Archive for December, 2007

“Sound Familiar?” Clip of Talk About How Immigrants are Helping Build the (New) Police State

December 29, 2007

This clip comes to us from the folks at the Brecht Forum and is part of a longer talk about how immigrants are (again…much of this is not new) being used to justify the construction of another Byzantine state policing apparatus. In other words, the talk was about how immigrants are helping the government do one of the things it does best: spend our taxes on building massive security bureaucracies, in this case domestic policing and security bureaucracies like the Department of Homeland Security.

The “sound familiar?” question you’ll keep hearing refers to parallels between what previous elites -Federalists during post-Revolutionary period build-up of state bureaucracy & anti-immigrant “Red Scare” rationalization that led to the birth of the FBI- did and what todays’s national security elites (politicos, bureaucucrats, military-industrial corporations, etc.) are doing.

And yeah, that’s what I kinda look and sound like though the camera (and editors) digitally deleted my hair.

Carta a Santa Claus (Muy Chistoso!)

December 26, 2007

Check out this very funny Christmas video from Spain. Even though it’s in Spanish, you may get the gist of it from the funny footage even if you don’t habla Espanol. And make sure you view til the end – or you’ll miss out!

Thanks to my buddy Juan Cruz for sending!

Toupees, Tears and Toxic Immigration Policies: the Political Legacy of Tom Tancredo

December 21, 2007


Here’s a quick analysis I wrote for Alternet about the political legacy left by outgoing GOP Presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo. While many of my peers in the Latino blogosphere and in the migrant rights community hail yesterday’s announcement by Tancredo as some kind of indicator of the decline of the anti-immigrant politic, I, for one, find such jubilation misplaced and historically blind at best. You decide.

Xenophobe Tom Tancredo Quits GOP Race, But There’s Little Reason to Cheer

By Roberto Lovato, AlterNet
Posted on December 21, 2007, Printed on December 21, 2007

When I first met Tom Tancredo in 2004, he was a toupee’d David battling immigration policies backed by better groomed GOP Goliaths Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Bush. We were in New York, at the Republican Convention as the room we were in rattled with a great gnashing of his teeth after he read his party’s draft platform on immigration. The draft declared that “The Republican Party supports reforming the immigration system to make it more legal, safe, orderly and humane”. “They (Bush and Schwarzenegger) are using Clintonesque doublespeak” shrieked the then-little-know Tancredo, whose geniality, Old Glory tie and toupee combined with his acidic immigration rhetoric to give him that larger-than-life bizarro glow one finds in a Coen brothers movie.

His odd demeanor, his histrionic tone and the titanic correlation of elite corporate and political forces lined up against him made it hard to take him seriously that late August day when he defiantly declared, “They are ignoring the will of the American people. I will prevail because I don’t.”

While yesterday’s announcement of his decision to quit the presidential race has given some of my fellow bloggers and immigrant rights activists reason to declare Tancredo wrong about the appeal of the anti-immigrant politic, I, for one, do not share their glee.

Viewed from the vantage point of recent political history, Tancredo’s wild and often wacky political journey has taken him from being a relatively unknown young David to become a more seasoned leader, a King David of immigration politics who will continue to exercise power far beyond the humbler days when he was a lone voice crying in the anti-immigrant wilderness of the GOP.

We will undoubtedly be dealing with the effects of Tancredo’s brand of immigration politics in the alpha of the short term as well as in the long term.

The short term effects of Tancredo’s trajectory will be most apparent in the Presidential primaries he rightly takes credit for helping shape. A more stately and serious (as opposed to the angry loon that traveled to small border towns to keynote once obscure meetings of formerly unknown hate groups like the Minutemen), Tancredo looked stunningly presidential as he affirmed in yesterday’s farewell speech that credited his campaign with bringing “… the issue of immigration to the forefront of the national debate and, more importantly, with forcing nearly every Republican presidential candidate to commit themselves to an immigration plan that calls for securing our borders, enforcing our immigration laws.”

While Republican candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire and other primary states will no longer find themselves in a campaign in which they “try to out-Tancredo Tancredo,” political ads and debate sound bites chock full of “get-tough on immigrants” rhetoric may well prevail beyond the primaries. That Tancredo has helped turn mainstream what was formerly right-wing fringe is clear from how, for example, rather than denouncing the Minutemen as a hate group, GOP front-runner Mike Huckabee proudly announced the recent endorsement of Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist. And Tancredo’s much buzzed-about support of Mitt Romney, who like Tancredo, has hired undocumented workers to work on his home all the while erecting Presidential campaign strategies savaging them, reflects the opportunity and danger inherent in the mainstreaming of the Tancredo immigration politic.

Like the short-term economic logic that brought us the sub-prime mortgage morass, the short-term electoral greed of those GOP — and Democratic — pols who buy Tancredo’s immigration tonic, may well turn their political futures toxic. While Tancredo prevailed against Bush and Schwarzenegger between 2004 and today, the lame duck pols may yet have their “I-told-you-so” moment when the angry white voter politic loses its appeal in coming years.

Though hardly alone, Tancredo, more than most politicos has helped shape a future Latino politic that equates Republicano with “racista”. While hardly any immigrants know who Lou Dobbs is (Spanish language media does not report on or translate him), many can easily identify the man who they feel refused to appear at the recent Univision GOP debate “por pena” (for shame) at facing fellow human beings who happen to be immigrant, a debate where his former fellow candidates were uncharacteristically demure about immigration and immigrants. That the 10 year-old citizen children that marched with their undocumented parents in L.A.’s pro-immigrant march of thousands in 1994 were among the 22 year-old leaders of marches of more than two million last year is another testament to the success of Tancredo and his supporters in shaping a powerful, anti-racist political culture resembling that of the African American community.

The once reliably Republicano evangelical Latinos who played pivotal roles in electing Bush in 2004 are turning away from the GOP thanks to the Tancredo train. Just days after a Pew Hispanic poll concluded that even right-leaning Latinos find themselves negatively impacted by the tone of immigration debate, a large group of prominent Latino evangelical leaders held a press conference to declare that they “reject hateful speech” heard in that same debate. Once on their way to following the right wing politics of many white evangelical denominations, Latino evangelicos find themselves adopting the activist tradition of many black churches thanks to politicos like Tom Tancredo.

So, in the long term, Tancredo may not prevail after all. His geniality, Old Glory tie and toupee and acidic immigration politics may end up looking very bizarro after all.

Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media. Read more of his work at

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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U.S. Boricuas Poised to Debate P.R.’s Colonial Status as Congress Re-visits Issue

December 21, 2007




Check out this month’s issue of NACLA Report on the Americas, where you will find several solid stories analyzing the ongoing debate around ending the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Included in the issue is the article below, written by my friend, longtime Boricua and Latino thinker and activist, Angelo Falcon of the National Latino Policy Institute.

Angelo places the various positions adopted by the almost 4 million Boricuas in the states within the context of U.S.-Puerto Rican relations (like the Vieques revindication) , immigration history and the growth of a unique political culture shaped by numerous influences. And like any good NACLA article, the piece includes plenty of footnotes that can you followup and delve deeper into the issues discussed.




Note: As the debate over the future political status of Puerto Rico begins to be debated in the United States Congress, the role of the close to 4 million Puerto Ricans stateside (outside of Puerto Rico) starts to emerge as an issue. In the current issue of the magazine, the NACLA Report on the Americas (see full article below), Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy, analyzes this “diaspora factor.”

The Diaspora Factor:

Stateside Boricuas and the Future of Puerto Rico

by Angelo Falcón

NACLA Report on the Americas (November/December 2007)

The debate over the future political status of Puerto Rico has appeared once again in the U.S. Congress, raising the question of what role the nearly 4 million Puerto Ricans living stateside will play in this debate. Two competing House bills, both proposed by Puerto Rican representatives, call for Puerto Ricans to express their preference for statehood, commonwealth, independence, or even for an associated republic in a new plebiscite. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act, proposed in February by Representative José Serrano (D-NY), calls for a two-stage referendum in which voters would first be asked whether they prefer to maintain Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status or pursue a permanent solution. If the status quo option prevailed, the plebiscite would be repeated every eight years until a permanent option was chosen. If a permanent solution won, a second plebiscite would ask them to choose between statehood and independence.


The bill mirrors the recommendations of a report released in December 2005 by the White House Task Force on the Status of Puerto Rico, commissioned by President Clinton and continued by the Bush administration, to reach a permanent solution following the results of the last plebiscite in 1998. A majority of voters in that vote, 50.3%, chose “none of the above,” a result of a boycott of the vote by the pro-Commonwealth party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which objected to how their status option was defined in the ballot.


Meanwhile, Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), who criticized the presidential task force for failing to include Puerto Ricans, introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which calls for the formation of a constitutional convention to elect local representatives who would themselves draft the plebiscite to vote among statehood, independence, and a new “enhanced commonwealth” option. The outcome of that plebiscite would then be presented to Congress for approval.


Both bills are viewed by opposing island political parties as biased—Serrano’s toward statehood and Velásquez’s toward a commonwealth victory. This perceived difference in perspective between two Puerto Rican politicians from the same party and the same state highlights new complications in the island’s diaspora with regard to the status question, complications that make forging a common agenda difficult. Indeed, the stateside Puerto Rican population has always had a problematic relationship with Puerto Rico. Especially since the post–World War II great migration, this has been a movement of people tied to the failure of Puerto Rico’s economy, symbolizing a colonial dilemma magnified by its concentration in the world city of New York for so many decades in the 20th century.[1]

The diaspora has always been a bit of a mystery in terms of its attitudes toward its homeland. Because they were now participants in the world’s most advanced economy, were they now supporters of statehood for Puerto Rico? Because they came during the long-term regime of the pro-Commonwealth political party, did they support the status quo? Or did their racialization in the United States make them support independence?[2] And, in the end, does this matter to the future of Puerto Rico?

