Hey, At Least We're Not as Bad as Guatemala

Sergio Morales, Guatemala's human rights ombudsman, has a few thoughts about how this country treats immigrants, legal and otherwise.

Guatemala's top human-rights official is in town this week to meet with immigrants from the Central American country and push for an auxiliary consulate in the Dallas-Fort Wortharea, since the nearest one is in Houston. As that country's human rights ombudsman, who was elected by the Congress of the Republic, Sergio Morales investigates abuses (for a small country, Guatemala's legacy of wholesale massacres, torture and slayings--now 16 a day--is impressive) and makes recommendations to lawmakers.

On Sunday afternoon, Morales talked to Unfair Park about illegal immigration-- the problems it poses to the migrants themselves, to the U.S. and to his own country, as well as the onslaught of anti-immigrant measures passed in towns like Farmers Branch and proposed by Texas legislators. What he has to say is after the jump.

The continuous exodus of immigrants from Guatemala is a drain on the country's resources, he says, and in order to stem the flow, both governments will have to work together.

"The people who leave have been educated in Guatemala, have probably received healthcare and other services, and when they leave, Guatemala loses those resources," he says. "We lose some of the best people to immigration, not just delinquents, but hardworking people who risk everything to improve their lives and the lives of their families." The social costs include broken families, which in turn contribute to gangs, kidnapping and narcotraffic rings and violent crime, all of which plague his country. "It creates a national crisis, and the immigration problem won't get solved in the United States," he says. "Regional governments [including the U.S.] will have to work together on economic and social development reforms to improve people's lives."

That doesn't seem likely to happen soon, judging from policy taking shape on the national and state levels. President Bush recently approved construction of a 700-mile fence along the border, towns like Farmers Branch are passing measures making it difficult for illegal immigrants to work and rent apartments, and an onslaught of bills targeting immigrants have been proposed in Austin. Reports Time magazine:

Republicans began trooping into the state Capitol with stacks of bills aimed at cutting off benefits to illegal aliens, taxing their remittances south of the border, and requiring proof of citizenship at the voting booth. The harshest bill would deny welfare and other benefits even to the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens — rights supposedly given them under the 14th Amendment. Latino groups, who were only recently being wooed by Republican candidates, were left aghast at the onslaught, calling it "a hate campaign" against immigrants and "anti-human being" to boot."

Asked about such measures, Morales shook his head.

"Laws aiming to solve crime and other problems by making it difficult for people to live, work and have access to social services will only make those problems worse," he says.

He may be right, but judging from the crackdown frenzy, no one's really interested. --Megan Feldman

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky