Archive for the 'Global Migration' Category

Thoughts On the Decline and Fall of That Most Ignoble of Terms, “Illegal immigrant”

April 2, 2013

AP NO MORE

Today’s stunning  announcement by the Associated Press that it dropped the racist term “Illegal immigrant” from its AP Stylebook, the BIble of  journalistic usage, marks a historic juncture. The history of the decline and fall of the term “illegal immigrant” and it’s derivatives (“Illegals”, “illegal alien” and the like) is one that should be recounted, IMHO.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the long how and the deep what of this collective accomplishment, this latest victory, because victories, including linguistic victories, are one of the defining characteristics of major social movements. One need look no further than  the social and linguistic change engendered by the movements of black power (“N” word, African American), women (“B” word & others), queer communities (“F’ word & others), disabled people (“C” word) and many others. Many, many did indeed work on this and we should all celebrate. In the words of Ivan Roman, former President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which led the fight in the quiet of editorial rooms throughout the country since the late 90’s,

“Thanks to lots of work by a lot of people and more intense work more recently by a certain cluster of folks, it’s finally happened! Kudos!”

Journalists and the poc journalism orgs led and were the most consistent in this fight for many years and that needs to be underscored because it is less-known.

undocumented

Within that most recent “cluster” Ivan mentions, I identify and salute Jose Antonio Vargas & Define American, Oscar Chacon & NALACC, DREAMers, Presente.org, artists, linguists and lots of local, regional and national groups who mounted different initiatives with different outlets in different cities at different times in the past 3.5 years that defined that cluster moment. Of special note are Rinku Sen and the Applied Research Center (ARC) and their Drop the I  Word campaign for the money,  for the full and part-time staffing and for the consistency that, since 2010, carried the campaign to national scale and attention, far and beyond the polite (and sometimes impolite!) conversation of the editorial room.

And I know of no single person who spent more time thinking about, who worked more hours (slept fewer hours!) with more groups in more cities and with more media outlets to drop the I-Word than Monica Novoa, ARC’s former Drop the I-Word Coordinator, current Define American team member;  These facts I want not to be lost in the thrill and buzz of victory.

monica_novoa_CLdrop the i word

In terms of the deep what of what was accomplished, we should recall that the roots of the Associated Press’ decision-and the campaign that brought that decision- lie  in the history  and confluence of the Jewish and the Salvadoran experiences of violence- and the dehumanization that enables it. Unbeknownst to most is that the language activism of  Drop the I-Word and the immigrant rights movement that informed it was itself a continuation of the work begun- en Español-  by Salvadorans organizing the “Nigun Ser Humano Es Ilegal”campaign in the 1980’s. In support of the right of Salvadorans in the 1980’s to legal status in the U.S. under international political asylum statutes, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Elie Wiesel gave the Salvadoran sanctuary movement the now storied phrase, “No Human Being is Illegal.” “Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement, Wiesel told me some years ago. “It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.” And there,  in the marriage of Jewish and Salvadoran dignities, was born the beginning of the end of the ignoble term “illegal immigrant.”

vallen_no_human_illegal

Speaking with Wiesel and with Salvadorans, Guatemalans and other victims of extreme violence, one thing about language becomes tragically obvious: violent, oppressive language is a necessary precursor to both violent, oppressive policy and violent, oppressive physical and psychological action; What also becomes clear is that eliminating such language does, in fact, make bad policy and violent behavior that much more difficult and avoidable. This alone is reason to celebrate.

Let us now add this ignoble term to the dustbin of dead and offensive language that includes “nigger”, “faggot”, “cripple”, “chink”, “jap”, “bitch” and too many others in a country born of a noxious blend of Biblical language and the language of exploitation and officially-sanctioned violence.

Let us rejoice that, over time, our children will learn you don’t refer to human beings as “illegals”, “illegal immigrants” and other dehumanizing (to referent and to speaker) terms.

Over time, we will all proudly remember that we held our own faith and were resolute in delivering the Word: Ningun Ser Humano Es Illegal.

DREAMers: Undocumented Youth Turn Images into Political Acts

December 20, 2012

butterfly_inline

by Roberto Lovato

(A Creative Time Reports and Culture Strike collaboration)

On a recent Friday in the nation’s capital, visitors to the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and other white-walled centers of global power dotting the National Mall stood beneath sunny autumn skies papered with colorful dreams. Literally. Thanks to a collaboration between artists and DREAM Act activists (aka “DREAMers”), images of faces representing millions of undocumented youth gleamed on kites in the upper echelons of Washington. Their stories have come to the forefront of a national immigration debate that, until recently, excluded them.

Writing in the same unequivocal tone that forced President Obama to grant DREAMers a temporary, but historic, stay of deportation, the organizers of the Dream Kites project declared its simple objective: “to highlight a flawed system and request that we turn our attention onto the current state of inadequate immigration reform.” With the help of artist Miguel Luciano and Culture Strike, an organization bringing artists and activists together in the U.S. immigration debate, images of Dream Kites glided onto the front page of the Washington Post, along with the stories behind them.