* * *

One of the most striking recent developments in the Puerto Rican experience was the realization that in 2003 the size of the stateside Puerto Rican community exceeded that of the island for the first time.[3] The latest census figures estimate that in 2005 there were about 3,780,000 Puerto Ricans living in the States compared to about 3,670,000 in Puerto Rico.[4] This has generated considerable discussion in Puerto Rico and in the diaspora, signaling that the stateside Puerto Rican community may now in a position to redefine its relationship to the island.

While there have always been strong connections between Puerto Rico and the stateside Puerto Rican community through family ties and migration, it wasn’t until the 1990s that this relationship took on an increasingly political nature. It was then that the stateside Puerto Rican community increased its representation in the U.S. House of Representatives from one to three—two from New York and one from Chicago, all Democrats. This resulted from the growth of the Puerto Rican population and its ability to more effectively use the federal Voting Rights Act in redistricting. Puerto Rico, on the other hand, continues to elect only one nonvoting resident commissioner to Congress (currently Luis Fortuño, a Republican).

During this period, political elites and activists in Puerto Rico increasingly turned to the stateside Puerto Rican leadership for support on local issues. Whether it was getting favorable U.S. federal policies toward Puerto Rico in terms of tax policy or social welfare expenditures, or the campaign to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, the three stateside Puerto Rican congressional representatives became invaluable, reliable allies, along with many Puerto Rican officials at the state and local levels.

Supporting this relationship was the strong nationalist identity of many stateside Puerto Ricans. Manifesting itself in myriad parades, festivals, and cultural events throughout the United States, culminating in early June every year with the massive National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, Puerto Rican nationalism and interest in Puerto Rico remains high. This was buttressed by the “Latin music explosion” starting at the end of the 1990s in which Puerto Rican entertainers played a major role. The successful campaigns to free Puerto Rican political prisoners, which led to pardons and clemency under presidents Carter and Clinton, demonstrated a level of nationalism that many in the United States found confounding.

But new socioeconomic and political developments both stateside and in Puerto Rico have complicated this relationship in ways that make building a common agenda difficult. The model for some is the powerful U.S. Israeli lobby, but this has proved hard to emulate in the Puerto Rican case. First, as mentioned above, the stateside Puerto Rican congressional delegation doesn’t always agree on central issues, especially as their seniority increases and their ties to different political sectors in Puerto Rico deepen.

Second, while historically concentrated in the Northeast, especially New York City, and the Midwest, the U.S. Puerto Rican population has not only increased but has become more dispersed during the last two decades.[5] In the 1990s the Puerto Rican population in Florida dramatically increased, making it the state with the second-largest concentration. Puerto Rican populations are also growing fast in other parts of the South, in smaller cities, and in suburban and ex-urban areas where a Puerto Rican presence is new. This new spatial distribution was accompanied by new patterns of migration from Puerto Rico and new professional and middle classes moving to these new areas, raising the potential for a new north-south economic polarization whose political implications are yet to be fully clear. This raises challenges to the more traditional stateside Puerto Rican political and economic narratives as a Northeast urban population loyal to the Democratic Party and New Deal policies.

Third, in Puerto Rico the traditional status-based colonial political party system has become increasingly difficult to manage, with political deadlock among the parties and the loss of the tax incentives that formerly attracted U.S. capital, along with ineffective economic management and multiple corruption scandals. With the U.S. Congress now considering proposals for resolving Puerto Rico’s status in the midst of a presidential election, this polarization will only intensify.

* * *

Although Puerto Ricans have been migrating to the United States since the mid-1800s, it wasn’t until after World War II that the size of this migration became enormous and subject to efforts to manage it from both the colony and the metropolis. The out-migration from Puerto Rico as an integral part of its economic development planning, which was based on neo-Malthusian principles, led in 1948 to the establishment of New York City’s Migration Division of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor. This became the mechanism by which the government of Puerto Rico tried to steer Puerto Rican labor flows and negotiate on workers’ behalf with U.S. local, state, and federal authorities. In 1986, this division, which now had offices in several states, was seen as a way to create a U.S. Israeli lobby–type operation, and the then pro-commonwealth governor elevated it to the status of the cabinet-level Department of Puerto Rican Affairs in the United States. This was short-lived when the statehood party candidate was elected to the governorship in 1992, which resulted in the new department being replaced by a lobbying operation called the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).[6]

Depending on which political party was in power, this new office’s relationship to the stateside Puerto Rican community changed in dramatic ways. Generally similar in function to foreign consulates, PRFAA differs in technically being a part of the U.S. government and in representing people who are all already U.S. citizens. Under the commonwealth party, this office collaborated closely with the stateside Puerto Rican political leadership, but under the statehood party the relationship was less friendly and often hostile. With the current divided government, the pro-commonwealth governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, has turned the office into a Washington, D.C.–focused lobbying and public relations operation that has made its relationship to the stateside Puerto Rican community focused on narrowly partisan concerns. Pressure to change the mission of this agency in this way came in large part because the divided government in Puerto Rico replicated itself in Washington, D.C., where Resident Commissioner Fortuño is a pro-statehood Republican, while the governor is pro-commonwealth and identified with the Democratic Party.

One reason for this uncertainty about how Puerto Rico political elites related to the stateside Puerto Rican community was the lack of information about the political status preferences of the diaspora. This became a practical political problem for these colonial politicians as the stateside population grew larger and more politically engaged and began in the mid-1960s to demand a voice in determining Puerto Rico’s future status. After a 1967 plebiscite held on the island, the stateside community demanded, with increasing intensity, the right to participate in these votes. Today, the major bills before Congress make some provisions for the participation of the stateside Puerto Rican community to directly participate in this status-definition process.

But knowledge on how stateside Puerto Ricans would vote on the future political status of Puerto Rico remains a problem because they have not been recently polled on this issue, despite extensive polling on this status issue in Puerto Rico. The most reliable survey conducted on the subject was the Latino National Political Survey (LNPS), conducted in 1989–90.[7] It found that more than two thirds (69%) of stateside Puerto Ricans supported commonwealth status. But since then there have been major changes in the social, geographic, and political composition of this community, it is not at all clear what its status preferences are today. One further complication is that most stateside Puerto Rican leaders and activists support independence. In a national Web survey conducted of this elite group in 2006, it was found that 45% supported independence, while in the 1989–90 LNPS, less than 4% of stateside Puerto Rican adults did.[8] It is doubtful that there has been a large pro-independence surge in the stateside community since then and more likely that pro-statehood sentiment has grown, as has been the case in Puerto Rico. The status preferences of the stateside community may now be similar to those of Puerto Rico, but this is only speculation.

The pro-independence preference of a plurality of the stateside leadership and activists has complicated the process in interesting ways. This has made the stateside Puerto Rican more open to controversial issues like freeing the Puerto Rican political prisoners and supporting the ouster of the U.S. Navy from Vieques. It has also made it easier for the pro-commonwealth party to deal politically with them, while the pro-statehood party finds itself at odds with this large sector of the stateside Puerto Rican political leadership. This is a characteristic of the politics of the diaspora community’s experience that has been little studied or understood, but which continues to have a major impact on its relationship to the politics of its homeland.

The role of the stateside Puerto Rican community in determining the future political status of Puerto Rico becomes further complicated by new socioeconomic changes and the changing narrative of race in the United States. Stateside Puerto Ricans, once the poster children for the urban underclass, have developed a more layered economic reality over the last couple of decades. Whereas once the major policy agenda for the stateside leadership was the issue of persistent poverty, there are now more voices joining the U.S. left in focusing the political agenda on the plight of the middle class. But while the community’s poverty rate has dropped significantly over the last 30 years, in 2005 it stood at 23%, compared with 8% for non-Latino whites (for further comparison, in 2006, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico stood at an appalling 45%).[9]

* * *

While experiencing a persistent high poverty rate, the stateside Puerto Rican community finds itself challenged to reframe its agenda in ways that may undermine its economic base. Poverty remains a serious problem in the stateside communities of the Northeast and Midwest, but less of a problem in the newer ones in the South and Southwest. How can the stateside Puerto Rican community recast its policy priorities as it also experiences such a potential economic polarization along regional lines? And how will this affect its relationship to the politics of Puerto Rico and the status question?

The stateside Puerto Rican community has been formally a part of the United States since the annexation of Puerto Rico in 1898 and as U.S. citizens since the 1917 Jones Act, and has even had a presence within the states well before then. But along with second- and later-generation Latinos, Puerto Rican issues have been made less visible by the growing attention to the controversial problem of immigration. Although Puerto Ricans have been negatively impacted by the racist backlash from this immigration debate, policy makers at all levels of government and in the private sector have difficulty focusing on the specificities of the Puerto Rican condition and how it differs from those of new immigrants and noncitizens.

With its policy and political agendas at one of those messy crossroads, it is not particularly clear which road the stateside Puerto Rican community will be taking, now that the issue of its formal participation in resolving the status issue is no longer a matter of debate. But whether the diaspora will come down on the side of statehood, commonwealth, or associated republic is not at all clear. Independence? Well, that’s another story about the failure of a movement and the power of the United States’ new imperialism.

Angelo Falcón, a political scientist, is president and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy (, based in New York City. He teaches at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.




