Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Border Wall - “La Lomita Chapel Speech"

“La Lomita Chapel Speech"

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Remarks of Representative Aaron Peña
Mission, Texas on the banks of the Rio Grande River

I want to thank everybody who organized this event. This is a wonderful, a wonderful opportunity for us to send a message to Washington and to the rest of the community that we’re united in our opposition to this wall.

It is a scar across our community and it does no one any good - our relatives, our family members, our friends, and our business partners. They all - we - need to maintain our relationship with them.

And it is particularly important; it is particularly appropriate, that we have this gathering here at La Lomita Chapel. I did a little background on the chapel. And what I came to find out is that a French merchant once owned this land. And when he willed it upon his death to the Oblate priests, the specific language of the will said that the purpose of the land was for the propagation of the faith amongst the barbarians… (Laughter) …not the priests… I guess they were talking about us…

But, today it is we the children of those teachings and this community who will remind the world of the principles of that faith and raise the question of who are the real barbarians.

This chapel is a symbol of the endurance of this community and a symbol of our values and our faith. Interestingly enough in a few days this country on Sept. 17 will be celebrating a day called “I am an American Day” its now called “Constitution Day.” This day is supposed to focus on the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. The choice of Sept. 17 is reflective of the fact that on that day the U.S. Constitution was signed by the delegates.

Now one of the things I chose to remember as an American is that 20 percent of those signees were not from this country. They were actually born in another country. And if you were to look at their parents or grandparents that number even goes higher.

This country has from its very beginning been a symbol and a beacon of liberty; a symbol of a free and open society and unfortunately this wall does not serve those principles.

And so if we are going to stand here in the next couple of days and talk and be reminded of being an American, we need to remember as Americans, those moral and foundation principles. Those principles were deeply rooted in the religious traditions of our founders. Because those founders would be quick to remember that our Bible told us that the number one rule we are guided by is … love your neighbor as yourself. In fact the Bible more specifically says in speaking to Gods people… “that you shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt”. So when our founders found this country, when our biblical writers wrote our religious traditions they found that we need to respect each other and to love one another. This wall does none of that.

Now unfortunately this is a symbol that is communicated not just here in our community not just in our country, but also around the world. The former President of Mexico called it “shameful”. The President of Argentina called it “offensive.” The Vatican condemned it has “inhumane.”

What makes the U.S.-Mexican wall so offensive is that it goes so far beyond what is reasonable in combating drugs, smuggling and terrorism. If anything it assists in the proliferation of some of those problems. It makes us look like a fearful people who no longer value liberty and relations with our business partners and our friendly neighbors.

In speaking of the Berlin wall, initially constructed on this month many years ago, Ronald Reagan called that wall, “a brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world.” That’s what this fence would be; it’d be a scar across our community. It would be something that divided our friends, our business partners, our relatives and another country with whom we have good relations.

This country was founded upon ideals of freedom and opportunity. Unfortunately fencing sounds good to an electorate that is rightfully frustrated by more than a decade of failed immigration policies. The reality is that calling for a political fence provides a political smoke screen for a government that has been ineffective in finding solutions. In this place that reminds us of our foundations of our religious and political principles let us not allow fear to be our guiding light.

Historically you will see that from Hadrian’s Wall, to the Great Wall of China, to the Berlin Wall, to the Antonine Wall…all of them failed in their original purpose. The reality is, if people want to come over here to work or if we seek people to come over here to work, they are going to make it here. The reality is that one third of the unauthorized residents in this country do not climb over a wall, swim across a river, they simply over stay their visas.

A wall is unfortunately going to stop farmers and ranchers who need legitimate access to water.

Recently an Associated Press story, talked about the difficulties of maintaining the wall in San Diego. And unfortunately they have teams each and every day that go out to repair holes in the wall. Some estimate that over time the maintenance of the wall may reach the expense of constructing the wall. When it comes down to it the total cost of the fence is going to be as high as 8 to 7 billion dollars. This wall is nothing more but an 8 billion dollar, feel good, legislative hug that makes some people feel better but serves us no good.

This scar is symbolic of everything that is wrong from our world’s past. History tells us that that we have tried to create walls to contain our fears, to contain people that we saw as our enemies, but ultimately these failed. These people are our friends, our family, and our neighbors not our enemies. What is unfortunate is that these walls appear to be the manifestations of invisible walls that we are creating within ourselves in this country. We are distancing ourselves from our neighbors. The bottom line is that bad fences make bad neighbors.

Like our moral ancestor Joshua, who when he was confronted with the Jericho Wall he asked, if you remember your Biblical teachings, that everyone shout in one loud united voice to bring down that wall. So on this day, like our ancestor before us, we ask in one united voice -- Mr. President do not build this wall!

Thank you all very much.

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