Archive for 2008

Thank You & Best Wishes in 2009

December 31, 2008

the-way-to-love-i

Thank you for your support in what’s been a spellbinding year for us all.

Ideal or real, theory or practice, spirit or flesh; Whatever the space(s) that will get  you through times that will reveal the depth of our character, may they be filled with and fueled by the highest, most powerful energy known to the imagination and heart.

Con mucho carino de tu amigo,

R

Roberto Lovato

Hope for the Holidays

December 23, 2008

https://i1.wp.com/cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0dlpgpp1596G7/610x.jpg

One of the many measures of the hardness of our times can be found in South Texas, where even the simple act of bringing Christmas cheer to children can sometimes require more than just a spirit of charity. In some cases, it often requires the kind of stonecutter’s determination one finds in a (Charles) Dickens tale, the determination of someone like Luissana Santinbañez.

“The fact that we’re able to bring these toys to children is a huge victory. It took an incredible amount of struggle” says Santibañez, a 25 year-old San Antonio resident who is one of the organizers of a toy drive for children detained along with their immigrant parents behind the concrete walls and barbed wire fences of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

“We only got to deliver these toys as a result of lots of litigation and many protests” she says adding “We got to do this because of the community outcry about what’s going on behind the walls of those privately-run immigrant detention centers: children and families living in horrific conditions –the lack of medical treatment, the bathrooms without soap, the food with cockroaches, the people dying in detention, the suicides. We can’t let them be so cruel to kids; We can’t let them hide this.”

The “we” Santibañez mentions includes a very broad and diverse group of people of numerous religious, racial, ethnic and class backgrounds, many of whom had never been involved in immigrant rights or any other activism.

The determination exemplified by Santibañez, who got involved in immigrant detention issues after her mother, a former permanent resident detained and eventually deported for allegedly transporting undocumented immigrants, is spreading across the entire country; It mirrors how the plight of immigrants in the United States has given rise to a different kind of hope, a hope rising out of the darkly fertile soil of very hard times.

“I’m committed to this because of people like my mother,” she says, her throat trembling with conviction as she also describes how she and her four siblings must rely on one another now that they are “left without a mother.” In a country facing colossal challenges – poverty and economic divisions not seen since the Great Depression, fabulous political and corporate corruption surpassing anything seen during the Gilded Age, panic and fear of epic proportions – immigrant stories in the United States are inspiring people around the world.

Consider the widely-watched factory takeover staged by Vicente Rangel and the other 200 mostly immigrant (80 percent) workers laid-off on December 5th by owner the Republic Door and Window manufacturing plant in Chicago. Demanding severance and accrued vacation pay after the factory owner gave them just three days notice before closing the plant down, Rangel and his fellow workers’ took over the plant and, in the process, garnered global attention. And in an act not seen from a President or President-elect since worker unrest forced Franklin Delano Roosevelt to speak about the growing worker militancy of the 1930s, President-elect Barack Obama, made favorable mention of the factory takeover in a speech delivered shortly after it happened.

Media outlets from around the world are still calling Rangel’s union; Workers from across the country are also calling the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union to speak with Rangel and other workers who have become rock stars of the labor movement, something that still surprises Rangel.

“I never thought we’d get this kind of attention” said Rangel, a 34 year old parent from Michoacan, Mexico who migrated, he says, because “it was so poor where I came from, there were only two options: the military or migrate.”

Twenty years after he migrated from Michoacan, a region with a long tradition of labor and political militancy, Rangel found himself drawing on the traditions of struggle of both his rural homeland and his urban home.

“When we were in the factory, I thought about the great ones who came before us – Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and others were accused of being criminals like immigrants are now. I also thought of what Martin Luther King had to suffer through and how big all these struggles are,” said Rangel from his union hall. “Respeto, dignidad. We were not asking for what we didn’t deserve.

Since winning back over $1.75 million in monies and benefits owed them, Rangel and his fellow workers have decided to invest in a ‘Window of Opportunity Fund’ to reopen a newer, better plant. “We want to incentivize others to invest so we can create green jobs and do recycling that helps save the planet,” said a smiling Rangel, who added “and we hope to inspire others.”

Apparently, Rangel and the Republic workers’ holiday hope is already generating hope across geographic, cultural and linguistic boundaries.

“I don’t have a job right now,” said 53, year-old Ling Gan in Mandarin. “But when I saw [the Republic workers sit-in], I felt very inspired because their struggle to protect their rights is the same as ours.”

Gan, one of several workers at the New On Sang poultry workers in San Francisco’s who are protesting because, they say, they too are owed wages from their former employer since last September. Gan and his fellow workers are have staged strikes and protests targeting New Ong Sang’s owner, who, he says, “has cheated us because she thinks we don’t understand the laws.”

Like Rangel, Guangzhou native Gan also draws on traditions of both his homeland and his new home in his pursuit of “justice.”

“It’s a myth that Chinese are ‘passive,’ “ says Gan. “In the United States, we feel that we’re in a country of laws and we came with great trust in the legal system and will use it fight for our rights until we win back what we’re owed.”

While he is motivated by events in the Chicago factory, Gan also sees his own fight with New Ong Sang as a way to encourage others, especially because of the feeling of “I can’t pay rent, let alone buy gifts for holiday,” he says.

“But my hope is that the that the public will feel even greater sympathy towards workers experiencing these kinds of problem – and that it inspires others in a similar situation.”

Secretary of Labor Designate Hilda Solis: One to Celebrate

December 19, 2008

//cache.daylife.com/imageserve/05tR5zseskafL/610x.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

In what will be the first progressive appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama invited Southern California Congresswoman, Hilda Solis, to join his cabinet as the Secretary of Labor. This is especially welcome news to labor and immigrant rights groups who have constituted Solis’ primary base in her rise to national prominence. The daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrant laborers, Solis brings the most solid progressive credentials of any member of the Obama cabinet-including Obama himself. She has won abundant praise and wide support because of her positions on labor rights, immigration issues, environmental protection and women’s rights, to name a few. Her appointment reflects the growing power and influence of the labor and immigrant struggles of Southern California and across the country as her trajectory, like that of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, took rapid upward turn thanks to the political energy and power unleashed after the struggles against Proposition 187 in California. For those looking for hope in the great labor and immigration struggles we’re still engaged in, look no further at what your work has wrought: Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor.

(Full disclosure: I know and have worked on a number of issues with Hilda since we fought Proposition 187 in California in the early 90’s and have, since then, found her to be nothing, if not a smart and capable fighter and an upright person. In addition to celebrating Hilda’s political capabilities, I am also likely being moved by the fact that I’ve never seen someone whose extraction so closely resembled my own (Central American immigrant unionist household) enter the Star Chamber of global power, except maybe to clean it. May she enlighten it with the warmth and brilliance of Southern California and the Américas. In sum, I can say without reservation, that this really is one to celebrate as I am about to go do as soon as the this period in my sentence drops….

Our (Still) Monumental Dream: Democracy

December 17, 2008

This pic taken at the Parthenon in Greece makes your day. In the face of the violence, corruption and other anti-democratic practices of the Greek government (including the shooting of a 15 year-old boy), students there are taking matters into their own hands by calling on all of us to resist-and they do so in 4 languages (Greek, Spanish German and English) no less!

3,000 years after this most sacred symbol of western democracy was built by slaves, prisoners and others denied citizenship (also known as ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs in Greek, the origin of our term “idiot”), we are, it seems, still searching for ways to realize the monumental dream of democracy. I find the image of these young descendants of ancient Greek citizens and “idiots” unfurling their multilingual calls for global “resistance” in front of the sublimely-proportioned arches and columns of the Parthenon most inspiring; Reminds me of how the heart of the student has always and forever provided us with the golden ratio of great change. Whatever your age, let the student in you rise to the urgent occasion of change in Greece, in the U.S. and across this troubled planet.

Newly Proposed Interior Secretary Salazar: Already Obama’s Most Controversial Cabinet Choice?

December 17, 2008

https://i2.wp.com/images.publicradio.org/content/2008/08/27/20080827_ken_salazar_33.jpg

Just hours after Barack Obama’s announcement of Ken Salazar as his choice for Interior Secretary, denunciation of and opposition to Salazar have already turned the Colorado Senator in to the most controversial of President-elect Obama’s many cabinet designees. This story in NPR ,”Environmentalists Fuming Over Salazar’s New Post”, describes the growing disillusion in the environmental community about the Interior Secretary designate Salazar, who Kieran Suckling, head of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, “is very closely tied to ranching and mining and very traditional, old-time, Western, extraction industries. We were promised that an Obama presidency would bring change.” A scathing press statement (see below) released by CBD includes a litany of pro-polluter anti-environmental positions taken by Salazar, including his vote not to repeal tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil and his vote for oil drilling of the Florida coast.