1 Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Angelo Falcón, and Felix Matos-Rodríguez, eds., Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004).

2 Ramón Grosfoguel, Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

3 Carmen Teresa Whalen and Víctor Vázquez-Hernández, eds., The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives (Temple University Press, 2005).

4 Jorge Duany, The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), chapter 7.

5 Rodolfo O. de la Garza, DeSipio, F. Chris Garcia, John Garcia, and Angelo Falcón, eds., Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on Americans Politics (Westview Press, 1992), p. 104.

6 Angelo Falcón, Stateside Puerto Rican Activist Findings (unpublished manuscript, National Institute for Latino Policy, August 2006).

7 Edna Acosta-Belén and Carlos E. Santiago, eds., Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Contemporary Portrait (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), chapter 5.

Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Angelo Falcón, and Felix Matos-Rodríguez, eds., Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004).

[2] Ramón Grosfoguel, Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

[3] Angelo Falcón, Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans (Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, 2004). The figure for Puerto Rico indicates the number of residents who identified as Puerto Rican in the census’s so-called Hispanic question.

[4] U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2005.

[5] Carmen Teresa Whalen and Víctor Vázquez-Hernández, eds., The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives (Temple University Press, 2005).

[6] Jorge Duany, The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), chapter 7.

[7][7] Rodolfo O. de la Garza, DeSipio, F. Chris Garcia, John Garcia, and Angelo Falcón, eds., Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on Americans Politics (Westview Press, 1992), p. 104.

[8] Angelo Falcón, Stateside Puerto Rican Activist Findings (unpublished manuscript, National Institute for Latino Policy, August 2006).

[9] Edna Acosta-Belén and Carlos E. Santiago, eds., Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Contemporary Portrait (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), chapter 5.

How to Reform the Electoral Process: Deny Corporations Citizenship

December 20, 2007

Billion Dollar President

With all the drama building up to next year’s presidential election, the issue of electoral reform has and should also taken on some urgency, especially when we consider that it costs a billion dollars to elect a U.S. president ( answer for yourself if we (or his corporate sponsors) got our money’s worth with GW).

In reponse to these concerns, WNYC and Public Radio International launched a new daily morning radio show, Your Billion Dollar President, which explores issues behind the 08 Presidential elections and airs daily on several public radio stations across the country.

Hosts John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji ask guests and listeners a simple, but indelicate question: how do we fix our broken billion dollar electoral system?

My indelicate answer? Deny citizenship, legal personhood to corporations, something that has more than 100 years of legal and political precedent.

Prior to the late 1800’s, when the laws defining corporate personhood were first introduced, federal and state legislatures regularly revoked the charters and redistributed the assets of corporations that harmed the public good. My brief answer to the question of how to fix the political system is to bring back the “corporate death penalty”. Check out “Episode 2” at the Billion Dollar President site.

I’ll be delving further into this one in coming months. Support the death penalty -and apply it to corporations.

American Slavers: New York Immigrants Respond to Verdict in Slavery Case

December 19, 2007


American Slavers

NY Case Uncovers Rampant Abuse of Immigrant Workers

New America Media, News Analysis, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Dec 18, 2007

Editor’s Note: The case against the wealthy Long Island, N.Y. couple who were abusing their domestic servants made international news this week, with shocking headlines decrying the American slavery that was going on in the suburbs. But if you talk to immigrants on the streets of New York City, you’ll find that they weren’t too surprised by the mistreatment, writes New America Media writer Roberto Lovato.

NEW YORK — News of the guilty verdict against Mahender and Varsha Sabhnani, the multimillionaire Long Island couple accused of imprisoning and torturing two Indonesian maids, stunned most – but not all- New Yorkers this week.

The Big Apple’s immigrant residents were not so shocked at the revelations of torture, starvation and other depravities that took place behind the gates and walls of the homes of the fabulously wealthy.

While clearly angered and dismayed, documented and undocumented immigrants interviewed along the cold corridors of the Empire State provide a little-heard perspective on the case, a perspective that’s closest to that of the enslaved women in terms of their position on the social and economic ladder.

Standing outside the “C” train station, just a block from the neo-classical building that housed the New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War exhibit on the Upper West Side, domestic worker Lourdes Rivera reflected on today’s slavery.

“I’m not so surprised. You just listen to the women talking on the train, some are not paid, some are beaten like those women, some talk about being asked to have sex. Many are not treated well,” said the 31 year-old mother of two from Lima, Peru.

Like many immigrants interviewed, Rivera, who has lived without legal documents since arriving to New York three years ago, believes that the Long Island incident comes as a result of the extreme vulnerability she and other immigrants feel: “This happens because we’re immigrants. People know we’re immigrants and can’t talk. They shouldn’t treat us that way, but the government, nobody protects us.”

Michelle White, a Jamaican immigrant, agreed with Rivera’s assessment and wondered whether the slavery incident indicated the United States had entered a time when law mattered less.

“I thought slavery was abolished years ago,” she wondered, while standing on a Lower East Side corner facing towards the Statue of Liberty, “How can they let this happen? Why does this happen? Because we come from countries where people are desperate, that’s why. When somebody promises you a job, tells you you’re going to get paid well, you come here with stars in your eyes,” said the 34 year-old caregiver, adding, “but when you get here, you realize there are people that believe they have dominion over you. You realize you have to work twice as hard and some come here to be enslaved. Those poor (enslaved) women probably thought they were coming to streets lined with gold. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.”

As an employer, smoke and cigar shop owner Joseph Massih, feels shame that some of his fellow employers see opportunity in the lack of protection of his fellow immigrants. “It’s a disgrace that these people took advantage of people that are desperate,” said the Lebanese immigrant who has lived here for over 22 years. “I’m glad they caught [the accused slaveholders] and I hope they go to jail for life. I hire people, but don’t treat them like that.”

For his part, 29 year-old bike messenger Juan Flores looks at the headlines in his Spanish language newspaper about immigration raids and sees some of the reasons for the slavery story he’d read about on another page.

“As long as they don’t resolve the situation of those of us without papeles (papers), we’re going to keep hearing about these kinds of abuses,” says Flores. “I’m not surprised.” Flores immigrated from Tlaxcala, Mexico, where he says there are also people living under slave-like conditions in rural and urban areas.

“We left this kind of treatment in our countries. It makes me feel angry. I know people here in New York who are in similar situations. They don’t know what to do, they don’t know who they can call.” Flores says he is not confident that immigrants in the U.S. will secure legalization and other solutions to the problems that gave rise to the Long Island incident. Instead, he said, immigrants will have to look to themselves, “We’re the only ones who care enough to solve these kinds of problems. We’re isolated and need come out to the light. That’s the only way.”

Telcos, U.S. Government Collecting Phone Records of Thousands of Latinos and others Calling Latin América

December 17, 2007

This article in yesterday’s New York Times (NYT) reports on how major telecommunications companies are helping U.S. intelligence agencies collect the phone records of thousands of citizens and non-citizens that call Mexico, Colombia and other Latin American countries. According to the report,

“To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified.”

The National Security Agency(NSA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other government agencies have been gathering the phone records for several years. News of the telecommunications industry-government collaboration is coming out now because Congress is currently considering legislation that will shield the companies from lawsuits stemming from their support of government eavesdropping.

Reports of U.S. government snooping on Latino and other citizens are nothing new. While the government has likely included Latinos in its intelligence gathering activities since such activities were organized by agencies like Herbert Hoover’s FBI, documentation of the snooping began in earnest only until relatively recently. As reported on this blog previously,

“While (Lyndon) Johnson was signing into law the official celebration of Latinos (Hispanic Heritage month) in 1968, he also signed documents authorizing the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program or “COINTELPRO” to give another big government abrazo (embrace) to the growing chorus of dissident Latino voices. Cesar Chavez, student groups, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords and those who yelled “Viva!” during the “Walkout” in Los Angeles were but a few of those greeted by COINTELPRO during that first year of Hispanic Heritage.”

What is new are the numerous and growing number of ways the private sector collaborates with and benefits from the electronic surveillance components of what critics call the “national security state” apparatus being built since before 9-11. Again, even the NYT article hints at the bigger issues when it says,

“But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.”

Further on, the article explains the technological reasons behind the government’s urgent need of telecommunications and other companies collaboration in designing the surveillance systems of the post-industrial age,

“The federal government’s reliance on private industry has been driven by changes in technology. Two decades ago, telephone calls and other communications traveled mostly through the air, relayed along microwave towers or bounced off satellites. The N.S.A. could vacuum up phone, fax and data traffic merely by erecting its own satellite dishes. But the fiber optics revolution has sent more and more international communications by land and undersea cable, forcing the agency to seek company cooperation to get access. “

As Peter Swire, former chief counselor for privacy at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under the Clinton administration, told me a couple of years ago, “We used to think of Big Brother as things like government wiretaps, where government is directly receiving the information”. “Today,” says Swire, “the datafeed doesn’t come from a government telescreen like in 1984. The datafeed now comes from your phone calls, your tax records, your bank transactions, your social security number, your grocery purchases, your insurance claims, your credit history, your medical records.” So, Latinos aren’t alone in this one.

Click to enlarge

I’ve written previously on how these ongoing and expanding collaborations between government and the private sector in the network age make nakedly obvious the inadequacy of the industrial age”Big Brother” metaphor. At a time when digital technology has turned everyone from parents with camera-embedded teddy bears to world’s largest employers into snoopers and eavesdroppers, we should be talking not solely about “Big Brother” state surveillance but also about nano-cousins, Little Teddy’s, micro-brothers and other descendants of the now thoroughly dead surveillance systems depicted in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” in the analog era (see “Enemy of the State” to get a more contemporary sense of what decentralized surveillance looks and feels like). The private sector, not “Big Brother” is now the hands-down largest collector of information about human beings regardless of their legal status.

