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What have we come to?

What have we come to? Civil rights and liberties are facing greater threats, both potential and actual, from our own government and people than at any other period in my lifetime.

Threats to us are not necessarily abnormal or unusual in history. I lived through legal minority discrimination, World War II and the Cold War. Terrorists attacking us now aim not to simply blow up buildings, but to strip away our constitutional rights.

But for us to react by creating a climate of fear for an undetermined period, until we win the "war on terrorism," very well may be abnormal. Our attackers hoped we would react this way, and they are succeeding on all fronts.

The 14th Amendment provides protections for "persons" in this country, not only citizens, and that's the way it should be. People called "illegal immigrants" -- who are better described as "migrants" trying to travel to where the jobs are -- comprise one group feeling the horrors of U.S. economic and border policies.

It would seem that in the world of "free trade NAFTA" and, perhaps soon, CAFTA, a "free market" economy would allow not only business to freely cross borders in the name of capitalist democracy, but labor as well. There is no freedom of economic movement "south of the border" for workers to fill vacant jobs in the U.S. that other persons do not want.

When NAFTA was enacted, cheap labor in Mexico excited U.S. corporations to close their plants in Kansas and elsewhere and set up in Mexico. Mexicans found better jobs. Then even cheaper labor in Asia left Mexicans high and dry as the same corporations pulled up stakes and moved on. So where do Mexican laborers go? Where U.S. employers want them: here.

But instead, as my wife and I learned while we recently joined the second annual Migrant Trail Walk for 76 miles from Sasabe, Mexico to Tucson, Ariz., that's not possible. In fact, the humanitarians who aid these human beings (150 of whom have died in the last nine months) are arrested for their acts of mercy. They are citizens and practicing Christians being charged with felonies for treating sick persons in their vehicles and attempting to take them to hospitals. Americans "break the law" as they ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?"

And that's not all. Here in Colorado Springs, consider the following:

1) Six people, well known for their nonviolent activities, unsuccessfully sued the city after they were disallowed from protesting the police-government-military-NATO complex at the October 2003 NATO defense ministers' conference at The Broadmoor hotel. They were trying to express their First Amendment right of free speech.

2) At the same conference, Brian Hildenbrandt, a libertarian and local engineer, and his associate, Curt Curtis, were detained, searched, handcuffed, interrogated, photographed and finally arrested when the police claimed they were standing one foot within the temporary barricades set up to block entry to the hotel. The case against them was dismissed for "insufficient evidence," and now Hildenbrandt seeks vindication and out-of-pocket expenses from the city of Colorado Springs. That case, after more than a year, has yet to be decided.

3) Lastly, consider a U.S. Army specialist who recently was convicted on his own guilty plea of "intent to avoid hazardous duty," which constitutes desertion, because he is a Mennonite. He told the Army last February that he could not kill the enemy and inquired about earning conscientious objector status but never received it. He received four months in jail.

What has this country come to? I accepted two propositions at an early age: Christianity is about love, peace, mercy and justice, and the Constitution is our most precious possession, admired around the world. Now we are hated, and a new brand of neo-Christians and politicians are wedded together in a "Book of Revelation" scenario attempting to form a violent secular empire for themselves at our loss.

God help us! I am a Quaker Christian. The American Friends Service Committee is already on the "terrorist" list. Will I be next?

-- Bill Durland is a teacher, an attorney and director of the Center on Law and Human Rights. He lives with his wife, Genie, in Colorado Springs.


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