Letters to the editor

Justice wears a mask in immigration court

Recently, while waiting in a lobby of an immigration court, the attorney called for me to enter for the judgment. The case of a young Salvadoran and his wife had been quickly processed in this administrative courtroom. After hurriedly reading the court’s judgment, the immigration judge finally looked up, and he exclaimed to me: “Pastor, we are seeking to show a human face here at the immigration court!” It appeared that the judge was waiting for me to stand and to speak, but with my heart in my throat and tears on my face, I could not utter one word in that tense time of judgment.

In 67 years of loving my country, I have never stood before a judge, nor have I spoken to a judge, except as an interpreter. I have lived with high esteem for the law of the land. But I now feel that I must speak to the statement about “a human face.”

I have to say that I did not see “a human face” in the courtroom that day. Independent of the merits of the case, it was already 5:30 in the afternoon. The attorney was exhausted. The young couple were tired from waiting hours after their case was already supposed to have been called. They were frightened by the intimidating words that they would be deported on the spot if they did not accept “voluntary departure,” and would have to leave the country without their beautiful United-States-citizen child, who was with a friend in Asheville. I have to ask: Is it “a human face” to condemn a couple without even hearing a word of testimony from their lips? Would not “a human face” have allowed for another time rather than such a summary decision under the dust of a dying day?

I may be only one of the lonely voices in the United States of America, but I do not see “a human face” for any of us in many of the rules regarding immigration at this time.

1) Is it “a human face” when the government cuts off the labor supply, so that factories all over western North Carolina are moving to other countries? In Shelby, Hickory, Weaverville, and in many other cities and towns, is it “a human face” that puts both United States citizens and immigrants out of work, with apparent help from our own government [for employers] to move to other lands?

2) Is it “a human face” to cut off the flow of farm labor, when over 90 percent of all farm work in North Carolina is done by immigrant workers? Is it “a human face” to fill our land with farm products from other countries when these foods could be grown in American soil if the workers were permitted to be down on the farms?

3) Is it “a human face” when United States citizens can no longer marry the mates they choose? Is it “a human face” that bars the mate from our nation for either three or 10 years, if a citizen now petitions for an immigrant mate of his/her choice? Is it “a human face” in a democracy for a few congressmen to bring this upon us by avoiding a vote when the United States Senate had decisively extended INA 245(i)?

4) Is it “a human face” when an immigration judge can boast with impunity of the number of deportation orders he has signed in one afternoon, almost as if he were at a pigeon shoot just to see who could bag the most pigeons? …

5) Is it “a human face” to drop off detainees at the United States/Mexican border, miles out in the desert, to wander in the night just “to teach them a lesson”? …

6) Is it “a human face” that demands income, Medicare, property, sales and Social Security taxes from the immigrants, but denies them many of the benefits of these same taxes?

7) Again, I ask: Is it “a human face” for a strong nation to judge a weak Salvadoran couple after office hours and then brag about having “a human face”?

Americans, if we tolerate this kind of treatment of the immigrants, the judge one day may judge us, too, in the dust of a dying day, and even boast of having “a human face.”

— The Rev. Russell B. Hilliard Sr.
Hispanic Baptist Mission of West Asheville

Animal communication is for the birds

After reading “Hear Spot Talk” in your publication [March 18], I found myself … straddling two philosophies.

Since I consider myself to be open-minded, I could not dismiss Cathy Easterbrook and her neophytes as charlatans. I had to give this [telepathic] rapport with animals the benefit of the doubt. I decided to test it out for myself.

I sat down on the floor in front of my gorgeous mutt of a terrier, Ella. When I “asked” her how she was feeling, she ran to the door. Well, she was communicating something important to me: She had to go outside to relieve herself. (I also took into [account] that it was possible that she was “telling” me her opinion on the matter.)

I think it was very fortunate that the participants at this workshop … have found not only each other, but such free-thinking pets as well. And I hope Charlie the skeptic heeds the words of Nine Lives the turtle (“Clean thoughts create a clean world”). What kind of language had he been thinking in front of that innocent turtle, anyway?

I must say that I am very envious and would love to assign each of my pets a household duty. But as far as being able to “Hear Spot Talk,” I understood him much better when I could simply see Spot run.

— Michelle L. Hirsch

Campaign-finance reform can stop pork projects

Just two days before the U.S. House of Representatives passed their transportation bill on April Fool’s Day, they first killed campaign-finance reform. That cleared the way for their transportation bill, which contained $9.3 billion of highway demonstration projects. These projects are the “pork” projects for political patronage and entrenchment.