And Latino Immigrants and Latin migration provide another rationale for further investment in the covert gathering of information on citizens and non-citizens. Allegedly designed to “control” immigrants, laws like the REAL ID Act of 2005, for example, will end up creating what the Electronic Privacy and Information Center calls a “de facto national identification card” that will make rich companies like national ID cheerleader Larry Elllison’s Oracle even richer.  Last year, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe offered (and later “calirified”)to put microchips in seasonal workers coming to the U.S. Up until 2003, U.S.-based database company Choicepoint was selling the U.S. government the personal information of more than 65 million Mexicans. This year witnessed the further implementation of the multi-billion ($8 billion or more) electronic surveillance components of the Secure Borders Initiative (SBI) by military industrial companies like Boeing.

So, this recent report of U.S. government snooping on Latinos and others comes atop a colossal, growing mountain of private information about migrants, citizen and others. Find out more about the privacy policies of telcom and other companies you deal with because they just may be selling your privacy to the government or some other bidder.

Poll: Most Latinos Hurt by Anti-Immigrant Climate

December 14, 2007

Pew Hispanic Center a project of the Pew Research Center

This report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that most Latinos say they are being hurt in some form by the anti-immigrant climate gripping the United States. According to the poll released this week,

Just over half of all Hispanic adults in the U.S. worry that they, a family member or a close friend could be deported”

The study also found that the overwhelming majority of us reject the raids. The report states that,

Three quarters (75%) disapprove of workplace raids; some 79% prefer that local police not take an active role in identifying illegal immigrants; and some 55% disapprove of states checking for immigration status before issuing driver’s licenses.

Such uniformity around the immigration moves us beyond the simplistic logic of the mainstream media that tells us that Republicans will lose ground among Latinos in the next year’s election. It take us into deeper territory: the birth of a more oppositional Latino culture shaped, in part, by what the white majority and some (not all) African Americans believe is right.

As with the freedom struggles of African Americans, Latino claims to rights and liberties will have to persuade people and directly challenge the racist beliefs coded and cloaked by the thinning veneer of “legal” versus “illegal” as can be seen in this quote from the report,

By contrast, non-Hispanics are much more supportive of all these policies, with a slight majority favoring workplace raids and a heavy majority favoring driver’s license checks.

So, simply changing the party in power will not suffice. Such patterns are now firmly rooted in the deeper realm of the very spirit and letter of what it means to be “American”. That’s why we must teach this country to put the accent in the phrase “the United States Of América”.

The Media is the (Anti-Immigrant) Message: Sen. Menendez Calls for Study of Link Between Media and Hate Crimes

December 13, 2007

Senator Robert Menendez

In what appears to be the expansion of a media front in the ongoing immigration wars, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has called on Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez to commission a new study of the “relationship between telecommunications and hate crimes”.

In a letter delivered to Gutierrez last week, the New Jersey Senator expressed concern about the effects of the heated (and getting hotter) immigration debate raging in print and electronic media. “Over the past year” wrote Menendez, “the debate over immigration reform has unfortunately taken a very biased and hateful turn in some of our radio, television and cable outlets, and I am concerned that this rhetoric could have a harmful effect on the portrayal and safety of our nation’s immigrant population, as well as on our Latino communities.”

He also provides examples of the kind of violent language many of us have been drawing attention to, including words and phrases heard in media daily such as ‘the Latino invasion’, ‘illegal alien lobby’, ‘amnesty agenda’, ‘criminal illegal aliens’ and other terms.

His letter references a a 1993 study mandated by Congress, which called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to study the telecommunications and hate crime link. To bring urgency to his claims, Menendez also cited recent FBI hate crimes statistics showing a serious increase in such crimes against Latinos since 2004.

Menendez letter marks a major acknowldgement of the ongoing work groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Hispanic Media Coalition to focus attention and resources on the deadly relationship between language, media and the rise in anti-immigrant, anti-Latino violence.

Kudos to these and other groups and individuals and to Senator Menendez for further opening this critical linguistic/media flank in the movement.

Death (Penalty) and Redemption

December 12, 2007

This story from Amnesty International by Michelle Garcia is a good Texas tale about a very bad thing: the death penalty. Its a kind of live man walking story, one that makes you want to pick up, dust off and read that old Bible you have. Enjoy.

Winter 2007

Off the Fence

By Michelle Garcia

The great Texas sun is rising on a cool summer morning as the Rev. Carroll Pickett, a minister who once ushered condemned men into the execution chamber and watched them die, speaks of redemption. His Sunday school students, middle-aged and elderly couples from a gated community just north of Houston, contemplate the message of repentance given by the former prison chaplain of Texas� most notorious penitentiary, a prison whose name is synonymous with hard time: Huntsville.

Pickett, a Presbyterian minister, wears a mint-green suit and a tie dotted with gold crosses. Tucked under his arm is a hand-tooled leather case containing a Bible, a gift from the inmates who once sought his counsel and lent their voices to his prison choirs. During the course of his career, this soft-spoken man with a good-ole-boy twang has witnessed prison officials pump poison into the veins of 95 men.

Green Belt Movement

The Rev. Pickett in the death chamber
© Perry Kretz/Stern Magizine

Pickett reads aloud the warning delivered by an angel in the final book of the Bible, Revelation: �I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot . . . So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.�

�In other words, get off the fence,� Pickett tells his class. �Every Christian has got to get off the fence.�

It took decades�nearly a lifetime� but Pickett made that jump himself. After his retirement in 1995, he spoke out against the death penalty. Since then, his unique insider�s perspective and �Texas gentleman� manner has made him a potent force within the movement to abolish the death penalty. Few men can claim to have witnessed the first execution by lethal injection in the world, as he did 25 years ago. Even fewer have sat in prayer, listened to the confessions and final requests of men on the last day of their lives, heard their final words and their last gasp.

In Pickett�s 2002 book, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain, he described in poignant detail his personal journey from death penalty supporter to ardent abolitionist. A documentary film about the possibly wrongful execution of Carlos De Luna and Pickett�s final moments with him, At the Death House Door, is slated to air on the Independent Film Channel in the spring. Pickett has testified before Texas lawmakers, taken his abolitionist message to Rotary clubs and to big-city and small-town congregations alike. On an issue that imposes absolute and final judgment, he injects nuance.

�I was for [the death penalty] because I saw the injustice,� explained Pickett after Sunday school. �I began to change because the system was so bad. I saw 17-year-old killers and the mentally retarded [executed], and the fact that nobody had any education.�

In 2002, six years after Pickett�s retirement from the Huntsville Prison, the Supreme Court ruled against executing the mentally retarded; in 2005, the Court exempted juvenile offenders from capital punishment. In September, as Texas carried out its 400th execution, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the mixture administered in lethal injections amounts to �cruel and unusual punishment,� thus violating the Constitution. The case will be argued in February 2008.

Steve Hall, director of the Stand- Down Texas Project, an anti-death-penalty group, says Pickett�s indisputable credibility and authenticity is compelling in a state that leads the nation in executions.

�People understand it�s not gloss, it�s not some sales job, it�s not some distillation, it�s not something he has picked up from the AI Web site,� he said. �When you hear him, you really get a vision of what he went through and the questions, the doubt and that gradual transformation that changed him, and that now really drives his activity.� Pickett grew up in Victoria, Texas, a small town east of San Antonio. �My daddy was a [death penalty] supporter, and his office was next to the jail,� Pickett says, over a breakfast of homemade biscuits at an old-fashioned restaurant in Montgomery, birthplace of the �Lone Star� Texas flag. �My father believed that anyone who was arrested was guilty, and I was raised that way.�

In Texas, the death penalty, like pickup trucks and high school football, is part of a culture steeped in the lore of frontier justice. Here, attitudes toward the death penalty are rife with emotion, shaped by religious beliefs and deeply personal. On a highway leading to Huntsville, a billboard boasts of the town�s treasures: Big Sam (Sam Houston University); Ol� Sparky, the state�s retired electric chair; and war heroes from various conflicts. Another billboard invites tourists to the Texas Prison Museum, its sign decorated with a ball and chain.

Pickett first entered �the Walls,� a foreboding brick-red behemoth set in the middle of a residential neighborhood of ranch-style homes and big yards, in 1974. A newcomer to the town of Huntsville, he found himself in the midst of crisis. Three inmates had barricaded themselves and a number of staff inside the prison library, in what would become one of the longest prison hostage sieges in U.S. history. Jim Estelle, director of the Texas prison system and a parishioner, called on Pickett, then 40, to minister to the families of the hostages.

After 11 days of waiting, Pickett spoke by telephone with two hostages who had volunteered as human shields for the prison break, Judy Standley, a prison librarian, and Yvonne Beseda, a teacher. They called the chaplain to convey their final goodbyes to family as their captors prepared their escape.

Fred Gomez Carrasco and his men had constructed a makeshift shield, a Trojan horse of sorts, concealing the convicts and their hostages, the two women and a priest, as they shuffled from the library to a waiting van. Prison officials planned to blast them with high-pressure water hoses and rescue the hostages, but the hoses failed. Carrasco and one of his men shot the women, and Carrasco then turned the barrel of the gun on himself.

