What is the political significance of the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona? What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?
We have incredible contributions from: Salvador Reza, Puente and Alto Arizona; Maria Poblet and Sanyika Bryant, Causa Justa / Just Cause; Gerald Lenoir, Black Alliance for Just Immigration; Subhash Kateel, Florida Immigrant Coalition – Deportee Defense Network; and Gihan Perera, Miami Workers Center.
CATCHING UP TO THE PEOPLE
Salvador Reza is veteran activist who organized day laborers, taco vendors and fights to defend the rights of immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona with Puente and ¡Alto Arizona! He was interviewed here by Sushma Sheth.
What is the political significance of bill SB 1070 in Arizona?
For the first time in a while, the US is allowing a state to use the concept of race to interrogate people. This is not solely the case but the bill does not exclude racial profiling. We haven’t been exposed to this since type of policy since the 1960s. This is like an apartheid system we haven’t seen since the Apartheid era in South Africa.
This legislation is also significant because it sets a precedent. Since 2006, we were building essentially an anti Arpaio movement. Joe Arpaio effectively impacted one county but we know this wasn’t true. From the beginning, we went after the furniture store not solely as a local target but the example of someone who was exercising the Obama and Bush formula for militarizing and making the US a police state. When we were able to defeat the furniture store, we then went after Arpaio himself. Arpaio became the target so we could expose him for what he is worldwide: a human rights violator. But with that came the reality the human rights violator is not just Arpaio, but also the Arizona and the United States governments that are creating a nationwide police state. The state bill is a game changer because this issue is no longer local, its now national. Ohio, Colorado, South Carolina and another 10 states will emulate this immediately.
What role has the Obama administration played and what demands are being placed on him now?
Obama’s selection of Napolitano to head Homeland Security: When Napolitano was getting attacked by the right, she mollified them by moving anti-immigrant measures under the pressure of Arpaio and other police units and municipalities to expand what Arpaio was doing. When Obama invited her to Washington, she went to Homeland Security with a ready script and formula. This is why we are in this situation today. Basically, Obama brought her on to help him mollify a rightwing attack which he was sure to get. He is empowering and positioning Nepolitano to emulate the Arizona formula nationwide.
Making Mexico’s government beholden to the US: Why didn’t Mexico lean heavier on Obama or vic versa? The Mexican presidency is dependent on President Obama and Plan Merida. There are a billions of dollars supposedly for the drug fight but is essentially transforming Mexico into a police state and this is same thing that is now happening in Arizona. The same arguments are being used to expand the border.
There is a race-based split emerging between the Democrats. Today, Luis Gutierrez, Le Jalva, al Pastor were asking President Obama to basically “You can stop this now if you wanted to. You do not have to wait for court challenges.” They are putting the blame and power on the Obama administration. It wasn’t too long ago that Washington advocacy groups said that they did not want to follow that strategy and were instead supporting the Schumer bill. That now is being criticized and the Schumer bill has been equated with the Arizona bill here. Some Democrats, like Congressman Vijalva, are echoing the call for a boycott of Arizona.
How is the national immigrant rights movement responding?
What can immigrant right community do? They can catch up to the people. Families for the first time are realizing that their lives are on the line because there are a lot of mixed families. What is happening is that they are ready to fight because they have nothing to lose. If the price of fighting is deportation, well they are going to do this anyways. People are realizing that we are in an apartheid system, in the United States today.
Immigrant rights advocates have been left behind. People’s movements are spontaneously reacting to this law. There is no central organization right now. Last week, 100 demonstrators shut down the El Paso/Juarez port of entry. There is boycott of the Diamondbacks (Arizona’s Baseball Team) in Chicago where even season ticket holders will not attend. This movement has been built through text messaging, Facebook, and the internet. The same tools that Obama used to get elected are now being used to fight these policies nationally.
There has to be a national uproar and national uprising. Right now, text messaging has surprised the traditional power brokers. Those guys are still debating tactics (whether or not to have a boycott). While they are talking about it, people are texting the call to protest the Diamondbacks.
What is behind the Diamondback boycott?