Questions about Salazar’s past may bring more unwanted negative attention to Obama, who already finds himself fending off questions about his scandal-ridden ally, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. One reliable source in the DC environmental community just told me that the Interior Secretary position “may not be closed” because Salazar “has some issues from his past that may come out.”

Whether or not these rumors do, in fact, materialize and become newsworthy, it will be interesting to see whether Latino groups come out in support of Salazar as they did during the Senate hearings around the appointment of Salazar friend and ally, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Salazar, National Council of La Raza leader, Janet Murguia, and the leaders of other Washington-based Latino organizations came out forcefully in support of Gonzales even after revelations of the former White House Counsel’s role in providing legal facilitation for the acts of torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib garnered international attention. Salazar and other Latinos in Washington rescinded their support for Gonzales in the final months leading to Gonzales’ resignation.

(Statement on Salazar Appointment by the Center for Biological Diversity)

December 16, 2008

Contact Kieran Suckling , executive director, (520) 275-5960

Ken Salazar a Disappointing Choice for Secretary of the Interior

Stronger, More Scientifically-Based Leadership Needed to Fix
Crisis-Plagued Agency

Strong rumors are circulating that President-elect Barack Obama has
selected Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) as the new Secretary of the Interior.
As the overseer of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land
Management, the Mineral Management Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, and the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of the Interior
is most important position in the protection of America’s lands, waters,
and endangered species.

The Department of the Interior has been rocked by scandals during the
Bush Administration, most revolving around corrupt bureaucrats
overturning and squelching agency scientists as they attempted to
protect endangered species and natural resources from exploitation by
developers, loggers, and oil and gas development. Just yesterday, the
Interior Department Inspector General issued another in a string of
reports http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=305942&

finding that top Department officials systematically violated laws and
regulations in order to avoid or eliminate environmental protections.

“The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward
looking, reform-minded Secretary,” said Kieran Suckling, executive
director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity,
“unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man. He endorsed George Bush’s
selection of Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior, the very woman who
initiated and encouraged the scandals that have rocked the Department of
Interior. Virtually all of the misdeeds described in yesterday’s
Inspector General expose occurred during the tenure of the person Ken
Salazar advocated for the position he is now seeking.”

While Salazar has promoted some good environmental actions and fought
against off-road vehicle abuse, his overall record is decidedly mixed,
and is especially weak in the arenas most important to the next
Secretary of the Interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating
global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered
species. Salazar

– voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S.
automobile fleet

– voted to allow offshore oil drilling along Florida’s coast

– voted to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore global warming
impacts in their water development projects

– voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil

– voted to support subsidies to ranchers and other users of public
forest and range lands

– Threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its
scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered

“Obama’s choices for Secretary of Energy and his Climate Change Czar
indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming,” said
Suckling. “That team will be weakened by the addition of Ken Salazar
who has fought against federal action on global warming, against higher
fuel efficiency standards, and for increased oil drilling and oil
subsidies.”

In addition to his misstep on Norton, Salazar endorsed the elevation of
William Myers III to the federal bench. Myers was a former Interior
Department Solicitor and lobbyist for the ranching industry. Senator
Leahy called him ”the most anti-environmental candidate for the bench I
have seen in 37 years in the Senate.” Bizarrely, Salazar praised Myers’
“outstanding legal reasoning” regarding endangered species, Indian
affairs, federal lands and water, timber, and fish and wildlife issues.
The American Bar Association rated Meyers as “not qualified.” Salazar
later supported Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, introducing him
at his Senate confirmation hearing.

“One of the most important jobs of the Secretary of the Interior is to
help pick dozens of critically important political appointees to oversee
America’s conservation system. His past misjudgments of Norton, Meyers
and Gonzales give us little confidence he will choose wisely in the
future.

Denver Post: Obama Chooses Right-Leaning Latino Democrat to Lead Interior

December 16, 2008

This article in the Denver Post states that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen centrist Senate Democrat Ken Salazar (D-Col.) as the next Secretary of the Interior. As noted in this previous post, Salazar comes from the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) wing of the Democratic party and was, until may of this year, one of the staunchest supporters of disgraced and scandal-ridden former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

If confirmed to be true, the Salazar appointment will further prove growing suspicions among progressives, who fear that Obama’s true colors are the reddish blue hues of DLC Democrats like Rahm Emanuel, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the other right-leaning Democrats like Janet Napolitano who will make up the Obama cabinet when approved.

Obama Considering Appointment of Centrist Dem & Alberto Gonzalez Supporter as Interior Secretary

December 15, 2008

https://i2.wp.com/cache.gettyimages.com/xc/51921157.jpg

This article in the Denver Post (DP) indicates that President-elect Obama may be preparing to announce the appointment of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. According to the DP piece,

“U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar is a leading contender to become President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of the Interior, two sources have confirmed.”

News of a possible Salazar appointment will likely stir continued discussion that about the “Clintonization” of the Obama cabinet. By appointing Salazar, a member of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council (also see DLC website) Obama would probably also draw strong criticism from progressive and Latino constituencies for the Colorado Senator’s controversial positions.

Salazar’s most high profile media moment since being elected Senator in 2004 came during the 2005 Senate confirmation hearings of then-Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales . Salazar, who was one of 6 of Democrats supporting the Gonzalez nomination, accompanied, sat next to and spoke on behalf of Gonzales as he (Gonzales) was bombarded by questions about the now infamous torture memos he wrote, which are widely believed to have enabled the acts of humiliation and torture perpetrated at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons. While several Republican and Democratic Senators, including Sens. Kennedy, Leahy and Judiciary Committee Chair Specter voiced repudiation and disgust about Gonzales’ role, Salazar smiled and said, “It is also an honor and privilege for me to appear before you this morning to make an introduction of Judge Alberto Gonzales” adding that he thought that “…Gonzales is better qualified than many recent attorneys general.”

And after voting in the full Senate to confirm Gonzales, Salazar, like the leaders of National Council of La Raza, LULAC and other Latino Gonzales supporters, remained silent about the many scandals at the Justice Department – controversial policies around torture, the right of habeas corpus, and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Only after the scandals and criticism surrounding Gonzales and the Justice Department rose to massive levels did Salazar call for Gonzales to resign in May of this year.

A Salazar appointment will likely not do much to satiate concerns about what progressives worry are the overly-centrist Obama appointments to date. Salazar has draw strong criticism among progressives for several of the positions he has take including his support of the Patriot Act and his support for the candidacy of Conn. Senator Joe Lieberman in his 2006 race against popular progressive Ned Lamont.

Native American Nations Divided Over Possible Obama Interior Department Candidates

December 10, 2008

Discussion and debate around who the Obama Administration should appoint to lead the Department of the Interior (DOI) reveals divisions among the tribal nations sharing land with the United States. Tribal nations and tribal leaders are divided among 3 candidates rumored to be under discussion by the Obama transition team to lead the DOI, which manages relationships with and programs targeting the country’s Native American nations: Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Congressman Mike Thomspson (D-CA) and the most recent entry, museum director and former Clinton Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Kevin Gover, who is also a member of the Pawnee Nation.

While recent rumors of a possible Gover DOI appointment have created a buzz in certain sectors of the Native American community, these rumors have also exposed deep rooted divisions among and conflict between tribal nations-and between the tribal nations and the U.S. government. The Karuk Tribe of northern California has come out strongly in support of Thompson and Grijalva has the support of more than 7 tribes, including Tohono O’odham nation, the Hopis and the Navajo nation, the country’s largest tribe with over 300,000 members. A possible Gover candidacy will likely bring him considerable Native American support – and at least some Native American opposition.

A judge in a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of Native Americans against the DOI filed during the Clinton Administration, found Gover in civil contempt of court for failing to produce documents and for deceiving the court about the DOI and Bureau of Indian Affairs management of Indian trusts (the judge was later removed from the case.) The lawsuit alleged that the Bureau of Indian Affairs lost millions of dollars owed to hundreds of thousands of American Indians as part of treaty obligations assumed by the United States . The 1996 case involving Gover, Cobell v Kempthorne, has never been settled, but Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet tribe and the lead plaintiff in the suit, still opposed Gover’s appointment as head of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian for his role in what she considers the mismanagement of the trusts.

During a video speech delivered in October to a national gathering of tribal nations and their leaders, President-elect Obama promised to “end nearly a century of mismanagement of Indian Trusts” and “to settle unresolved cases” between the U.S. government and Indian nations. To watch the full video, just click below:

Source: Obama “Hasn’t Met With Interior Candidate Yet. Grijalva is Still in the Running”

December 9, 2008

This just in on the Interior Secretary appointment: sources close to the transition say that there is still no final decision and that Obama has not met with anyone in Chicago for the position yet. The source stated that Obama “”Hasn’t Met With Interior Candidate yet” and added that “Grijalva is still in the running.”