�It was difficult to talk to them in the afternoon . . . and six hours later they were murdered,� Pickett said. �It was traumatic.�

Three years later, after the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment, the Presbyterian Church considered taking a position, and Pickett, emotionally scarred from the siege, delivered a presentation. �I took the position we got to do something in favor of the victims,� he said. The church adopted an anti-deathpenalty position, and Pickett accepted the decision, with reservations. In 1980, Pickett returned to the Walls to take the job of chaplain to the 2,200-strong general prison population. He organized prison choirs, visited dying inmates and helped lower the dead from their homemade nooses. And, said Roy Villanueva, who served time at Huntsville for hiring an undercover cop to kill his wife, Pickett became known among prisoners for being a stickler for strictly Christian music. �He was concerned about what messages got to us and keeping us focused,� said Villanueva, now a Southern Baptist minister in Geronimo, Texas. �He was redirecting our minds.�

In 1982, Texas resumed executions. The state did away with Ol� Sparky and introduced lethal injection, the method now used by all but one of the 38 states that still have the death penalty. Pickett�s job expanded to include counseling the condemned, and he found his Christian mission: the ministry of presence. �I made a commitment: nobody dies alone. Anyone that I can be a friend to I would,� said Pickett. He remained by the side of Charlie Brooks, the first to die by lethal injection, until the end of the seven minutes it took Texas to end his life.

When prisoners arrived from death row, Pickett was there waiting for them in the �death house.� He offered spiritual counsel, facilitated phone calls and familial visits, and in the final hours before execution explained the series of events that would end their lives. �My responsibility,� he said, �was to prepare them to die. His task, the warden told him, was �to seduce [the prisoner�s] emotions so he will not fight coming out of the cell, and he will not fight getting up on the gurney and being strapped down.�

Eight small steps separate the holding cell, where the condemned pass their final day, from the execution chamber. The death chamber, as Pickett refers to it, is much smaller than one imagines from television. A sickly blue paint covers the brick walls, and until the state recently installed a glass partition, witnesses stood only a few feet away from the gurney.

Seen from the outside, Pickett�s role in the execution process appears ambiguous. He and the warden were the only witnesses to the �tie-down team� who strapped in the prisoner and inserted the needles to administer the lethal doses that cost the state $86.06 per inmate: potassium chloride, pancuronium bromide, and sodium pentathol. He searched the inmate�s body for viable veins. He wrote a manual called The Team Approach to Execution in the State of Texas that outlined the role of each participant� excluding his own.

But Pickett is clear on the part he played: �I was visiting him as his last friend. I never strapped him down. It was the law and I couldn�t do anything about that. I was not part of the execution team. I was part of the ministry to the man.�

In 1989, Johnny Paul Penry, a white man with narrow eyes and a tight jaw, entered the death chamber toting crayons and coloring books. Pickett remembers the mentally retarded Penry, enthralled by his comic book characters and oblivious to his impending death. He was probably just as unaware when an 11th-hour Supreme Court ruling saved him on the grounds that Texas law had wrongly prevented jurors from fully weighing his mental disability as a mitigating factor.

Later that year, Carlos De Luna walked into the death house with big round brown eyes and asked if he could call Pickett �daddy.� De Luna had been sentenced to die for robbery and the murder of Wanda Jean Lopez, a service station clerk in South Texas. �He never had a daddy of his own,� recalled Pickett. After the experience, he concluded with no uncertainty: �I knew he was innocent when I watched him die.�

In 2006, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune strongly supported his belief. The three-part report revealed that the prosecution�s only eyewitness could not positively identify De Luna as the killer, and no physical evidence linked him to Lopez. The newspaper also uncovered an important finding that could have saved De Lunas� life: the gas-station robbery�which elevated the murder to a capital offense�may not have occurred at all.

Nonetheless, just as Pickett had done with the others�with the resigned, the angry, and the clearly innocent�he placed his hand on De Luna�s ankle and waited as the lethal mix of drugs shot through the man�s arms. But De Luna didn�t die on cue as most did. He was able to move after the first injection, a powerful anesthesia, and after the second, a paralytic. Even after the third and final injection, which stops the heart, he showed signs of life before finally expiring.

It was not fast, it was not easy, and Pickett doubts it was painless.

At the end of the Bible lesson comes the phrase, �And then here we come with the word�repent.� �What does it mean?� asks Pickett. �Do a 180,� he answers.

Pickett witnessed some 60 executions after Carlos De Luna. But De Luna�s execution hastened the transformation that was to come, three years later, when the death penalty came full circle into Pickett�s personal life. Ignacio Cuevas, one of the three inmates who had orchestrated the 1974 prison siege that took the lives of Pickett�s two parishioners, showed up to die.

As Pickett recalls that pivotal moment, he flips through a yellowed scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings and photographs of the siege. In one, soon after the botched escape, a young, darkhaired Pickett embraces Jim Estelle, the prison director.

Seventeen years after those photographs were taken, Cuevas died on the gurney, with little fanfare. There was none of the hoped-for closure, no making peace. It brought nothing. In the hours after Cuevas died, Pickett recalled Judy Standley�s final words to him, �It isn�t how you die, but rather, how you live.� Pickett closes the scrapbook and reflects on both the prison siege and Cuevas� execution. �I can see how hard it can be to understand, for just one event to change me, and then to change again,� he says. But at the heart of Pickett�s journey is a reflection on life. The death penalty is not about dying, he says. It�s about how a society chooses to live.”

Pickett later brought his perspective to Texas legislators as they considered a moratorium on the death penalty. He mused how in life men as different as Carlos de Luna, most likely an innocent man, and an unrepentant Ignacio Cuevas shared little more than the absoluteness of their ending.

�All 95 met the same fate,� he said in testimony before Texas lawmakers in 2000. �The repentant died with the unrepentant, the mentally competent died with the mentally incompetent and the innocent died with the guilty.� It has been more than a decade since Pickett left the Walls. The message of repentance he once shared with the imprisoned and those condemned to die is now heard by the living and the free. ai

Michelle Garcia, a native Texan, recently completed a Knight fellowship in El Salvador with the International Center for Journalists. She is based in New York.

AI Fights Lethal Injection

Abolishing the death penalty both in the United States and abroad has long been one of Amnesty International’s urgent human rights priorities. AI’s recent report on lethal injection describes the consequences of recent legal challenges to lethal injection, including increased pressure to require medical personnel to participate in executions, which poses a fundamental ethical conflict for doctors. On Sept. 25, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection from Kentucky. The Court’s decision could result in more pressure to include doctors in the execution process.Amnesty International, through its Declaration on the Participation of Health Personnel in the Death Penalty, seeks to end the involvement of health personnel in executions. In the United States, Amnesty International calls on:

  • States to ban participation of health professionals in executions
  • Medical associations to educate their members about their ethical responsibilities
  • State medical boards to vigorously defend those ethical principles against state intrusion

To read the report and take action, please visit

Latino Love Fest Over for Romney and Huckabee

December 12, 2007

Just two days after trying to melt the Latino political ice during the Univision television debate, GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were back to to the usual immigration antics. After a brief respit from using the words “illegals”, “illegal aliens” and other terms considered racist by many Latinos, Romney was back to his anti-immigrant business with ads like this one in which he attacks Idaho front-runner Huckabee for being “soft on immigration”:


Not to be outdone, Huckabee upped the ante by announcing his endorsement by Jim Gilchrist, one of the founders of the racist Minutemen organization.

How the Republicans expect to woo the Latino vote all the while flirting with white supremacist screed really does boggle the mind.

Not So FAIR: Leading Conservative Immigration Reform Group Classified as Hate Group

December 11, 2007

Federation for American Immigration Reform Home Page

In an important development on the immigration front this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) classified for the first time the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as a racist hate group. Long the leading national conservative voice on immigration, FAIR is consistently and enthusiastically embraced by the media, elected officials and others and is regularly sought out for TV interviews, position papers and official testimony before Congress for its views on immigration.

According to the SPLC report, FAIR is directly linked to known racist organizations and has even employed members of these organizations in key positions. From the report,

The group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR):

  • is the creation of a man who operates a racist publishing company and has compared immigrants to “bacteria;”
  • has employed members of white supremacist groups in key positions;
  • has promoted racist conspiracy theories; and
  • has accepted more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation devoted to eugenics and to proving a connection between race and IQ.

While accusations against FAIR and its members are nothing new, the recent classification comes at an important juncture for the immigrant rights movement. Failure to confront more aggressively the racist roots of what often passes for “immigration reform” leaves the movement wholly within the racially codified borders of the “legal” vs. “illegal” arguments of groups like FAIR and individuals like its radical founding Board member, John Tanton.

Rather than engage with groups and individuals that hide eugenicist and other extreme racist views behind suits and skirts, and “reports” and multimillion-dollar funding, some immigrant rights activists need to start refusing the deadly theatrics inherent in publicly “debating” against formerly fringe ideas and groups. A case in point is the most recent “debate” on “immigration reform”. Had they refused to engage legislators representing and/or influenced by FAIR, the Minutemen and their ilk, the “liberal reformers” might have avoided further legitimating and mainstreaming the racist, anti-immigrant positions of the formerly extreme right. That many mainstream “Americans” -including “liberal” and “progressive” “Americans”-now hold anti-immigrant views as a kind of de-racialized civic duty provides a powerful testament to the danger of dealing with extremists.

You cannot win a battle against faeries, hobgoblins or unicorns. We must adopt the position that we will no longer share panels, TV appearances and the like with certifiably racist groups like FAIR and the Minutemen. Let some other groups put their credibility in the service of the formerly extreme right. And, if the media or others insist on such appearances, then they too must be taken to task for lending their credibility to racist groups posing as “immigration reformers”.