Diamondbacks make money and they give political money to Republicans like Governor Jan Brewer. This is a national boycott they are calling for. So wherever the team goes to play, they are asking Latinos and people in support not to show up to the games. They are not waiting for La Causa or someone else to tell them. They are not waiting for the traditional pro-immigrant issue organization that have been calling for immigration reform in the past.
What role can progressive, left organizers now play?
Progressive advocates and organizations that have capacity should be helping in the analysis of what the most effective targets might be. Especially, if there is a boycott or divestment of Arizona. Right now, the Diamondbacks have been suggested because they are very visible and because a lot of Latinos like the Diamondbacks. People are doing this on their own. No one is telling them what to do or can tell them want to do. They are saying we marched, we picketed and created petition but now as though they need the world to know what regime they are living under.
CHALLENGING THE STATE OF HATE
Gerald Lenoir is the Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). BAJI is an education and advocacy group comprised of African Americans and black immigrants from Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean. The mission of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration is to engage African Americans and other communities in a dialogue that leads to actions that challenge U.S. immigration policy and the underlying issues of race, racism and economic inequity that frame it. Parts of this piece were excerpted from the BAJI Blog, supplemented with an interview by Harmony Goldberg.
What is the political significance of the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona?
On Friday, April 23, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, legalizing racial profiling of Latinos in her state. Local law enforcement is empowered to stop and question anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, which is not defined in the bill. There is already rampant racial profiling in Arizona and now, it will be done under the color of law. Legitimizing racial profiling threatens the rights not just of Latino immigrants, but also all people of color, including African Americans.
The criminalization of black and brown people has been happening for a long time in these United States. One only has to look at the disproportionate incarceration rates for our youth versus white youth. Now, immigrants of color are being criminalized. So-called “illegal aliens” are being demonized for the “crime” of crossing the border without legal papers, which is a civil, not criminal, offense.
But who are the real criminals? The U.S. government and U.S. corporations who are complicit in forcing the flow of migration. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, Mexico opened its markets to subsidized food crops from the United States. The result is that three million Mexican farmers could not compete with cheap U.S. commodities and lost their land and their livelihood. Many of them, along with their families, have migrated to the U.S. looking for jobs.
So, let me get this right, the United States invades the economy of another country and the economic refugees that come here are labeled illegal? What’s wrong with this picture? I say that people have a right to stay in their own country. U.S. intervention has deprived them of that right. And now Arizona – the State of Hate – will punish the victims.
What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer promises to increase the hostility towards immigrants and create the United States of Hate, if you will. Senator Schumer stated on Monday, “We believe our blueprint is even stronger than the Arizona senators’ proposal in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants because our plan both increases border security and prevents employers from hiring illegal immigrants.” People who are trying to support themselves and their families are driven from their homes and their country, risk their lives in the harsh Sonoran Desert, and if they make it to the United States, face being treated as criminal, jailed, and deported without due process. I think there needs to be debate and discussion within the immigrant rights movement about the Schumer bill. There are many undercurrents of discussion about it, but these debates need to be upfront. We need to engage the whole immigrant rights community – and also other communities in the debate about what kind of bill we need in Congress and what we should be supporting or opposing.
We all must oppose the blatant oppression of immigrants. I especially call on the African American community to link arms with Latino and immigrant communities to speak out against these blatant forms of racism and economic exploitation. The rightwing politicians, organizations and movements that oppose immigrant rights are not the friends of African American communities. We have more in common with immigrants of color. We know firsthand about racism and economic exploitation. And we have faced the hostile mobs, biased employers and racist legislators. I think that the immigrant rights movement should make a concerted effort to build alliances with the African American community and not just call on Black leaders to support this or that proposal. We need to do some real work in African American communities around immigrant rights issues and – actually – some real wok that goes beyond immigrant rights. I don’t think that we can treat immigrant rights as a stand-alone issue. It needs to be a part of a broader effort at movement-building that involves multiple issue that impact multiple communities.
WE NEED TO BUILD JOINT STRUGGLE
María Poblet is the Executive Director of Causa Justa / Just Cause in the Bay Area. She has ten years of experience organizing San Francisco tenants and the Latino immigrant community. María is a founder of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. She also served on the National Planning Committee for the U.S. Social Forum.
Sanyika Bryant is the Regional Civic Engagement Coordinator at Causa Justa / Just Cause. Sa