Again, these are only rumors from a source that should know. Regardless, it does appear that there may have been a slowdown and new movement as the heat against the many rumored to be the favored candidate over the weekend, Blue Dog Democrat Mike Thompson, has gone up several notches on Daily Kos, Chris Mathews, Huffington Post, to name a few. Vociferous denunciations of Thompson are accompanied by enthusiastic praise of Grijalva, who also got a major dose of support for his appointment from more than 100 environmental organizations located throughout the country.

Rumors are also floating that both Thompson and Grijalva have fallen out of favor and that a new candidate, Kevin Gover, the current director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, is now under serious consideration.

Obama was expected to announce the environmental energy appointments wither Wednesday of Thursday. Will be interesting to see if this happens. more to follow soon.

Obama Rumored to Be Leaning Toward Pro-Hunter, Pro-Logging Democrat to Lead Interior Department

December 7, 2008

A source close to the Obama transition team just told me that “(Congressman Raul) Grijalva fell out of favor and they are now looking at Mike Thompson” for the job of Interior Secretary. The source also told me that the likely decision will take place in the next 36 hours and has “the DC environmental groups in a frenzy over the latest leaks out of the transition team.”

While these are only just rumors, this information should at the very least make us look more closely at how Congressman Mike Thompson’s record fits President-elect Obama’s promise to bring hope and change to the over 500 million acres of surface land and over 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that fall under the purview of the Secretary of the Interior job Grijalva and Thompson are being considered for.

The measure of change and hope in the work of the Department of the Interior begins with reducing the disproportionate influence of the big hunting, big logging, big oil and other big corporate interests whose big money defined and still define the deadly and devastating land management policies of the Bush Administration.

A look at NRA member and Blue Dog Democrat Mike Thompson’s financial and voting records reveals a less-than progressive position with regard to important issues the next DOI Secretary will be dealing with.

Environmental groups are especially concerned, for example, that, among Thompson’s biggest contributors ($20,676) is Safari Club International, a global organization that whose primary mission includes lobbying for the right of trophy hunters to hunt as many species as possible, regardless of their endangered status. Earlier this year, Thompson was awarded SCI’s Federal Legislator of the Year award for his votes on several pieces of legislation, inclding a bill that allows hunters in the United States to continue importing the heads and hides of polar bears killed in Canada. The vote prompted condemnation of animal rights groups and even moved the Bush Administration to place the polar bear on the “threatened species” list under the Endangered Species Act.

Another one of Thompson’s biggest contributors (over $17,000) is Koch (pronounced “coke”) Industries, the largest privately held company in the US specializing in oil and natural resources. The logging units the mega-conglomorate Koch, which earned more than $110 billion in revenue last year, has reaped especially handsome profits from legislation that Thompson has voted in favor of including the Bush Administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative as well as his votes opening the Tongass Forest and other public lands under DOI management to logging. All prominent California Democrats and Democrats from state’s with some of the largest public land holdings and national forests, inclduing Washington and Oregon, voted against the Healthy Forests Initiative. This bill reaped enormous profits for Koch Industries.

Grijalva Appointment to Interior Department Would Bring Ecological-and Political- Balance to Obama Cabinet

December 6, 2008

AlterNet

Anyone who has visited a national park or traversed the country’s diverse wilderness comes home with gorgeous, yet distressing images of it; those returning from a visit to one of the more than 562 tribes the federal government recognizes and is supposed to assist also bring back sad stories about it; and those of us who enjoy camping or fishing or hunting inevitably return home talking about it. “It” is the scenery and life found on the millions of acres of federal land left blemished and vulnerable by Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior (DOI).

As urbanization, economic restructuring and the insatiable lust for land and natural resources continue to threaten the still-astonishingly beautiful and rich land of this country, we should all care about whom President-elect Obama chooses to lead the DOI. The urgency of these issues came home twice this week as the Bush Administration delivered two parting gifts to big mining interests by rescinding two important regulations — one requiring the DOI to prevent mining companies from dumping waste near public streams and another protecting federal land near the Grand Canyon from mining and oil and gas development.

In order to deal with such challenges to the land and people under the purview of the Department, which is charged with managing most federally-owned land as well as with managing relationships with Native American peoples, the Obama Administration must appoint someone with the experience, expertise and political sophistication to lead nothing less than a New Deal for the land and people our government deals with.

Of all the candidates being vetted by the Obama transition team for this complex and challenging responsibility, none can match the unique qualifications of Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Grijalva, who was the leading voice denouncing this week’s most recent giveaway to mining companies by the Bush Administration, will bring urgently needed balance and poise to a federal land management bureaucracy that has pushed we the people into dangerous disequilibrium with the land we live on- and love. Appointing Grijalva, who was elected Co-Chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will also bring more and much-needed political balance to the Obama cabinet than some of the Republican-lite Democrats also being considered for the DOI post like California Blue Dog Democrat, Mike Thompson.

Like almost all of the previous Secretaries of the Interior, Grijalva hails from the West, more specifically Arizona, where his 7th Congressional district seat has provided him with the kind of experience and leadership we will need in a DOI Secretary.

Grijalva’s willingness to reverse the values and practices instituted by the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior are well-illustrated by his leadership of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the 110th Congress. Most recently, he spearheaded efforts to stop the planned re-mining of the Black Mesa, located in northern Arizona. In a recent letter to current DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Grijalva called on the Bush Administration to restore some semblance of the natural balance between the diverse interests DOI must manage: “Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos.”

This same will to balance informs the National Landscape Conservation System, and the Environment Congressional Task Force Co-Chair Grijalva’s efforts to craft urgently needed legislation to reform the very outdated General Mining Law of 1872. Environmentalists, scientists and other advocates believe this law must be changed if the wilderness of the west and of our national parks, forests and public lands systems are to return to sustainability. Such actions have secured very strong support for Grijalva’s DOI bid from environmental, scientific and other groups, including the National Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and the U.S. Humane Society, to name a few. A letter to President-elect Obama in support of Grijalva was signed by more than 50 prominent scholars specializing in biology, conservation and other disciplines. In the letter, the scholars called him a “broad thinker” and praised the Congressman’s “Report on the Bush Administration Assault on Our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands” as the work of “someone who understands and values science.”

No less effusive are the statements of support Grijalva is receiving from Native American leaders like Ned Norris, who as tribal Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation-one of 7 tribes in Grijalva’s district- says he has “enjoyed an extensive and extremely positive relationship with the Congressman for many years.” Asked what appeals most to tribes like his about a possibility of a Grijalva-led DOI, Norris answered “He has a deep understanding of and respect for relationship between tribes and U.S. government.” Norris also pointed to the Congressman’s sophistication and success in settling a 30 year-old water and resource dispute between the Tahono O’odham tribe and the federal government.

In his efforts to foster change and hope with regard to both the stewardship of federal land and the management of relations with Indian nations, President-elect Obama will bring urgency and much-needed balance to these important government functions by appointing Congressman Raul Grijalva Secretary of the Interior.


This piece was first published on Alternet.org

Obama and the Future of Immigration Reform

December 5, 2008

The Takeaway

This early morning interview with John Hockenberry of the WNYC’s The Takeaway program looks at the possibility of helping President-elect Obama put an end to the deadly workings of our miserable failure of an immigration system. Hope you like it!

Immigration Reform Trapped in Political Dualism

December 2, 2008

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Dec 02, 2008 Review it on NewsTrust

Recent talk about “immigration reform” coming from Washington inspires some hope, some fear and lots of reminders about what I call “political-dualism”: the ability of a President or political party to simultaneously communicate opposing policies while delivering either no new policies or exceptionally bad ones.

As the Obama Administration prepares to take the reins of the massive and massively inefficient and broken immigration system, it is important to have clarity about the incontrovertible need to overcome the political dualism that created our immigration mess in the first place.

My first practical experience of lobbying and of political dualism came during the Clinton years. At that time, in the mid-‘90s, I was head of Central American Resource Center ( CARECEN), then the country’s largest immigrant rights organization. Like many immigrant rights activists today, my colleagues at CARECEN and around the country and I marched and protested and sued and lobbied to end the undocumented status of immigrants.

In one case, for example, we sought to secure legal status for the hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees denied political asylum and other forms of legalization by both the Reagan and Bush I Administrations due to the Republican’s politicization of the immigration process. In the end, our many efforts yielded only partial success in the form of what is known as Temporary Protective Status (TPS) granted by the first Bush Administration.