Morrissey Denies “Racist Thug” Accusations

December 11, 2007


After being accused of racism by the British music tabloid, NME, singer Morrissey published this response in the UK Guardian last week (sorry for the delayed report).

Beloved by many, including many Latinos, some of whom found themselves in a moral dillemma upon hearing the news, the crooner countered the accusations of being a “racist thug” by saying that he was “the victim of the magazine’s agenda to cook up a sensational story”.

Thanks to bordersound for sharing this late, but important news.

Español Is Winner of Univision Debate

December 10, 2007

Here’s something else I wrote about last night’s Univision debate:

Español Is Winner of Univision Debate

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Dec 10, 2007

Editor’s Note: The silent winner during last night’s Republican debate on Univision was, once again, the Spanish language, writes NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

The silent winner during last night’s Republican debate on Univision was the Spanish language. Though they called for ending “illegal immigration” and for the children of immigrants to learn English (even though a recent study says they already are), the usually loudly anti-immigrant GOP presidential candidates did so in the most subdued tones to date.

The debate made clear the undeniable power of the Spanish language in U.S. politics and life today.

Throughout the hour-and-a-half forum held in Coral Gables, Fla., the politics of the Spanish language forced each candidate to alter his English-language political shtick.

One of the first questions asked went directly to the ascendant politics of language: “Thirty-one million people in the United States speak Spanish here… Do you think that there would be a value – a practical value – of making English the official language in this country?” asked Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.

Sen. John McCain discussed the “practical value” of learning English but neglected to mention his previous support for a “non-binding” Senate resolution endorsing English as the official language. For his part, candidate Ron Paul said that “we should have one language” without declaring outright his support or opposition for the English-only proposals of his peers in the GOP.

Originally scheduled for September, the debate in Miami marked a historic second presidential debate in a language other than English. Even before the debate, the issue of language occupied center stage as Colorado Congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo boycotted the event. “It is the law that to become a naturalized citizen of this country you must have knowledge and understanding of English, including a basic ability to read, write, and speak the language,” Tancredo announced, adding, “So what may I ask are our presidential candidates doing participating in a Spanish speaking debate? Pandering comes to mind.”

When moderators Ramos and María Elena Salinas moved the discussion to immigration, we again saw how language shifted the terms of the debate. Most interesting was how the candidates avoided terms derided by Latino and other immigrants as racist. Words like “illegals,” “illegal aliens” and other terms that have become part of the lexicon of most candidates (except for Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul) found no sanctuary during yesterday’s debate. Much more emphasis was placed on “welcoming” and lavishing praise of “legal” immigrants.

One of the most important developments in recent months is the growing awareness by Spanish-language television – and Spanish-speaking voters – of their ability as a force for change (if only temporary change).

Univision’s emphasis last night on the politics of the Spanish language follows similar questioning of Democratic candidates in September. At that time, anchors Ramos and Salinas adopted a slightly different approach, by asking, “Would you be willing to promote Spanish as the second official language of the United States?” None of the Democrats responded directly.

As they move beyond Miami to continue their desperate search for voters, Republican candidates have lent themselves to the cottage industry of Spanish-language politics. As he opened up his “Viva Rudy” Latino campaign, Rudy Giuliani said Latinos “were a very important part of my coalition in getting elected mayor of New York City, and we want them to be a very important part of my coalition in winning the Republican primaries.” Mitt Romney, whose father was born in Mexico and who recently stated he admires Pancho Villa, launched a Spanish-language radio ad in Florida that was paid for by the “Romney para presidente” campaign. Other candidates have followed with similar efforts.

With two non-English debates setting the stage for the multilingual political future, it becomes clear the degree to which the histrionics of the English-only and immigration debates will soon be the politics of the past. A United States where one in every four people will be of Latino descent means that, short of violence or genocide, the politics of the Spanish language seen and heard on Univision last night are here to stay.

NYT Columnist (also) Slams NPR’s Role in Immigrant “Witch Hunt”

December 10, 2007

New York Times

Looks like to the logic of Of América may not be so barbarian after all.

This Bob Herbert column in yesterday’s New York Times excoriates NPR’s Steve Inskeep for “asking the Democratic candidates whether American citizens have an obligation to turn in people they suspect are illegal immigrants.”

Herbert does defend the media’s right to ask questions but also says that “…the last thing in the world that the United States needs is a signal from presidential wannabes that it’s a good idea to turn ordinary American citizens into immigrant-hunting busybodies.”

Most of you may have first heard this critique of NPR here. It’s good to know that we Of América are not alone in out thinking about the politics of media and migration.

December 8, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Spies Like You and Me

Let the witch hunt begin. Are you now or have you ever been an illegal immigrant?

Are any of your friends illegal? Relatives?

The last place you’d expect to encounter a chilling moment is at a presidential debate sponsored by National Public Radio. But on Tuesday, there was the NPR moderator, Steve Inskeep, asking the Democratic candidates whether American citizens have an obligation to turn in people they suspect are illegal immigrants.

It was not just a question asked in passing. Mr. Inskeep pressed the issue. He asked Senator Chris Dodd, for example, about the hypothetical situation of a “citizen” interviewing for a nanny.

“You interview a number of applicants,” Mr. Inskeep said. “They all seem very nice. They seem like they would take care of the kids. But it would appear that their documents may not be in order. What would you want an American to do?”

Their documents may not be in order.

Mr. Inskeep didn’t make clear what should trigger the suspicions of such oh-so-solidly American parents, causing them to scrutinize an applicant’s papers with a thoroughness worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Might it be a skin tone darker than Paris Hilton’s? Or maybe an accent, like that of my Aunt Lottie, who came here from Barbados?

You wouldn’t have wanted to face my family if you were some rat who tried to turn in my Aunt Lottie.

I have no idea how Mr. Inskeep feels about this issue. He was just asking questions. But the last thing in the world that the United States needs is a signal from presidential wannabes that it’s a good idea to turn ordinary American citizens into immigrant-hunting busybodies.

The Democrats did not rise to the bait. Senator Hillary Clinton was especially good. Mr. Inskeep said to her, “If a citizen witnessed some other kind of crime, wouldn’t you want them to report it?”

Senator Clinton replied: “It’s a very clever question, Steve, but I think it really begs the question, because what we’re looking at here is 12 to 14 million people. They live in our neighborhoods, they take care of our elderly parents, they probably made the beds in the hotels that some of us stayed in last night. They are embedded in our society.”

She warned that listening to the “demagogues and the calls for us to begin to try to round up people and turn every American into a suspicious vigilante” would do grave harm “to the fabric of our nation.”

She couldn’t have been more correct. Enlisting ordinary Americans in a nationwide hunt for so-called illegals is a recipe for violence and hysteria, a guarantee of tragedy.

We’ve already got radio-active talk show hosts spewing anti-immigrant venom from one coast to another. Media Matters for America, a monitoring group, has noted that Michael Savage, who has the third-most-listened-to show in the nation, said the following on his July 2 broadcast:

“When I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi. That’s what I see. How do you like that? A hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children.”

When a woman wears a burqa, said Mr. Savage, “She’s doing it to spit in your face. She’s saying, ‘You white moron, you, I’m going to kill you if I can.’”

That’s what’s already out there. We don’t need national leaders adding fuel to the fires of bigotry by calling for recruits to join in a national dragnet for people who look or sound a certain way.

That kind of insidious leadership helps drive people to irrational fury over neighbors speaking Spanish at a barbecue, or a Muslim co-worker competing for a coveted promotion, or a schoolteacher with a Hispanic surname who gives a failing grade to little Sally.

This country needs to cool it on the immigration front. Solutions to immigration problems need to come from rationally thought-out and compassionate government policies, not a witch hunt by all and sundry.

It was beyond ironic to listen Thursday to Mitt Romney as he went on national television to ask Americans to view his candidacy with a sense of tolerance. “We believe that every single human being is a child of God,” he said. “We are all part of the human family.”

At the same time, Mr. Romney’s political operatives were distributing campaign material (some of it inaccurate) beating up on his opponents for being insufficiently intolerant on the immigration issue.

The U.S. has a chance in this presidential campaign to emulate the best in its history, not the worst. I have a recommendation for anyone who thinks a witch hunt for undocumented immigrants is a good idea:

Don’t go there.

The Republican Presidential Debate on Univision and the Rise of the “I” Word

December 10, 2007

Several of the candidates smiled at the ground as if in shame. Their tense postures and nervous facial expressions made them look like undocumented immigrants being interrogated about driver’s licenses. And, when asked about the thorny issue of immigration during the first-ever Spanish language Republican Presidential debate on Univision television last night, all of the candidates took the same tack: loudly lauding “legal” immigrants while softly decrying “illegals”.

It was as if having to translate their message into Spanish forced the candidates to mellow out on immigration with a tab ecstasy or some other mind-altering substance. Instead of the usually militant deployment of their ultimate wedge issue, the GOP candidates spent a good part of the first debate overwhelmingly dominated by immigration praising and parsing immigrants with double messages like Mitt Romney’s, “We’re not going to cut off immigration; we’re going to keep immigration alive and thriving…But we’re going to end the practice of illegal immigration. It’s not inhumane. It’s humanitarian. It’s compassionate. We’re going to end illegal immigration to protect legal immigration.” Also typical were John McCain’s statement that “we have to address this issue with compassion and love, because these are human beings”.

