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One last look at some tales of 2000


All crafts have their quirks and limitations, and journalism is no exception. One limitation is that the story really isn’t over until one’s heard from the readers, and a quirk is there are always more good stories than any one writer or publication can get to.

With both thoughts in mind I’d like to return to a trio of tales I told last year and pick three letters from the couple of dozen I received. The stories were the scandal of the U.S. Congress’ cruel mandates governing immigrants and asylum seekers, published last Sept. 29, and religious orders working in the Mississippi Delta (Sept. 22) and nuclear reactor relicensing (May 26).

On immigrants, Noreen Sullivan provided a capsule report on the work being done by the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border Program in San Diego.

Volunteer Sullivan writes that after the 1996 Immigration Act’s teeth began to sink in, a local support group (Citizens and Immigrants for Equal Justice) was formed for and by the families of legal permanent residents and those detained or deported.

The families themselves run the program. Its prime focus is to overturn the 1996 law. For those equally incensed about this terrible legislation Sullivan reports there’s a video available for colleges, libraries, church groups and others. Contact Sullivan directly at borderwitness2@juno.com.

Anne Brooks, a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, is in her 18th year as a country doctor to the 1,400 mostly African-American residents of Tutwiler, Miss. There are four other women religious in Tutwiler, and three doctors for the entire county. Brooks wanted to reinforce the accounts of the deprivation that exists in off-the-beaten-track America.

She wrote after reading our Mississippi Delta cover story, in effect saying there’s plenty of stories down here. “Some of my patients go all the way to Tunica to work [in the casinos], six hours of bus travel in addition to the eight-hour shift.” Her worries include: Who cares for the kids when their mothers are gone so long? She answers, “In some cases my elderly patients come in dragging two and three toddlers with them, totally worn out from trying to keep up with them, all too often just letting them watch TV and yelling at them -- so much for infant stimulation and brain development.”

Local day-care programs did open “with great hope,” she writes, “but slowly died as the aides quit because they weren’t getting paid. Why, you wonder.”

Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and self-pay provide only one-quarter of Brooks’ medical facility’s $1.2 million annual budget. “We rely on donations, $800,000 in donations annually to stay open and provide medicines and services.”

She closes with a cameo of life in the Other America that is an editorial in itself, and the reason NCR goes to such places.

Sr. Maureen Delaney (a fellow Sister of the Holy Names who is president of the local Habitat chapter, which can only afford to put up one house a year) runs the Tutwiler Community Education Center, housed in a refurbished car dealership.

When the sisters and volunteers were putting the finishing touches to the center, writes Brooks, “I noticed an elderly lady just sittin’ and sittin’ in the hall. After about an hour and a half I got concerned and went over and said, ‘Are you OK?’ ”

“Oh, yes, ma’am,” the woman replied. “I just never been allowed to sit in a place this beautiful before.”

To those many NCR readers whose strong social justice beliefs match their ability to do regular Elderhostel or Summer Listings jaunts, Brooks adds another possible venue for a less structured experience.

“Y’all come down and visit,” she suggests. Sr. Anne can be reached at: sabrooks@gmi.net.

On nuclear reactors, letter writer James T. Dette spent much of his professional life supervising site safety for proposed nuclear reactor sites. He took issue with elements of my story (about aging nuclear reactors having their licenses extended for 20 more years without the public even being aware of it).

Dette’s critiques were on some underlying assertions. His most valid certainly was when he wrote that “the ambitious plans for nuclear power were not scuttled by the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 but by the oil embargo in 1973 which spawned the great energy efficiency movement, reducing the anticipated growth for energy from 7 percent a year to 1 percent per year.”

His most ironic remark was, “It might have been more revelatory if you had looked into how and why the French, who won’t let genetically altered food into their country, have lived with nuclear plants providing 77 percent of their power. Do they know something we don’t?”

My view is that the French -- who are also in denial about the effect of depleted uranium on their Bosnian troops -- are simply delaying the undeniable where nuclear decommissioning in is concerned.

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, January 26, 2001