Much like the rising tide of expectations today, the triumphal return of the Democrats to the White House in 1992 brought with it expectations –and official promises- of an immigration reform, one that would legalize Salvadorans and Guatemalans living under TPS. TPS allows immigrants to work temporarily in the country, but does nothing to remove the specter of vulnerability before employers, landlords and others who exploit immigrants’ temporary status for economic and personal gain.
Images of my cousin, Maria, crying alone in her room because of oppressive hotel bosses and because of her inability to see her son, who she left and had not seen since he was 3 years old, remain with me as a reminder of the perils and pain of temporary and undocumented status.

I remember how Clinton Administration officials with impressive credentials like Alex Aleinikoff and others charged with immigration matters, told us in un-Republican and friendly terms, that “We definitely want to resolve the TPS issue- but right now is not the right time.” Eight years after the Clinton Administration led the Democrats return to power, Maria and other immigrants with TPS saw no change in their legal status. And, now, nearly 20 years since TPS was first instituted, as I watch how Republican rejection and the Democrats’ political dualism have left many TPS holders and more than 12 million other immigrants living under the tyranny of “temporary” and undocumented status, I find myself struggling with my own dualism: believing in the possibility of “real change” inspired by Obama’s presidential campaign while also hearing distant echoes of the Democrats’ immigration siren song.

Consider the conflicted and conflicting recent statements about immigration reform made by Congressional Democratic leaders. Asked last month what she thought about the possibility for immigration reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded, “Maybe there never is a path to citizenship if you came here illegally,” adding “I would hope that there could be, but maybe there isn’t.” Asked the same question last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded in no uncertain terms, “We’ve got McCain and we’ve got a few others. I don’t expect much of a fight at all.” That such mixed messages would come from the Democrats is much more than another expression of the contradictory views often held by members of the same party. Viewed from the vantage point of the recent and not-so-recent and rather twisted history of non-reform has been immigration policy, these conflicting messages sent by the Democratic leadership should be viewed as a more recent variation on the theme of the political dualism that lead us nowhere.

Hearing recently that Obama had appointed Aleinikoff, the former Clinton operative, as one of the two people leading the immigration policy transition team did little to inspire hope among those of us with a political memory. But Obama’s announcement that Stanford scholar, Tino Cuellar, a young, outside-the-Beltway academic whom I’ve spoken with and who friends in the legal community consider fair, decent and smart, tilted my spirits towards believing change might be possible. But then news of Obama’s likely appointment of Arizona Governor and former Clinton-U.S. Attorney appointee, Janet Napolitano, to lead the Department of Homeland Security only reinforced the belief that political dualism may define the Obama legacy on immigration; Napolitano has enthusiastically supported “emergency measures” like militarizing the border to “fight” the “threat” posed by immigrant gardeners, meatpackers and maids like my cousin, Maria; But she has also vetoed at least a few of the more than 75 anti-immigrant measures introduced in Arizona home to the infamous Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio, who is responsible for introducing highly controversial policies like deploying deputies in immigration sweeps of entire Latino neighborhoods, enjoyed the tacit political and financial support for these practices from Napolitano for several years. Napolitano did nothing to curtail the alarming number of deaths in Arpaio’s immigrant jails and only decided to yank funding for his immigration program in the middle of the Democratic primary earlier this year.

If anything, the immigrant deaths, racial tensions, incessant raids and other indicators of the failure to improve immigration policy in Arizona provide immigrant advocates like Alexis Mazon of the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, little inspiration and lots of concern. According to Mazon, Napolitano’s record of previous support for Arpaio and for “some of the most dangerous immigration practices of any state in the country” give one no cause for joining the chorus of Democrats, media pundits and Beltway (as opposed to outside-the-Beltway groups like Mazon’s) immigration groups gushing over Napolitano’s “tough and smart” approach to immigration.

And as the Obama Administration and the rest of us prepare for the possibility of a renewed discussion and debate around immigration reform, those of us outside the Beltway must put terminating political dualism alongside developing and advocating for a real reform agenda at the top of our strategies and actions.

Such a mobilizing approach revived what I remember was a moribund immigration debate of 2006, and nothing less is required now. In addition to mobilizing as they did in 2006, outside-the-Beltway advocates will also have to find new and creative ways to move the debate and discussion around immigration beyond the growing Washington consensus: combining the politically dualistic “tough and smart” policies that legalize immigrants while increasing the number and types of punitive policies that took up 700 of the 800 pages of the failed McCain-Kennedy “liberal” reform proposal.

Transcending the “tough and smart” political dualism of immigration reform means replacing the so-called “tradeoffs” of the McCain-Kennedy bill with “safe and sane” policies that combine legalization with fundamental and necessary changes to our broken immigration system.

The first consideration in any serious reform should be removing the immigration processing functions from the anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Homeland Security Department and placing them in the Commerce or Justice Departments or some other less national security-focused part of government as has been the case throughout the history of immigration policy.

In addition to a less-punitive approach to legalization than the get tough approach of the McCain-Kennedy bill, out-of-the-Beltway advocates are also advocating for immigration reform policies that consider fair trade and economic development, human rights, U.S. foreign policy and other hemispheric issues that directly influence the flow of migration. Such a firm and steady, yet flexible and inclusive approach to immigration policy fits well Obama’s promise of change while also freeing Maria and millions of undocumented immigrants from the perils and pain of political dualism.

Upload Real Change: What Activists Must Learn From the Obama Campaign

November 19, 2008

A cover story I wrote for this month’s issue of Colorlines Magazine highlights what the Obama campaign can teach us the urgent necessity of combining offline (actual streets, communities) with online organizing. While we may or may not want to support Obama’s policies, we should study closely the epoch-making deployment of technology to advance political ends. Hope you like it. R

Issue #47, Nov/Dec 2008

Upload Real Change

By Roberto Lovato

WHILE CRISSCROSSING CRACKED STREETS to knock on the rickety doors of rundown row houses in Philadelphia’s 14th Ward, Liza Sabater also found herself crossing the overlapping lines of political and technological history late last spring as she canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign.

“I got to spend some time with these Puerto Rican mechanics—guys most people wouldn’t expect to have Internet access,” said Sabater, an Afro-Puerto Rican technologist who blogs at culturekitchen and The Daily Gotham. “But there—among the wrenches and jacks—were their cell phones and handheld devices they use to surf the Web.”

Sabater, who helps nonprofits use technology to further their missions, canvassed in Philadelphia with her two sons and coordinated work in the 14th Ward with three Latino volunteers from the Obama campaign. She saw in the mechanics’ mobile devices proof of her belief that “the ‘digital divide’ is a crock when we realize that laptops and desktops aren’t the only ways to access the Web.” But was the Obama campaign reaching these mechanics on their cells?
•••
As they write future narratives of Obama’s astounding rise, historians will likely foreground how skillfully the “change” candidate maneuvered around the racial, geopolitical and economic terrain of our crises-ridden time. Lost in the background of most of these narratives will be how Obama, the former community organizer, took what he learned about mobilizing working- and middle-class residents on Chicago’s South Side and combined it with the stuff that actually wins elections: money, organizing and technology.

Obama’s campaign for the White House deployed in unparalleled ways Web. 2.0 tools—the set of technological developments that turned the World Wide Web into the ubiquitous, mobile, wireless and interactive Web we use today. As this issue of ColorLines went to production in late August, Obama’s Web site, Mybarackobama.com, was as interactive as any online social networking site. More than 10 million people had signed up at the site, and the campaign had raised millions of dollars. The Web site was the centerpiece of an online and offline political strategy that defeated the Clintons—one of the most powerful Democratic political dynasties—and, in the process, Obama took community organizing to new territory as he redefined the practice of electoral politics in the United States. Whatever the election results, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that it’s possible—and necessary—to go online and move people to action offline.

Sabater, who was born in New York’s El Barrio
neighborhood and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was one of the many who responded to the campaign’s appeal. She is still fascinated by how Obama’s team fused state-of-the-art media and technology with the community organizing that the candidate learned in poor communities. Yet while she thinks community-based organizations can learn from the online organizing methods innovated by the Obama campaign, she also sees reason for concern in the cracked streets of Philadelphia.
Sabater noted, for example, that although her fellow Obama campaign volunteers were by definition “Latinos,” it was a poor decision on the part of the campaign to send three middle-class Chicanos from the west coast to a predominantly working-class, Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“When my colleagues told me ‘we don’t speak Spanish’ and couldn’t interact with the people, I saw the interface problem,” said Sabater, adding, “I saw the disconnect between the online and offline strategies, both of which are focused on middle-class people. Nobody’s reaching out and targeting these working-class communities of color with technology. They don’t think that the mechanics and maids use technology or vote.” The Obama campaign fell through the cultural cracks in the street, while members in the community fell through the technological cracks of the campaign’s Web strategy.

“The (Obama) campaign created a fantastic interface for people to join the campaign,” Sabater said. “But it didn’t do as well in reaching people who don’t have laptops and whose technology is primarily their cell phones. There’s an age and class and race gap.”