Highway demonstration projects are projects requested by members of Congress. They range in scope from paving a gravel road to building a multilane highway. While House proponents of these projects said, “It’s only 5 percent of the transportation budget,” and “If I don’t represent my district, who will?,” the General Accounting Office says these projects provide limited benefits:

• They are frequently not consistent with key transportation priorities, do not appear on state or regional transportation plans, and do not receive much scrutiny.

• They often have problems that cause them to languish in the development stage, [ranging] from threatened intrusion on wetlands to citizen opposition. One proposed project [the] GAO reviewed would have cut through a low-income housing project undergoing renovation with federal funds.

• They draw funds away from other major federal highway programs, such as interstate maintenance.

The 1987 transportation bill contained about 150 of these projects; the 1991 ISTEA (pronounced “ice tea”) act included 539; the new BESTEA bill contains 1,377.

A closer look at the numbers will make this more understandable. At a cost of $9.3 billion for 1,377 projects, the cost per project is $6.8 million. If evenly divided among House members, each of the 435 Representatives would get three projects for the district, or $21 million per Representative. What would $21 million pay for locally? [That’s] 10 times the annual amount the city of Asheville gets back from Raleigh to maintain all of its streets. [It] would pay the entire operating cost for the Asheville bus system for 10 years, if no fares were charged. Instead, bus fares were raised. And … at 5 percent of the transportation budget, these projects will cost $160 for a family of four.

Highway demonstration projects are to members of Congress [what] discretionary funds are to the North Carolina Board of Transportation — slush funds/projects for political patronage. And so, the Representative’s re-election fundraising can now begin.

Although campaign-finance reform may be a dead issue in Washington, the same is not true in Raleigh. In the short session of the General Assembly beginning in May, Sen. Wib Gulley is expected to introduce his campaign-finance reform bill, titled “The North Carolina Clean Election Act.” Sen. Gulley will be in Asheville to speak his mind on this bill and to answer your questions. The presentation will be held on Sunday, April 19, in the Lord Auditorium at 2:30 p.m.

— Pat Skalski

Skalski is a member of the steering committee of the Coalition for Campaign Finance Reform.

Help dogs by understanding them

Tension is high. Schedules are full. The cost of living is outrageous. How do we quiet down the background “noise” of constant living? How do we all get along?

We live in such a beautiful area, surrounded by mountains. We need not deny ourselves the natural things that help us appreciate life. We ought to look at our beloved animals as friends and teachers.

Our dogs can help. Their natural being tends to open our hearts, causing us to become less arrogant and more compassionate. As we begin to communicate with our dogs, we sometimes don’t know how. To use human verbal and physical abilities (manipulation, force, punishment, food, etc.) as tools of communication isn’t the best way to motivate and communicate with our dogs. Humans need to throw all those learned communication techniques away and develop nonverbal techniques.

Most of us don’t realize that dogs learn to behave by how people act — our posture, gestures, vocal sounds — not by what is said. For example, in the nonverbal world of dogs, calm signifies calm, action creates reaction, and silence equals silence.

The most glaring feature of behavioral problems in dogs is the lack of owner knowledge about what makes dogs behave the way they do, their genetic makeup, and their temperament. …

Dogs can be good neighbors, and we all can get along. It’s in a dog’s nature to want to please its owner. It is, however, unfortunate that when a problem occurs, the attention is focused on the dog, instead of trying to understand the cause of the problem. …

Concerning the “All Bark?” [Buncombe] County Commissioners report [from] their March 17 meeting, we must say that when approaching a problem (barking dogs), it’s best to go deeper and try to find the reason for the action before trying to change the dogs’ action.

For example, stress is one major cause of dog problems today. A dog’s ability to adapt to stress is influenced by the dog’s basic breed, temperament and environment. … [M]any times, the owner causes the problem by not understanding the mental makeup of his dog — its mind, sight, perception, levels of hearing, and the function of the olfactory system. Dogs also inherit reflexes that date back to their wolf ancestry. Certain reflexes can cause problems. Barking, digging, fence running, and not coming when called can all fall under the freedom reflex. There are also the defense, nourishment, investigation, and pursuit reflexes — all natural instincts. Not having adequate time to run and be free from their confined space is, [we] feel, the problem at hand. We can use the dog’s natural instincts as a tool to guide us to the solution.