Gone last night were Giuliani’s denunciations of “sanctuary mansions”; Absent were Romney’s impassioned descriptions of New York as “a sanctuary city for illegal aliens.” We heard little of Mike Huckabee’s new get tough on “illegals” line he copied from an extreme right wing think tank. Asked about whether the children of the undocumented had a right not to be separated from their parents, Fred Thompson forgot to mention that he’s even open to the possibility of altering or abolishing the guarantees of citizenship in the 14th Amendment.

The GOP candidate’s distinction between legal and “illegal” last night masks a deeper problem, one that extends beyond 2008 and electoral politics: years of anti-immigration rhetoric has led Republicans to institutionalize the Latino equivalent of the “N” word. Last night’s debate will do little to nothing to improve Republican fortunes among Latinos because their immigration policies and their angry, mantra-like repetition of words Latinos consider offensive like “Illegals” and “illegal aliens” have given rise to the politics of the “I” word.

This was made clear by Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas, who, during one of her questions, mentioned surveys concluding that 4 of every 5 Latino residents and citizens felt the impact of the “negative tone of the immigration debate”. In response to another question about the reasons for the decline in Latino support for the Republican Party, not a single candidate even mentioned the issue of immigration. Not one. Instead, they chose to point to a picture of the Statue of Liberty behind them as they preached about a “pluralistic nation” that “welcomes people of all ethnicities”. Continuation of such vapid responses to the intense and growing concerns about anti-Latino racism will mean the birth of a permanent anti-GOP voting block in our increasingly non-white electorate.

GOP Latino strategists advising the various campaigns seemed to mistakenly tailor their messages to the overwhelmingly Cuban-American audience in Miami last night. The 4% of Latinos that are Cuban-American aren’t as concerned about immigration as the rest of the estimated 46 million mostly Mexican and Central American Latinos are. And studies by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and others show that GOP-leaning Cuban-Americans are the Latinos most likely to check of “white” on the Census, which means that they are more likely to be among the 1/5th of Latinos that do not feel the racism of Republican-led immigration histrionics.

Predictable denunciations of Fidel Castro and praise for “legal” immigrants may score with some (not all) Latinos in South Florida. But the overwhelming majority of Latinos watching last night heard nothing to dispel the sense that Republicans are manipulating them as part by what some pundits are calling the “new Willie Horton”.

As a result, even loyal GOP Latinos groups like Latino evangelicals have started to abandon the party. And it appears that nobody told the candidates that immigrants were among the groups primarily responsible for the up tick in Latino support for the Republicans in 2004. The culture of hatred fostered by the immigration debate has also sparked a renewed culture of activism seen in the Latino blogosphere, on the streets and, soon, in the voting booth.

As in the days when one was called a sellout or “vendido” with words like “Uncle Tom” or “Tio Taco”, the GOP candidates pathetic performance previews a near future that will likely see the resurgence of another such term: Republicano.

So, while potentially effective with white voters in the short term, immigration wedge politics are also giving birth to another kind of wedge, the long term wedge born of the “I” words Republican presidential candidates so love to chant- in English.


December 5, 2007

NPR Home Page

During questioning in the Democratic radio debate yesterday, debate sponsor NPR came dangerously close to promoting civilian pursuit of immigrants. The New York Times summed up NPR’s questioning in this way,

“If there is one issue that has challenged presidential candidates of both parties in Iowa this year, it is immigration, and the Democratic contenders were confronted with it again Tuesday, in a provocative way. Should American citizens, they were asked, turn in someone they know to be an illegal immigrant?”

Even after Hillary Clinton responded that citizens should not be “enforcing the broken laws of our federal immigration system”, NPR’s Steven Inskeep continued the line of questioning by asking, “If a citizen witnessed some other kind of crime, wouldn’t you want them to report it?”

Contrary to what the Times tells us, such a line of questioning is not just “provocative”, but is, in fact, more like DANGEROUS. In a political environment that already lends itself to countless forms of racial profiling (and to smashing the distinction between federal and local law enforcement under the guise of immigration policy), such a line of questioning only serves to further legitimate another formerly wacky idea, an idea one could, until recently, only find in the netherworld of white supremacist websites. Even those who constantly ask me, “What don’t you understand about the word ‘illegal’?” should recognize the inherent danger in NPR’s approach.

Yesterday’s questioning of the Democratic Presidential candidates around immigration seems to indicate that NPR is willing to use public airwaves to provide broader forum for formerly fringe ideas. Public airing of such questions will only exacerbate racial tensions against Latino and other migrants that even the FBI tells us are the object of a disturbing increase in hate crimes (and that’s just the tiny minority of anti-immigrant hate crimes that are even reported).

What would happen if, for example, such state-funded media started asking whether it was advisable for citizens to single out and report other people based on their religion or physical appearance? Experiences in Germany during WWII and here in the U.S. during the pre and post-Emancipation periods have already demonstrated the danger in state-funded -or any other media- isolating a group for pursuit by local and federal authorities -and civilians. This kind of racial logic further deepens the abyss opened after 9-11, when Muslims, South Asians and Arabs became the “beta’s” for the new, state-sponsored, national security-tinged profiling of immigrants and other non-whites.

NPR’s line of questioning has started taking us beyond “racial profiling” and into even more treacherous racial and political terrain. Imagine what would happen if, for example, some us decide to get licensed guns, drive to the U.S.-Canada border, capture and hog tie blond-haired, blue-eyed people that we suspect of being undocumented. Would we-say, the “Minutomen“- get the same fair and balanced treatment from law enforcement and the media as the Minutemen, who have undertaken these very actions against Latino migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border? And would these white immigrants get the same treatment by federal and local law enforcement, civilians and NPR and other media?

NPR should know that raising these kinds of questions in the current climate will likely not result in profiling and further intensifying and expanding the governmental and civilian hunt for blond-haired, blue eyed Canadians and other whites. NPR’s troubling line of questioning will instead impact non-whites already suffering the brunt of attacks by the same government that funds public radio.

NPR does have decent people and many relevant and good programs. But, left unchecked, those at NPR responsible for yesterday’s debate questioning on immigration will likely follow the tried, true and audience-building path paved by hate radio on a.m. and private sector “successes” like Lou Dobbs, CNN and other media making an industry of fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment.

We should not be complicit in allowing publicly-funded institutions like NPR to cross this dangerous racial border.

Say it Ain’t So: Morrissey, Singer Beloved by Latinos, Another Immigrant Hater?

December 4, 2007

In what may be a devastating blow to the throngs of Morrissey maniaticos across the hemisphere, the U.K. Guardian and other British news organizations are reporting that the former Smiths singer expressed anti-immigrant sentiments during a recent interview. Today’s Guardian reports on the controversy stirred up by alleged remarks the aging crooner made when asked about immigration in the U.K.. “The gates of England are flooded. The country’s been thrown away”he responded, according NEM, a Brit music magazine.

The row raging on the other side of the pond has many Latinos and Latin Americans on this side wondering whether their idol harbors sentiments antithetical to migrants. For reasons beyond my limited comprehension of Morrisseyiana, the former Smiths singer has a and massive, cultish fan base in the Américas. His alleged recent statements must come as something of a sad song to thousands of pompadoured, tee-shirt-sporting devotees in L.A., Mexico and elsewhere. Morrissey has denied the allegations and is suing NME for libel.

Of course, these aren’t the first such allegations aimed at him. This 2006 article in the Believer describes some Morrissey performances that make it easier to believe the NME’s report. Consider this description about a concert in Yuma, Arizona,

“When the crowd chanted “Mexico! Mexico!” at an off-the-beaten-track Morrissey concert in the desert town of Yuma, Arizona a few years ago, trying to get Morrissey to acknowledge that the majority of the audience was Latino, the singer responded by saying: “I’m going to sing a couple more songs then all of you can go back to Mexicali.”

or this one about a concert in England,

Draped in the Union Jack flag, a symbol of arch nationalism, and singing songs with such perturbing titles as “Bengali in Platforms” and “National Front Disco”, Morrissey’s acerbic references to “England for the English!” at Madstock failed to appeal to the media’s underdeveloped sense of irony. The performance was taken at face value, and Morrissey was branded a racist.

Whatever the outcome, there’s a lot of gut-wrenching and soul-searching in the land where “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.”

Tancredo Hired Some of the Very Undocumented Laborers He So Despises

December 3, 2007

Another one from the “Super Hypocrite” files. Outgoing Republican Congressman and Uber-immigrant-hating Presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, apparently hired undocumented workers to clean his McMansion in Colorado according to this story by my friend, Max Blumenthal.

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s important for the utter immorality and absurdity of the “immigration debate” to become obvious to the greater public. But on the other hand, why and how does one such as Tancredo get into the public mind in the first place? And how did his arguments garner such serious attention in the mainstream. I mean, like it or not, he and the deranged elements he represents have managed to write the Republican – and Democrat (think Hillary Clinton and almost all Dem. Presidential candidates stupidity and cowardice on dirver’s licenses for the undocumented) -script on immigration. He’s already done his job.

So, while good to out he and his ilk, this piece also serves as a reminder of how far from fringe this loons ideas have become.

Tom Tancredo Hired Illegal Laborers to Renovate His McMansion

By Max Blumenthal, AlterNet
Posted on December 1, 2007, Printed on December 2, 2007

When Republican Representative Tom Tancredo isn’t railing against the “scourge” of illegal immigration on the presidential campaign trail, he relaxes in the 1053 square foot basement recreation room of his Littleton, Colorado McMansion. There, he and his family can rack up a game of billiards on their tournament size pool table, play pinball, or enjoy their favorite movies in the terraced seating area of a home theater system. Tancredo, who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War by producing evidence that he suffered from mentally illnesses, especially likes entertaining his buddies with classic war movies.

