LOS ANGELES: Huge raids in California and the announced closing of the immigrant family (including 6 year old kids) jail known as the Hutto detention facility in Texas send a profound reminder to immigrant rights activists: you can’t win much and actually risk much by solely defending ; you must (politically) attack.
The continuation of the raids even after the failure of immigration reform prove that the immigration issue is not solely a political (as in electoral) or even economic (as in cheap labor) issue. It is also a way for the fraying, crisis-ridden state to show an increasingly impoverished and fear-struck US populace that government does something. Regular reports of raids are as much free government ads (formerly known as “propaganda”) ala COPS and other violent racist and classist shows as they are a way of keeping politicos happy, workers quiet and wages down.
Failure on the part of many immigrant rights activists to recognize what some students of politics call the “legitimation crisis” facing the very state itself leads them, I believe, to erroneously -and dangerously-assume that the “immigration debate” is solely about immigrants.
As a result of these faulty assumptions, too much immigrant rights activism remains in the defensive posture symbolized by the “Stop the Raids” slogan coloring placards and press releases. While it’s critical to continually and forcefully denounce, such a focus leaves untouched the primary offensive actor in the raids story: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While immigrants are roundly and widely attacked by growing legions of institutional and grassroots interests for causing all manner of societal ills, ICE gets to play the role of “good guy” (see “Most Wanted” multimedia stories on ICE Website or cowboy hat-wearing raiders in this post). As much as anyone, the government itself is radically invested in the theatrics and urban legend of immigrant criminality.
As I have stated in Colorlines as well as in other venues, the immigrant rights movement needs to ponder the necessity of politically-attacking ICE, making them los malos de la pelicula, the bad guys of the story they really are.
While some of us who follow immigration closely know who and what ICE is, the already fearful and often disfinformed populace is probably likening them to the uniformed “good guys” they see in COPS-like shows, on the History Channel, in reports on Iraq and other simulations of “reality.” In a culture that equates the uniformed with the heroic, ICE gets the benefit of the doubt-and that must end.
This is why the announcement of the closing of the Hutto prison represents such an important victory; It reminds us that POLITICALLY-ATTACKING ICE PAYS and pays handsomely. And remember: it takes not 6 million immigrant marchers to shut down ICE offices; Depending on the location, it only takes about 2000-5000 citizens to start putting the monkey on ICE’s back by stopping them from conducting business as usual. And the media will cover this.
Great gratitude and congratulations to the thousands in Tejas and elsewhere for reminding us how to attack and win against ICE! Thank you for chanting “free the children” and “ninos, escucha!, estamos en la lucha!” Thank you, thank you. I hope you remember to celebrate and commemorate this critical victory as should we all. More on this later.
Un fuerte abrazo. R