[We] believe dogs can be good neighbors. We, as dog owners, need to take the time, have the energy, create an attitude, and be consistent in exercising our dogs. I challenge us to learn what makes our dogs tick. Rechannel our dogs’ natural instincts. Place basic obedience on them with fun, game-like exercises. Begin socializing them with other dogs and humans as puppies. This may be where the city of Asheville can help, by creating a dog park for the needed exercise these dogs are craving and the socialization they need.

We can do it! It takes time, understanding, and the desire.

— Marnie Hatter, Gail Hubbard

Hatter and Hubbard are certified dog trainers.

Face the real issues around AIDS

My dad and I loved to watch the TV show Dragnet together. My favorite line was when Jack Webb, the detective, would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” The article “WNCAP: A House Divided” [March 11] and some of the subsequent letters to the editor are not helpful to your readership, nor to those who work and live with PWAs (people with AIDS), nor to the PWAs themselves. What are the specific facts, not generalized comments or opinions?

Ms. Fullick wrote a story interviewing the same few people who have a variety of personal complaints, which they voice quite vociferously. What about the other 300+ people with AIDS in Buncombe County? What about the good work of many service providers, including Kenilworth Health Center, Loving Food Resources, congregation-based care teams, or the new organization which I helped start, AIDS Interfaith in Action? I wonder why interviews with staff and board members at WNCAP were not included. These folks have endured an incredible amount of stress for reasons that I believe are way beyond their control.

Here’s what I have seen. During the past few years, I have worked at the Kenilworth Health Center and WNCAP. I have also volunteered at Loving Food Resources and organized AIDS Interfaith in Action. One of the most instructive volunteer activities I have done is to start the Old Guys Group for men who are HIV+ and over 40. Each month for the past two-and-a-half years, we have met to talk for two hours and share a meal together.

As I listen to these guys, I hear these specific issues:

1) “I was diagnosed 10 years ago, and I didn’t expect to live this long. What am I to do with my life now?”

2) “I’m on SSDI, and I want to go back to work. If Social Security finds out I’m working, there’s a good chance I’ll lose my medical and financial benefits and never get them back.”

3) “I’m thinking about going back to school. How can I pay for that, what will I study, is there any support for me?”

4) “I’m tired of taking all these medications. Here are the side effects. What should I do?”

Other topics we discuss frequently include dating, intimacy, loss of loved ones, family, etc.

Some of these guys are in recovery, and most have lost partners to AIDS. … Several have been near death and are now doing well. Several others are experiencing substantial health problems. They do not complain about case management at WNCAP, nor delivery of health services at Kenilworth. They do complain occasionally about personalities at these agencies. They’ve organized letter-writing and telephone campaigns when the state’s Purchase of Care program for medications ran out of money. They grumble because of funding decreases that mean WNCAP has less discretionary money available for clients. But mostly we talk about how to live a life they didn’t expect to have.

And that, for me, points to the central crisis. Long ago, as an employee and contractor for the federal government, I learned not to place my life in their hands. The issue now is how to shift from a model of dependency on the government, or local AIDS service organizations, to a model of empowering one another to find work, go back to school, establish a supportive social and spiritual network.

Case management creates a dependency/counterdependency cycle. For those with alcohol- and drug-abuse problems or mental illness, Blue Ridge Center and 12-step programs can help. For those new to Asheville, WNCAP plays an essential role in finding resources. For those who need high-quality health care at low cost or free, Kenilworth is indispensable. (Many folks I know have come to Asheville because of our reputation for delivering excellent AIDS services.)

But for those whose health is good — and/or [those who] are in recovery from drugs and alcohol — the question is, “What’s next?” And we in Asheville don’t have a model yet. Bob Davis, a member of the Old Guys Group, is attempting to help our AIDS service organizations engage in a Future Search Conference to help us move to this new model of empowerment, not dependency.

As AIDS Interfaith in Action moves into its second year of operation, the synagogues, churches and other faith communities have specific and essential roles with PWAs. Maybe we begin with “job coaches” or mentors, who volunteer from these communities to help PWAs consider options for school and employment that don’t jeopardize health. From there, more systemic issues arise: how to secure challenging, good work that doesn’t threaten the benefits received from disability, or how to create a pool of resources so all PWAs who are employable can get off of government aid. Complex issues, but these are the “facts.”

The Old Guys are ready. The crisis is not about the complaints you wrote about WNCAP. The crisis has to do with developing new models that PWAs themselves gather around and envision and implement; ones that help everyone move from dependency to empowerment living a loving, productive life into the year 2000 and beyond.

— Bill Coolidge
AIDS Interfaith in Action

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