In another sign that Latinos have become the anti-civilizational Other of choice, a young Bronx man was sentenced yesterday under statutes designed to punish international terrorists. According to this story from the NY Times, a Bronx jury found Edgar Morales, a recreational soccer player and gang member, guilty of manslaughter in the killing of a little girl during a christening party in 2000. Morales, 25, was sentenced under anti-terrorist legislation signed by former NY Governor George Pataki right after 9-11.
The Times reporter stated that,
“..the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, jurors for the first time found a defendant guilty under New York’s statute, and he did not fit the stereotype of a terrorist.”
while Timothy Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, stated
“Lawmakers were told after Sept. 11th that we needed new laws, and it’s become kind of a bait-and-switch, because lo and behold, they are not being used against Al Qaeda, they’re being used against ordinary street crime,”
This case, first brought to the attention of many in 2005 by former Washington Post reporter, Michelle Garcia, represents another major step towards what I’ve been calling the “Alqaeda-ization” of Latino identity, the media & legal framing of Latino subgroups – immigrants, youth, etc.- as an internal threat requiring (and justifying) a multi-billion dollar militarization within the borders of the U.S.
Viewed from the optic of the national security elite, Latinos were the logical and predictable successor to the demographically tiny South Asian population as the next anti-civilizational Other, an Other justifying massive expenditures for new prisons, multi-billion-dollar “security” systems at the border, national guard deployments and other components of the industrial, anti-immigrant behemoth that daily grows.
Cases like this one make obvious that national (in)security takes us far beyond the simplistic logic echoed in beliefs like “they’re (anti-immigrantistas) racists”, “this will pass like other anti-immigrant waves in history” or “Let’s work to get a Democrat elected and then get back to the business of immigration reform”. Such notions are overridden by the business (think Halliburton prisons, CNN advertisers and Republican/Democrat political donors) of anti-migrant hate. Dealing with this and with the unprecedented levels of “White Fear” and the stunning decline of the US power are as much or more part of the immigration problematic as winning white and black votes and crafting legislation. Failure to consider these macro political and economic factors in designing pro-immigrant movement strategy leaves the movement subject to the whims of other political interests, especially those of “Hispanic vote”-hungry Democrats.
But the relentless equating of Latinos with “invaders”, “lawbreakers” and now “terrorists” now has proponents among both Republicans and Democrats, including those who supported the Kennedy, Gutierrez and other bills that made “trade-offs.” In the best of all possible “immigration reform” worlds, some of these “trade-offs” -denial of due process for immigrant detainees and the right to Habeas Corpus, not to mention the swelling of populations held in immigrant detention centers- did nothing to attack the Alqaeda-ization of Latino immigrants. Edgar Morales was convicted as a “terrorist” by a culture, a society, a global power in decline – and other Latinos are sure to follow him if more imaginative approaches to migration politics are not found.
The cheapening of Latino, especially Latino immigrant, life is inversely proportional to the inability to make others – corporations, ICE, Democrats, Republicans – pay heavily for their politics of fear.
Given this alarming situation, any future proposals for “immigration reform” should reject out of hand any talk of “necessary compromises” and “killing the worst parts of the legislation in (Congressional) committee”. Further legitimating this new mix of national security and immigration politics should never have been on any to-do list for migrant rights.
And we really should ween ourselves of the addiction to Democrats and electoral politics as stand-alone solutions. The problem is profoundly cultural and economic at its core. That Bronx jury that convicted Morales, the Lou Dobbs base, the armies of anti-immigrant activists and others are part of a culture of decline, a very violent civilization in desperate need of clashes foreign and domestic.
Indigenous and other leaders in Latin America have taught us that one of the best ways to deal with such toxic cultures is by building social movements first – and then dealing with the superficial swamp of electoral politics.
And like our families and friends in América Latina, we here in the North will rise out of this darkness to, again, inspire the planet.
Forget that and you will, like Morales and countless others, become a prisoner -in your heart.