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Immigrants Under Fire in Texas, South Africa

Alison Raphael

WASHINGTON- As thousands of immigrants to South Africa piled onto one-way buses home to escape widening anti-immigrant violence, civil rights groups in Texas deplored a new initiative they charge endangers the lives of immigrants and their families.0524 01 1

The new procedure would place U.S. Border Patrol agents at hurricane evacuation sites in the Rio Grande Valley to check the documents of those boarding buses, with the aim of ferreting out illegal immigrants. Those who can't produce citizenship papers would be put on separate buses, bound for deportation.

"This is a shocking and dangerous initiative, which will undercut the authorities' efforts to keep everyone safe during a crisis," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), an immigrants rights organization based in Washington, DC.

Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive cirector of the Asian American Justice Center, called the plan "unconscionable," since it may discourage immigrants from seeking protection during emergencies.

If immigrants fear evacuation and remain in place, the plan will endanger immigrant communities, as well as placing an additional burden on local agencies charged with evacuation, rescue, and relief operations, Narasaki added.

John Trasvina, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, pointed out that when emergencies strike many people don't have time to sort through their documents and bring them along. The Texas plan means that many U.S. citizens are likely to experience unwarranted harassment, he said.

Marguia announced that the National Council of La Raza has written to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff demanding that the new initiative be suspended immediately.

Coincidentally, the United Nations' special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, DouDou Diene, is currently on a U.S. fact-finding mission, although Texas is not on his itinerary. Diene's visit is being welcomed by civil rights groups around the country; a report should be completed by early 2009.

Xenophobia, defined by Webster's dictionary as "hatred of foreigners," is said to be behind the escalating attacks on Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans, Pakistanis and other foreigners in South Africa, along with the impact of sharp price rises for food and fuel.

Tensions over the presence of large numbers of foreign immigrants, which have simmered in the past few years and occasionally resulted in violence, boiled over last week, leading to at least 42 deaths when armed mobs attacked residents of immigrant neighborhoods and looted foreign-owned stories in Johannesburg.

The violence spread to Cape Town and Durban Thursday; at least one immigrant, a Somali, was killed.

Not unlike the United States, South Africans complain that immigrants deprive local citizens of jobs and absorb precious public resources.

A South African intelligence official Friday accused pro-apartheid elements of stirring up the anti-immigrant violence, suggesting a renewal of the pre-1994 alliance between far-right whites and Zulu workers to discredit the ruling African National Congress.

© 2008 One World

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