Sabater saw these gaps while trolling the same streets canvassed in a previous era by W.E.B. Du Bois, who went door-to-door documenting how railroad tracks in Jim Crow Philadelphia served as a wood-and-steel color line dividing poor, politically disenfranchised Black neighborhoods from wealthier white neighborhoods where electoral participation was encouraged and expected.

Today, Sabater and others concerned with poor communities must prepare for similar but perhaps more nuanced racial, political and economic divisions in the city of brotherly love and other urban areas. If left to the folks who ran the Obama campaign, equity and freedom may well depend on which side of the silicon and fiber optic tracks a person lives on. If activists take to heart the lessons of this last presidential campaign, though, we might just see what political changes can happen among poor people when we combine media and technology with street-level political organizing beyond elections.
•••
Anyone dealing with what are traditionally defined as “racial” or “social justice” issues (housing, labor, criminal justice, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues, etc.) will have to figure out the “interface” problems identified by Sabater and others like U.C. Berkeley’s danah boyd. A digital anthropologist, boyd caused considerable controversy when she wrote a paper in 2007 positing that MySpace was more working-class than Facebook, which she says tends to cater to older, more elite social networkers.

Whether we deploy MySpace or Facebook, those
of us committed to pursuing the possibility of bottom-up democracy in the digital age will also have to confront
the same kinds of issues Benjamin Franklin identified in Philadelphia. Back when newspapers began their long reign as the defining medium of politics, Franklin wrote: “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.” But one definitive difference between Franklin’s age and ours is the degree to which our economy, our government and politics, and even our culture are for better and for worse being fundamentally reconfigured by media and digital technology.

The need to deploy media and technology as a force on those who govern is a daily concern for Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia resident, entrepreneur and founder of the popular political blog Afro-Netizen. Of particular concern to Rabb is the urgent need for Black, Latino and other communities to use media to flatten the deeply entrenched political pyramids built by the large national Black and Latino nonprofits born in the waning decades of the industrial age in the United States. Many of these nonprofits, he says, center power in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the majority of Blacks and Latinos who are far from the Beltway.

“Hierarchies in Black and brown communities are as bad as in any other community,” said Rabb, who also consults with nonprofit organizations about how to make media and technology a component of their core strategy. “There’s so little power that people hold on to power as long as they can. Blacks are the most urban, overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning community in the country, but we have the least democracy. Black politicians last forever, and lots of our [nonprofit] organizations tend to be run by people who stay there for life.”

Rabb thinks the stunning accomplishments of the Obama campaign mirror the ways in which technology gives communities the capacity to self-organize on a scale never before seen.

“We need to study the Obama movement,” he asserted. “They weren’t the first to use the media in this way, but he came along at that precise moment when the technology had matured, when the audience of media users had reached critical mass.”

To illustrate his point, Rabb mentions the Jena 6 movement, which, he said, used media and technology to alter the game of “ethnic” politics. Initially ignored by the mainstream media and major civil rights organizations, as well as by traditional leaders, bloggers concerned about the Jena 6 case, like Color of Change’s James Rucker and Rabb, took their case directly to the community by using the Web.

By combining Web 2.0 tools—blogs, MySpace, and other social networking sites and interactive websites— with traditional media like radio and newspapers, the more youthful organizers of the Jena 6 movement made it politically impossible for mainstream Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP leaders to ignore the cause. The tech-savvy organizers gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Web, and in the process, they informed, engaged and activated constituents. Similar media and generational dynamics can be found in the immigrant rights movement.

Policy people at the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum and the majority of large Latino and immigrant rights organizations were in the throes of defensiveness before the onslaught of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which sought to criminalize the undocumented. One jaded policy analyst told me at that time that the Republicans “are going to push Sensenbrenner through—and there’s nothing we can do.” Apparently, someone forgot to communicate the analyst’s resignation to the local and regional grassroots groups who used media and technology to organize the largest simultaneous mass mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006.

Like those organizing the movement in support of the Jena 6, the local and regional networks at the core of the immigrant rights movement also deployed a number of media tools to bypass the lethargic hierarchies of the larger Washington-based groups. Many in the media focused their coverage on better-funded and (mainstream) media-savvy groups in the Beltway who rallied behind different versions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which, in its “bipartisan tradeoff” combined legalization with some of the most punitive immigration proposals in U.S. history. Left out of this coverage was the galaxy of organizations opposed to McCain-Kennedy.

In the face of such a limiting of the political debate around immigration, local and regional activists combined old-school media with a big “M” (television, radio, bullhorns and butcher paper) with new-school media with a small “m” (MySpace, text messaging, cell phones, radio, video and YouTube). Suddenly, mainstream media outlets were forced to cover the political messages that Latino teens were sending with their cell phones in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in rural Oregon.

While the mainstream media’s immigration coverage remains in its default position of focusing on the larger, better-funded national immigrant groups in Washington, activists like Sabater are combining online and offline organizing to influence the political process around and coverage of immigration and other issues that strongly impact Latinos. Sabater joined other bloggers to form the Sanctuary, a bloggers’ hub that combines information-sharing with offline activism. Members of the Sanctuary developed a survey of the presidential candidates and received coverage by CNN and other media outlets who usually interview only the National Council of La Raza and other large Latino organizations when it comes to “Latino issues.” At a time when political theorists like Manuel Castells tell us that “media is the space of politics,” the old rules just don’t apply, and that can be good news for poor communities of all colors.
•••
Regardless of the election outcome, Rabb, Sabater and others see valuable lessons in how the Obama campaign positioned itself to benefit from the epic self-organizing movement enabled by Web 2.0. It’s especially critical for activists (and everyone else, for that matter) to learn how the Obama campaign used its Web site,
Mybarackobama.com. More than 10 million people signed up at the site, and 1.5 million of those donated money. At the site, the campaign provided volunteers and organizers with campaign literature, virtual meeting spaces and other resources. Even viewers who might have been skeptical of Obama as a candidate or those not interested in electoral politics couldn’t help but be a bit curious. At every turn, the site insisted on interactivity. In August, a huge banner on the site stated: “Who will be Barack’s VP? Be the First to Know. Sign Up Now.” Below it was the “make a difference” banner with ways to volunteer and find local events, and then, of course, there was the “Obama Map”—where a few clicks and the inputting of zip codes got Americans tuned in to groups supporting Obama in their neighborhoods. Indeed, by the time Obama’s party gave him the official nomination in August, journalists and historians were already pointing out how the multimedia-genic Obama fit well with the media of his time as did Kennedy at the dawn of the age of television.

“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people,” said Sabater. “And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms.”

Rabb agreed. “The big question is whether activists for social justice can make the leap from what an organizer candidate did in the presidential cycle to the kind of organizing needed at a time when media and technology are so central to the work of government and power,” he said.

Rabb believes that groups who are organizing communities need to prioritize breaking down the barriers that separate media from their programmatic work. “It’s the very nature of organizing to want to reach audiences on race, class, immigration and other issues” he said, adding, “People have to get with the fact that media’s not replacing but complementing and enhancing their ability to do more with less, to achieve better and greater outcomes.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer with New America Media based in New York City.

What Will Obama do About Terror Incognita: Immigrants and the Homeland Security State?

November 17, 2008

Before anything, my apologies for not notifying you about my hiatus. I was in China and thought I’d be able tp post from there-and I was wrong. In any case,I’m back and ready to deal. Best, R.

Check out this must-read issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas, which looks at something we’ve been looking at for some time: how immigrants are being used to build up the national security state. The impetus for the issue was this piece, which I wrote for Political Research Associates several months ago and which turns out to be one of the more widely circulated and read pieces I’ve written. NACLA and I revised, amended and shortened the PRA piece for publication now. As the immigrant rights movement and those concerned with human rights search for measures of President-elect Obama’s commitment to immigrant rights, issues discussed in this still-quite-relevant analysis might provide a good starting point. If Obama fails to do something in short order about stopping the terror wrought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, that should give more than a few of us a clear signal of his willingness to continue the bi-partisan support for the the machinery of death and destruction. We should at that point end the Latino honeymoon in short order.

