The trailers at Duros aren't in great shape. People came here looking for living space after Riverside County began requiring the demolition of tumbledown trailers in other, smaller settlements outside the reservation. Harvey Duro, for whom Duros is named, had a lease for land from the tribe, and the camp quickly grew as people were forced out elsewhere. Chicanitas expanded for the same reason.
Eventually Duros too was threatened with demolition, since its trailers were often in worse condition than those the County had condemned. In 2008 U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson ordered improvements to the trailers and the camp's infrastructure. California Rural Legal Assistance went to bat for the residents, advocating better conditions, but also opposing any demolition. In April 2009, Judge Larson agreed with them. Tearing down the trailers and relocating residents yet again "would create one of the largest forced migrations in the history of this state," he said, comparable in size to the internment of Japanese-Americans at Manzanar. A caretaker was appointed for the Duros camp, and today conditions are much better, according to Meregildo Ortiz, president of the P'urhépecha community of Coachella Valley.

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oh boy it never ends