“We have friends over and I have now shown Pearl Harbor about six times,” Tancredo boasted to the Rocky Mountain News about his 102-inch television. “But I mainly just show the attack scene because the sound is so good.”

When Tancredo hired a construction crew to transform his drab basement into a high-tech pleasure den in October 2001, however, he did not express concern that only two of its members spoke English. Nor did he bother to check the workers’ documentation to see if they were legal residents of the United States. Had Tancredo done so, he would have learned that most of the crew consisted of undocumented immigrants, or “criminal aliens” as he likes to call them. Instead, Tancredo paid the crew $60,000 for its labor and waited innocently for the completion of his elaborate entertainment complex.

During the renovation process, two illegal workers hired by Tancredo were alerted to his reputation for immigrant bashing. They went straight to the Denver Post to complain. Tancredo “doesn’t want us here, but he’ll take advantage of our sweat and our labor,” one of the workers complained to the Post on September 19, 2002. “It’s just not right.”

The Post report momentarily threw Tancredo on the defensive. In a fiery speech soon after the story’s publication, Tancredo blamed his foibles on the INS. “I haven’t the foggiest idea how many people I may have hired in the past as taxi drivers, as waiters, waitresses, home improvement people,” he boomed from the House floor. “I haven’t the foggiest idea how many of those people may have been here illegally, and it is not my job to ask them.” Then defiance gave way to vitriol as the congressman dubbed undocumented immigrants, “the face of murder.”

Only days before the Post’s story appeared, Tancredo had personally reported an honor student profiled in the Denver Post to the INS because the 14-year-old was not a legal resident of the United States. The stunt forced the boy’s family to go into hiding. Fortunately for Tancredo, the ensuing revelations of his hiring of illegal labor fell below the radar of the national media, allowing his anti-immigrant crusade to proceed unabated.

Tancredo proceeded to organize over 90 anti-immigration House members into an informal but powerful caucus that has effectively prevented any non-enforcement related immigration legislation from reaching the President’s desk. His Team America PAC, which is chaired by right-wing pundit Bay Buchanan, has donated tens of thousands of dollars this election cycle to nativist candidates who hope to fill Tancredo’s caucus with new blood when he retires next year. Down on the border, Tancredo announced his support for the Minutemen, providing the anti-immigrant militia with a veneer of respectability while its pistol-packing members hunt for brown-skinned evildoers.

Tancredo has also played an instrumental role in shaping the way immigration is discussed in the media. Despite his third tier status in the presidential campaign, as of November 19 the congressman has appeared on Fox News more times during 2007 than any other presidential candidate. A former Tancredo staffer speaking on condition of anonymity told me recently that the congressman spends extensive time on the phone with top-rated CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, offering him tips and ideas for his daily “Broken Borders” segments.

Dobbs, in turn, has produced an unending string of specious “reports” painting undocumented immigrants from Latin America as disease-ridden criminals. In May, for example, Dobbs falsely claimed that illegal migrants from Mexico were responsible for 7000 new cases of leprosy in the United States. A wave of negative publicity forced Dobbs to acknowledge his source for the bogus story as Madeleine Cosman, a deceased white supremacist activist who often appeared at anti-immigrant rallies beside her pal Tancredo.

The success of Tancredo’s efforts to project his nativist politics onto the national stage were apparent during CNN’s November 26 Republican Youtube debate. In a heated exchange that highlighted press coverage of the debate, presidential frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney competed with one another over who could appear the most draconian towards “illegals.” When Romney accused Giuliani of running a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants while serving as mayor of New York, Giuliani shot back that Romney had run a “sanctuary mansion” when he was governor of Massachusetts. Giuliani pointed to a lengthy Boston Globe report revealing that Romney paid a gardening service that employed illegal workers to tend the lawns of his mansion. Suddenly, the candidates with the most tolerant records on immigration issues sounded like Tancredo.

While the two rivals clashed, Tancredo stood at the far end of the stage smiling contentedly. The cause he championed for years with a band of ornery border vigilantes, white supremacists, and assorted dregs by his side had become a central theme in the race for the White House. Of all the major GOP candidates, only Sen. John McCain has countered Tancredo with big tent appeals to socially conservative Latinos. The other candidates have reliably parroted his talking points, parrying accusations of ideological impurity by accusing one another of being soft on illegal immigration. “All I’ve heard is people trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo,” Tancredo observed during the debate. “It is great.”

But there is one way the Republican candidates can never out-Tancredo Tancredo. The congressman lives in a “sanctuary mansion” built by the kind of people he has made a career out of demonizing. Tom Tancredo may have no hope of winning the Republican nomination, but in the cause of hypocrisy, he is the frontrunner.

Max Blumenthal is a fellow of the Nation Institute and a research fellow at Media Matters for America. The winner of the USC Annenberg’s Online Journalism Award, his work frequently appears in the Nation, the Huffington Post, Alternet, and the American Prospect. He is currently writing a book, Land of Sin, for Nation/Basic Books due out in July 2008.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Immigrants, Border Patrol Criminals and the Politics of Selective Humanity

December 1, 2007

Though this story I wrote for New America Media was a rush job and doesn’t have what I consider a very original or interesting title (I prefer the one I gave it above), there are some things in it that may be of interest. It’s about what I’m calling “the politics of selective humanity”: how some people are more human than others.

It’s partly inspired by the major increase in anti-immigrant violence, abuse, etc. documented by even the FBI in its crime stats, which lack any categories relating to migration status. Despite the exponential increase in anti-migrant incidents, Lou Dobbs and the anti-immigrant echo chamber never make any mention of what immigrants suffer. Instead, Dobbs creates martyrs and humanizes criminals like Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean who were convicted and jailed for shooting at a man 15 times and then trying to cover it up. Contrast what you see on Dobbs show about this case with what you read in this piece from Salon magazine.

In any case, here’s the piece:

Anti-Immigrant Rage Dehumanizes the Undocumented

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Nov 30, 2007

Editor’s Note: The CNN/You Tube Debate earlier this week showed what a hot-button topic that immigration was — with Republican candidates vying over who has the harshest measures concerning undocumented immigrants. But a closer look at the rising numbers of hate crimes reported against immigrants shows the deadly effects of anti-immigrant rhetoric, writes NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

The focus of this week’s Republican debate on immigration makes one thing clear: We have entered the age of selective humanity. In other words, some humans are more human than others. Nowhere in the debate talk of “illegal aliens” and “sanctuary mansions” or who or what is “American” was there any notion that the undocumented were humans.

As a result, much of the “debate” around immigration has been and continues to be defined by the rage of the anti-immigrant right, a right that champions and humanizes those that shoot and jail migrants instead of focusing on the migrants themselves – who are stripped of anything beyond the parasitic, criminal image that makes for “fiery” television head-butting. Such a climate does not look at the violence and abuse suffered by migrants. It does not ascribe humanity to them.

The media of just one week yields many examples of how undocumented immigrants suffer through things that no politician or pundit is talking about. For example, the Arizona Republic reported this week about a dramatic rise in the number of undocumented who are kidnapped at gunpoint, held for ransom, tortured and even killed; an analysis of the FBI hate crime statistics by the Southern Poverty Law Center found an estimated 35 percent increase in hate crimes against those perceived to be undocumented including cases like that of a Cuban man killed at an improvised roadblock and that of man sodomized with a patio umbrella pole; in Greensboro, Ga., last week, Police Officer Brent Gulley was caught stealing cash from Latinos pulled over for numerous alleged offenses while in Tucson another undocumented man was shot by authorities under questionable circumstances; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Broward county is investigating an immigration agent who was transporting a 39-year-old mother for deportation to Jamaica and allegedly raped her in his home in what authorities say is the second such incident in the past month.

And to no one’s surprise, Lou Dobbs and the anti-migrant echo chamber exercised their right to selective humanity and regularly and completely ignore these stories and, instead, focus on faux-hero stories like that of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. Ramos and Compean became a cause celebre of the anti-immigrant set after being convicted for firing 15 bullets at a suspected drug dealer and then trying to cover up the evidence. Those who watch Dobbs’ show are saturated with weekly reports about the families of Ramos and Compean and other humanizing stories. These same viewers – and most Americans – haven’t an inkling of the deepening abyss of violence and hate aimed at immigrants.

It’s no coincidence that such incidents come in a climate of increasing racial and economic tension as seen, for example, in the current rise in hate crimes. Sadly, crimes against immigrants go largely unreported not only because of the fear in the immigrant community. As the former president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, I learned that migration status is not included as a category in most hate crime data-gathering and statistics. So, while the FBI report is helpful, it likely captures little of the official and un-official crimes against those vilified daily on CNN news and debates and in state legislatures.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the politics of selective humanity around immigration started back in the 90s, when the contemporary politics of immigration were first shaped in California. At that time, many Democrats and their allies pointed to polls showing that “moral arguments around immigration don’t work with the voters.” In other words, pollsters were telling them that humanity and humanizing the issue wouldn’t win elections against the immigration wedge-deploying Republicans.

Today, we’ve reached a point in which, not only are “moral” or “humane” immigration policies taboo, but one in which even Democrats like Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) are co-sponsoring punitive, enforcement only policies like the SAVE Act (Secure America through Verification Enforcement). Some of the same Democratic politicos, pollsters and strategists who told us that “moral arguments around immigration don’t work with the voters” are economically richer and more politically powerful. Until both parties recognize the humanity of immigrants, the barrage of horrific stories about crimes directed at this population will continue.