Over the course of this longest of campaigns ever, I’ve interviewed several of Obama’s and the Democratic party’s operatives, more than a few of whom told me -off-the-record- about dealing with the raids through “executive orders” in which the President simply calls for an immediate end to the ICE raids. While that would be a welcome start towards returning us to the problems of the pre-9-11 period, I have serious doubts about the willingness of the Obama operatives and the Democrats to deliver. I hope I’m really, really wrong about this one. Really wrong. Veremos. In any case, do read the NACLA issue as it touches on things we’ll still be facing after January 20th. R

Building the Homeland Security State

by Roberto Lovato

Lost in debates around immigration, as the United States enters its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, is any sense of the historical connection between immigration policy and increased government control—of citizens. Following a pattern established at the foundation of the republic, immigrants today are again being used to justify government responses the economic and political crises. Consider, for example, the establishment in November 2002 of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the largest, most important restructuring of the federal government since the end of World War II.1 The following March, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was dismantled and replaced with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency under the newly established DHS. ICE’s rapid expansion—16,500-plus employees and near $5 billion budget—quickly transformed it into DHS’s largest investigative component, accounting for more than one fifth of the multibillion-dollar DHS budget. ICE is also the second-largest investigative agency in the federal government, after the FBI, responsible for enforcing more than 400 statutes, and is arguably the most militarized federal entity after the Pentagon.2 Not long after its inception, ICE began to wage what many advocates have called a “war on immigrants.”

Beginning in fall 2006, ICE launched a campaign of workplace and home raids aimed at “getting tough on immigrants.” Thousands of heavily armed ICE agents were deployed in these high-profile raids designed, we were told, to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Since 2006, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been detained in jails that constitute the fastest-growing part of the prison system in the country. The speed with which the militarization of migration policy took place left many questions. Why, for example, did the Bush administration move the citizenship-processing and immigration-enforcement functions of government from the more domestic, policing-oriented Department of Justice to the more militarized, anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security? Most explanations view this transfer, and the relentless pursuit of undocumented immigrants that it enabled, as a response to the continuing pressures of angry, mostly white, citizens. Widespread fear and xenophobia following the September 11 attacks, together with the “anti-immigrant climate” fostered thereafter by civic groups like the Minutemen, Republican politicos, and media personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, we are told, has led directly to the massive new government bureaucracy for policing immigrants. The Washington Post, for example, told us in 2006 that the rise of the Minutemen and their armed citizen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border was “credited with helping to ignite the debate that has dominated Washington in recent months.”3

But while many can believe that there were ulterior motives behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, few consider that there are non-immigration-related motives behind ICE’s Al Qaeda-ization of immigrants and immigration policy: building a domestic security apparatus, one made possible by multibillion-dollar contracts to military-industrial companies like Boeing, General Electric, and Halliburton for “virtual” border walls, migrant detention centers, drones, ground-based sensors, and other surveillance technology for use in the Arizona desert that was originally designed for Middle Eastern war zones. Not to mention the de facto militarization of immigration policy through the deployment of 6,000 additional National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of raids across the country; and the passage of hundreds of punitive, anti-migrant state and federal laws like the Military Commissions Act, which denies the habeas corpus rights of even legal residents who are suspected of providing “material support” to terrorist groups.4

This is not to say that public pressure from the anti-immigrant right played no role in the Bush administration’s immigrant crackdown. And another interpretation of the increased repression against immigrants is articulated by journalist David Bacon, who posits that the crackdown is purposefully meant to trigger an immigrant-labor shortage, which will eventually enable the government to establish the migration policy it’s been pushing for all along: a temporary guest-worker program.5 While that is surely part of the government’s response, such conclusions fail to explain why the government needs to deploy its military might to deal with gardeners, maids, and meatpackers. Such explanations fail to consider how reasons of state, the logic of government, figure heavily in the Bush administration’s historic and massive government restructuring. By framing such militaristic measures as targeting noncitizen immigrants makes it easier for citizens to swallow the increased domestic militarism inherent in increasing numbers of uniformed men and women with guns in their midst. As David Cole put it in his Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism (The New Press, 2005): “What we are willing to allow our government to do to immigrants today creates a template for how it will treat citizens tomorrow.” Constant reports of raids on the homes of the undocumented immigrants normalize the idea of government intrusion into the homes of legal residents.

In order to understand how and why ICE now constitutes an important part of the ascendant national security bureaucracy, we must first look at the intimate relationship between national security policy and homeland security policy. In July 2002, the Bush administration introduced its “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” a document that outlines how to “mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks.” Two months later, the administration released the more geopolitically focused “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” whose purpose is to “help make the world not just safer but better.” September 11 provided the impetus to create a bureaucratic and policy environment dominated by security imperatives laid out in two of these documents, two of the most definitive of our time, which outline strategies that “together take precedence over all other national strategies, programs, and plans”—including immigration policy, which receives considerable attention, especially in the section on homeland security strategy.

By placing other government functions under the purview of the national security imperatives laid out in the two documents, the Bush administration enabled and deepened the militarization of government bureaucracies like ICE. At the same time, immigrants provided the Bush administration a way to facilitate the transfer of public wealth to military-industrial contractors through government contracts in a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism. The role of the private sector is also made explicit on a DHS webpage called “Information Sharing and Analysis,” which says that the department “is responsible for assessing the nation’s vulnerabilities” and that “the private sector is central to this task.”

Such dealings are provided for in the two Homeland Security strategy papers, which call for DHS to “establish a national laboratory for homeland security” that solicits “independent and private analysis for science and technology research.” This materialized in ICE’s budget, which has resources for research and development of technologies for surveilling, capturing, detaining, and generally combating what politicos and Minutemen alike paint as the Malthusian monster of immigration. Immigrants not only justify but make possible such massive state expenditures—at great human cost.

*

Shortly after the September 11 attacks and the creation of DHS, the Bush administration used immigrants and fear of outsiders to tighten border restrictions, pass repressive laws, and increase budgets to put more drones, weapons, and troops inside the country. Government actions since 9/11 point clearly to how the U.S. government has set up a new Pentagon-like bureaucracy to fight a new kind of protracted domestic war against a new kind of domestic enemy, undocumented immigrants.

In the process of restructuring the immigration bureaucracy, national security concerns regarding threats from external terrorist enemies got mixed in with domestic concerns about immigrant “invaders” denounced by a growing galaxy of anti-immigrant interests. This should not have come as a surprise: In times of heightened (and often exaggerated) fears about national security, immigration and immigrants are no longer just wedge issues in electoral politics; they transform into dangerous others who fill the need for new domestic enemies. Immigrants can provide the rationale for expanding the government policing bureaucracy in times of political crisis, economic distress, and major geopolitical shifts. At a time when less than 18% of the U.S. population believes it is living the American Dream, according to one poll, the state needs many reasons to reassert control over the populace by putting more gun-wielding government agents among the citizenry.6

A brief look at historical precedents for this kind of government anti-immigrant action yields the conclusion that this instrumentalizing of immigrants to build up government policing and military capabilities is, in fact, a standard practice of the art of statecraft. The historical record provides ample evidence of how national security experts, politicians, elected officials, bureaucrats and other managers of the state have used immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies as a way of normalizing and advancing militarization within the borders of the United States.

Long before the Patriot Act, DHS, and ICE, policies linking immigrants to the security of the country formed an important part of U.S. statecraft. Like many of the newly established countries suffering some of the political and economic shocks of economic and political modernization in the late 18th century, the fledgling United States and its leaders needed to simultaneously consolidate the nation-state established constitutionally in 1787 while also maneuvering for a position on a global map dominated by the warring powers of France and England. Central to accomplishing this were immigrants, who provided both a means of rallying and aligning segments of the populace while also legitimating massive expenditures toward the construction of the militarized bureaucracies meant to defend against domestic threats to “national” security, threats that linked external enemies, real and perceived. In response to the devastating effects of economic transformations, thousands of French, German, Irish, and other immigrants led uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion, which were viewed as threats by elites, especially the Federalists.

In the face of both popular unrest and competition for political power, and in an effort to consolidate the state and the globally oriented mercantile and pre-industrial capitalist economy, Alexander Hamilton and then president John Adams did what has, since their time, become a standard operating procedure in the art of U.S. statecraft: build the state and insert its control apparatus in the larger populace by scapegoating immigrants as threats to national security. The period before and after the passage of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave Adams, the father of the national security state, unprecedented powers. Fearful of Jacobinism’s influence, Adams secured the authority to unilaterally deport any immigrant he deemed a threat to national security. According to historian John Morton Smith, the internal security program adopted by the Federalists during the Adams administration “was designed not only to deal with potential dangers from foreign invasion . . . but also to repress domestic political opposition.”7 In this context, immigrants became the domestic expression of the threat represented by the French Jacobins, the subversive threat of the early 19th century. Indeed, the modern use of the word terror first enters the language when Edmund Burke gazed across the English Channel and, in his Thoughts on the Prospect of a Regicide Peace (1796), used it to describe the actions of the Jacobin state. Burke’s conservative U.S. cousins then adopted the term and applied it to French-influenced immigrants and others considered subversive.

Another major buildup of the government policing apparatus took place during the Red Scare of 1919. The U.S. government faced several economic and political pressures, including the end of World War I, the demobilization of the army, returning troops, joblessness, depression, unemployment, and growing inflation. The precarious situation gave rise to increased elite fear of Jewish, Italian, and other immigrant workers in the era of the Bolshevik revolution and an increasingly powerful, and militant, labor movement. Socialists, Wobblies, and other activists staged 3,600 labor strikes involving 4 million workers, many of whom were led by and were immigrants. Government and big business had to watch as fully one-fifth of the manufacturing workforce staged actions.8 Massive organizing by Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association and race riots in northern cities further stoked elite fears.

Like other national governments of the period—and in contrast to today’s era of outsourcing—the United States had begun intensifying the centralization of functions formerly carried out by the private sector, including keeping labor and other dissidents in check. In the words of Regin Schmidt, author of The FBI and the Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States (Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000): “In response to social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration and the potential political threats to the existing order posed by the Socialist Party, the IWW and, in 1919, the Communist parties, industrial and political leaders began to look to the federal government, with its growing and powerful bureaucratic organizations to monitor, and control political opposition.”

FBI historian John A. Noakes concludes that “the domestic unrest during this period presented the Bureau of Investigation the opportunity to expand its domain and increase its power.”9 Major expansion of the state through the building of new bureaucracies (Bureau of Corporations, Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission, etc.) and bureaucratic infighting for government resources and jurisdiction turned the largely immigrant-led unrest into an unprecedented opportunity for A. Mitchell Palmer and his lieutenant, J. Edgar Hoover, who just five years after the scare went on to serve as the director of the Bureau of Investigation, later to become the FBI, where he became the most powerful nonelected official in U.S. history.

During the raids, thousands of immigrants were surveilled, rounded up, and deported during the Red Scare’s Palmer Raids. In what sounds like a precursor to the current ICE raids, local police and federal agents collaborated around immigration. According to FBI historian Kenneth D. Ackerman, in his Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007): “Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons.”

Sound familiar? Ackerman concludes: “Almost 90 years later, today’s war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare.” It was in the era of the Red Scare that talk of establishing a border patrol began, after Immigration Service authorities were overwhelmed by the tasks demanded of them after the United States entered World War I in 1917. “Thus,” concludes Joseph Nevins in Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2001), “the roots of the U.S. Border Patrol are to be found not only in concerns about unauthorized immigration, but also (and perhaps more so) in a preoccupation with matters of national security as related to the boundary.”

During the Great Depression, Mexicans in the United States were scapegoated for the economic hard times, as public xenophobia for the first time turned against them (having previously been fixated on the Chinese and “undesirable” Europeans). According to historians Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez in their history of this program, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (University of New Mexico Press, 1995), calls to “get rid of the Mexicans” resulted in the INS’s Mexican repatriation program (1929–37), which, like today’s war on immigrants, relied heavily on warrantless mass raids and arrests—which “assumed the logistics of full-scale paramilitary operation,” according to a history of the program—with detainees routinely held incommunicado before being shipped off to Mexico. According to California’s Apology Act for the 1930s Mexican Repatriation Program, passed in 2005, about 400,000 U.S. citizens and legal Mexican residents were forcibly removed in California alone; nationwide, an estimated 2 million people of Mexican descent were forcibly relocated to Mexico.

Complaints of INS abuse were legion, and a 1932 government commission on the matter concluded: “The apprehension and examination of supposed aliens are often characterized by methods [which are] unconstitutional, tyrranic and oppressive,” as quoted in Decade of Betrayal. The program represented the INS’s entry into the national security realm. This was cemented in 1940, when the Roosevelt administration transferred the agency from the Labor Department to Justice, home of the FBI. Indeed, Roosevelt, who a year later would begin detaining and interning Japanese Americans en masse, played a key role in framing immigration and the border as a national security issue. In the context of World War II, this often centered on keeping out “enemy aliens,” and as Nevins notes, for this reason, the Border Patrol personnel was almost doubled and played a role in the war, managing enemy alien detainment camps and helping defend the east coast. Again, we see the ways in which immigrants—in this case Japanese and Mexican immigrants—provide the state with the means to circumvent laws designed to protect the people from their government.

*

As shown in the examples from U.S. history, immigrants provide the state with ample excuse to expand, especially in times of geopolitical and domestic crisis. During the post-revolutionary period, the pursuit of alleged immigrant subversives led to the massive funding of the Navy and to the expansion of state power through laws like the Alien and Seditions Acts. Similarly, the crisis following the end of World War I led to the creation of the FBI and to unprecedented government repression and expansion embodied by the Palmer raids. Viewed from a historical perspective, it is no surprise that the government should respond to the geopolitical and domestic crisis in the United States with expanded government power and bureaucracy. Rather than view the placement of ICE under DHS as solely about controlling immigrant labor or about political (and electoral) opportunism disguised as government policy (both are, in fact, part of the equation), it is important to connect the creation of ICE and its placement under DHS to the perpetual drive of government to expand its powers, especially its repressive apparatus and other mechanisms of social control.

From this perspective, the current framing of the issue of immigration as a “national security” concern—one requiring the bureaucratic shift toward “Homeland Security”—fits well within historical practices that extend government power to control not just immigrants, but those born here, most of whom don’t see immigration policy affecting them. One of the things that makes the current politico-bureaucratic moment different, however, is the fluidity and increasing precariousness of the state itself. Like other nation states, the United States suffers from strains wrought by the free hand of global corporations that have abandoned large segments of its workforce. Such a situation necessitates the institutionalization of the war on immigrants in order to get as many armed government agents into a society that may be teetering on even more serious collapse as seen in the recession and economic crisis devastating core components of the American Dream like education, health care, and home ownership.

Perhaps the most salient difference between today’s security state and those of the past is the central importance of the private sector. And unlike the previous periods, the creation of massive bureaucracies superseded the need to surveil, arrest, and deport migrants. Today, there appears to be a move to make permanent the capacity of the state to pursue, jail and deport migrants in order to sustain what we might call the migration-military-industrial complex, following Deepa Fernandes, Targeted: National Security and the Business of Immigration (Seven Stories Press, 2007). Several indicators make clear that we are well on our way to making the war on immigrants a permanent feature of a government in crisis.

Multibillion-dollar contracts for border security from DHS have created an important new market for aerospace companies like General Electric, Lockheed, and Boeing, which secured a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Borders Initiative, a DHS program to build surveillance and other technological capabilities (see “Barricading the Border”).10 That some saw in 9/11 an opportunity to expand and grow government technological capabilities—and private sector patronage—through such contracts, can be seen in DHS’s “national laboratory for homeland security.”

Like its predecessor, the military-industrial complex, the migrant-military-industrial complex tries to integrate federal, state, and local economic interests as increasing numbers of companies bid for, and become dependent on, big contracts like the Boeing contract or the $385 million DHS contract for the construction of immigrant prisons.11 Like its military-industrial cousin, the migrant-military-industrial complex has its own web of relationships between corporations, government contracts, and elected officials. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in the case of James Sensenbrenner, the anti-immigrant godfather, who sponsored HR 4437, which criminalized immigrants and those who would help them. According to his 2005 financial disclosure statement, Sensenbrenner held $86,500 in Halliburton stocks and $563,536 in General Electric; Boeing is among the top contributors to the congressman’s PAC (Sensenbrenner also owns stocks in the Olive Garden restaurant chain, which hires undocumented workers.)12 The current war on immigrants is grounded in the need to build and maintain massive policing bureaucracies like ICE and DHS. The immigrant-rights movement must clearly understand this if it is to succeed in its strategies for the right to migrate, the right to work, and the right of migrants to share the fruits of their own labor.


Roberto Lovato is an associate editor with New America Media. A New York–based journalist, he contributes frequently to The Huffington Post and The Nation.


1. This article is a revised, updated version of “One Raid at a Time: How Immigrant Crackdowns Build the National Security State,” which appeared on publiceye.org, the website of Political Research Associates, in March.2. “Special Report: Homeland Security Appropriations for FY 2005 (House & Senate) and California Implications,” the California Institute for Federal Policy Research, September 16, 2004.

3. Alec MacGillis, “Minutemen Assail Amnesty Idea,” The Washington Post, May 13, 2006.

4. “Militarizing the Border: Bush Calls for 6,000 National Guard Troops to Deploy to U.S.-Mexican Border,” Democracy Now!, May 16, 2006.

5. David Bacon, “The Real Political Purpose of the ICE Raids,” Dollars & Sense, January/February 2007.

6. “The American Dream Survey 2006,” Lake Partners Research, August 28, 2006.

7. John Morton Smith, “President John Adams, Thomas Cooper, and Sedition: A Case Study in Suppression,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 42, no. 3 (December 1955): 438–65.

8. Todd J. Pfannestiel, Rethinking the Red Scare: The Lusk Committee and New York’s Crusade Against Radicalism, 1919–1923 (Routledge, 2003).

9. John A. Noakes, “Enforcing Domestic Tranquility: State Building and the Origin of the FBI,” Qualitative Sociology 18, no. 2 (June 1995): 271–86.

10. Martie Cenkci, “At Technology’s Front Line,” Air Force Outreach Program Office, Outreach Prospective 5, no. 4 (Fall–Winter 2006): 10–11.

11. Alexandra Walker, “Sensenbrenner: Immigration Profiteer,” The Real Costs of Prison weblog, October 5, 2006.

12. Roberto Lovato, “Sensenbrenner Under Fire—Does Congressman Profit From Undocumented Labor?” New America Media, October 6, 2006.

Obama Must Usher In Era of Rational and Transparent Government

November 5, 2008

Before anything, I’d like to congratulate Sen. Obama for his astonishing campaign.

First and foremost, I’d like to see an Obama administration bring rationality and transparency back to the art of government, the science of statecraft. Obama should, for example, end immediately the dangerously irrational rise of miltarized immigration policy — deploying heavily-armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to terrorize gardners, maids and their children in their homes, schools and workplaces, denying these families habeas corpus and jailing hundreds of thousands of them under the Guantanamo-like conditions of jails run by corrupt companies.

Rather than try to reform ICE, one of the most violent, inefficient and militarized branches of government, the Obama Administration should take government immigration functions out of the massive and militarized bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security. For most of the history of immigration policy, immigration-related matters have been handled by non-militarized branches of government like the Department of Labor and others. Lastly, an Obama Administration should set a more humane and rational tone around immigration, a tone that shuts down the borders of irrationality and violence in government while also fostering greater understanding of and openness to the geopolitical, legal and other complexities of immigration today.

Ahorra Votamos y Manana Militamos: Direct Actions Against ICE Preview Post-Electoral Militancy

November 4, 2008

640_oct_31__2008_bilingue.jpg original image ( 3461x2631)

I know we’re all growing anxious and increasingly elated at the probable outcome of today’s elections, but I just caught wind of a very important development in the Bay Area. From San Francisco, my hometown, a preview of things to come.

A warm, powerful hug and shout out to the more than 600 young people and community-based organizations who organized and participated in this weekend’s Halloween actions against the terror wrought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). As some of us have, for some time, been suggesting to the movement here and here, we will get nowhere without going on the offensive against ICE, without taking direct action against them. Young activists in San Francisco have taken a clear and hugely important step towards the more militant actions necessary to effect a change in the disastrous and devastating immigration policies; Drumming, marching and chanting “No More Raids!” students from San Francisco, Richmond, San Jose and other locations throughout the Bay Area delivered a powerful message to ICE -and to the community: we will start taking more direct and militant action to prevent the terror infliicted on families and children.

Not only will we undertake hunger strikes to stop the anti-immigrant madness; We will literally start shutting down ICE.

Activists temporarily closed the entrance into ICE offices by locking themselves down with 55-gallon drums on both ends of the ICE building’s driveway, where vans normally load and unload detainees. I can tell you that, though many, including more centrist, foundation & corporate-funded “immigrant rights” organizations and their “leaders”, will tell you that such actions are of little to no use, these more direct actions do much to communicate urgent messages to numerous sectors; Current and former ICE agents I’ve interviewed tell me that nothing throws agents off their game, nothing SCARES them like direct actions, especially those that political acts that target. Same with the politicos, including the Democrats, who need to start fearing us if we are to see any change in migration policy. Such proactive, offensive actions do much to take the psychological pressure off of our communities and put it where it belongs: on ICE; Such actions communicate to the community that it’s not just OK to be angry; it’s OK and necessary to be angry to the point of striking back at ICE in a direct and political way; Such actions make clearer the distinctions between those in the “immigrant rights community” willing to accommodate terror and those ready to fight it.

Along with ongoing fasts, vigils and other actions, these more militant actions allow us to re-take some of the integrity we lost in the perpetual psychlogical warfare inflicted on the group that’s the object of the most hate crimes according to the FBI: Latinos, especially immigrant Latinos. Given the promise of action inherent in the chants of “Ahorra Marchamos, manana votamos,” events in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other locales preview the coming militancy that will become clearer as the smoke, confetti and genuine joy inspired by the end of the elections clears. For more information check out alianzanews. Thank you, San Francisco.
640_stop_the_raids__048.jpg original image ( 3008x2000)

Infomercials, Hatemercials and the Multi-mediagenic Presidency: GRITtv Panel Analyzes Elections & Media

October 31, 2008

http://a5.vox.com/6a00cd970c86034cd500fa967c8fb50002-500pi

This was a fun and informative panel. Always-thoghtful host Laura Flanders gets her guests -the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, Chris Rabb of Afronetizen and mois- to spill the media beans on this breathtaking political moment. Don’t miss a minute!

R

Fast for Our Future: Massive Fast Seeks Justice for Immigrants

October 29, 2008

In what organizers say is one of the largest single fasts in U.S. history, over 100 people are engaging in a hunger strike to mobilize 1,000,000 people to sign their Pledge to vote and take action for immigrant rights. Seeking to “reignite” the somewhat slowed movement that brought us the largest mass mobilizations in U.S. history, fasters are currently engaged in locations across the country, with Los Angeles’ historic Plaza Olvera serving as its spiritual center.

Several friends of mine are participating and I encourage you to visit their website and sign the pledge. Though I think there need to be more such actions when the glare of the election lights dims, taking action now really is critical. Having recently interviewed some of the main movers and shakers on immigration policy, I can tell you that nobody, not the corporate-funded, DC-based Latino and immigrant rights groups, not the pols and, yes, not even Barack Obama are signalling anything except the possibility for legalization
(and recent statements by Pelosi put even that in serious question.)

None of these powerful interest are saying anything that will fundamentally alter the devastating immigration policies -and their tragic effects: thousands of raids terrorizing families and entire communities, hundreds of thousands (including families and children) jailed, thousands dead in the desert, detainees killed and dying in detention. Our silence this time around means that we too will be complicit with the Democrats and their allies. So, please do visit the Fast for Our Future site and sign the petition.

“Post-Racial” Tu Madre: U.S. Hate Crimes Down- Except Against Latinos

October 28, 2008

//a.abcnews.com/images/TheLaw/ap_immigration_killing_080725_mn.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

washingtonpost.com

Today’s Washington Post (WAPO) has this story about the good news of a decline in overall hate crimes in the U.S., according to FBI Director Robert F. Mueller. Good news, that is, for almost every racial, ethnic, religious and other group except one: Latinos. The WAPO story also tells us that, for the 4th straight year, hate crimes against Latinos continue their upward tick in the downward spiral of hate in our “post-racial” society. 4 years; 4 years in the face of an overall decline in hate crimes means that anti-Latino hatred is becoming dangerously normalized, even institutionalized when we consider who profits economically and politically from hate.

According to the WAPO piece,

“Crimes against Hispanics also increased for the fourth year in a row, the ADL said, with 595 incidents reported in 2007, compared with 475 in 2004.”

And the FBI statistics are but a small -and inaccurate-measure of the size of this monster in our midst.

I was the President of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission (LACHRC) , one of the largest, most sophisticated government human relations agencies in the country, and can tell you that these statistics hardly begin to map what can only be the tragic topography of anti-immigrant hate. During my tenure at the LACHRC, we documented the obvious: most immigrants do not report crimes against them. For numerous reasons – fear, lack of institutional resources and outreach, ignorance about hate crime laws, etc.- immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, are not apt to report these incidents, even in places like L.A., where some human relations resources and sophistication about hate crimes exists.

Now, imagine what the situation in places where no such institutional resources or sophistication exists; The FBI is likely only able to report on what happens in big cities and the occasional killing or beating that is so blatant that it cannot be ignored in rural and suburban areas like Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, where 3 white men killed Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez (pictured above) in what his family and other witnesses believe was a hate crime (police declared the murder not a hate crime). And let’s remember that these are pre-economic meltdown statistics. Common sense and the statistical record tell us that spikes in hate crimes are inversely proportional to declines in key economic indicators. I fear we are entering a new, more institutionalized stage in which hating Latinos, especially immigrants, has become “OK”, “normal” and even “patriotic.”

https://i0.wp.com/www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/01/dobbs230.gif//www.voanews.com/english/images/cislogo_100.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

What this means beyond the tragedy of it all is that there HAS to be a concerted effort to break the political back of at least some (it only takes the decimation of 1 to discourage the others) of the key think tanks, media outlets and pols whose bottom lines depend on cranking out hate against immigrants. Expensive “Stop the Hate” campaigns are important at the level of counteracting their messages in the general populace, but do nothing to get at the powerful interests that profit from keeping the hate alive. Somebody has to find it expensive to keep up the hate that cheapens life.