The kite action reflects how the wings of artistic and political imagination are helping the immigrant rights movement grow beyond the multimillion-dollar policy designs of national immigrant rights groups. The latter have remained largely uncritical of President Obama, even as he has deported 1.4 million immigrants (including many DREAMers), a record for a single term in office. On the eve of another national debate about immigration reform, artist-enabled people power has found new ways to soar above the money-enabled Powers from Above.

My current understanding of the role of culture and cultural workers in immigrant rights and other social movements has its roots in Latin America, the source of most human and butterfly migration to the U.S. It was in El Salvador—the tropical, forested land of my parents—that, after graduating college, I first came to know the Tree of the (Cultural) Knowledge of Good and Evil. Slowly, my time in El Salvador withered away my former college radical’s cold aversion to protest songs, to poetry, to the delicate stencils of the talleres culturales (“cultural workshops”) there as no more than the work of revolucionarios de escritorio (“desktop revolutionaries”). I developed an altogether different sense of the political and the cultural—and the transformative, silken space between them. I learned how words could be liberating, but also dangerous. After government, media or right-wing civil society groups eviscerated the humanity of nuns, priests, peasants or students by labeling them comunistas or subversivos, they sometimes ended up being persecuted or killed.

Cultural struggles to preserve, protect and promote the humanity of all—like those of the butterfly-bearing activists—have been and remain paramount to disrupting the violence of state and non-state actors: psychological violence, physical violence and the violence of bad policy. In the face of such abuse, artists have often been the earliest adopters of the call by rights activists to see immigrants for what they are: human. It was novelist and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a conservative, who gave the Central American refugee movement what became the international slogan of immigrant rights: “No Human Being Is Illegal.” Since he spoke these words, more left-leaning artists have reproduced “No Human Being Is Illegal” and other pro-migrant memes and messages in rap lyrics, digital images, t-shirts, posters, poems, films, chalk drawings and many other media.

Some 25 years and several local, national and global campaigns after I made the “hard” distinction between the “concrete” work of “real” political organizing and what I saw as the more ancillary work of artists, creative interventions like the kite action have turned me into a cultural believer. Of special note is the symbol of the butterfly, a new face for the immigrant rights movement. As a bearer of beauty symbolizing the life force (the Greek word for butterfly is “Psyche,” also meaning “soul”), the butterfly appeals to everyone’s humanity at a time when the dehumanization of immigrants fuels multimillion-dollar industries in lobbying, media, electoral politics, prison construction, border and other security industries.

I recently witnessed the symbolic flight of the political butterfly during a misty exam week at UC Berkeley. Students rushing in and out of the Life Sciences building were momentarily startled out of their concentration by an image of a blue and white butterfly with the word “MIGRANT,” and the phrases “All Humans Have a Right to Migrate” and “All Migrants Have Human Rights,” drawn in chalk. “Don’t step on it! It’s art,” said one student to her classmates. Another student, a 20-year-old political science major named Andrea Lahey, said: “You can’t really argue with the message because being human is not controversial—we’re all human.” Hours later, the DREAMer butterfly was washed away by evening rain. But, like the colored dust left by the pollen-covered wings of a butterfly, the DREAMers’ image had already made its mark, turning the prosaic activity of walking to and from science class into a poetico-political act.

Forcing the country to face social issues through cultural interventions is especially critical for a grassroots U.S. immigrant rights movement, given that none of the “leaders” of the Washington-based immigrant rights groups with national media clout is an immigrant. That’s right: none. This is one reason why it is so important to stage protests with powerful images of immigrants and symbols of migration: for example, displaying digitized DREAMer posters that depict butterflies yelling “Our Voices Will Not Go Unheard” into a megaphone, or more directly, getting undocumented writer José Antonio Vargas, undocumented artist Julio Salgado and other DREAMers on the cover of Time magazine under the heading “We Are Americans.”

obamaPOSTER7

Artists will need precisely this kind of political imagination to confront the extraordinary and unprecedented challenges facing immigrants. By working together, artists and activists have exposed Barack Obama as the worst U.S. president ever in terms of persecuting, jailing and deporting—and, I would argue, terrorizing—mostly innocent immigrants, including children. Washington-based artist César Maxit’s powerful image of a sinister-looking Obama accompanying the message “1,000,000 Deportations. Ya Basta! No More! Obama: Stop the Deportations” took big risks that paid off. The image became iconic, appearing in national newscasts, mass protests, online videos and other media as it went viral, despite disapproval from Obama’s powerful allies within the immigrant rights movement. In the process of putting potent and uncompromising images before the public, DREAMer and other immigrant activists and artists have redefined the relationship between Latinos and both major parties.

As we enter a super storm of intersecting and rapidly growing global crises—economic decline, food shortages, climate change, etc.—that are leading migrants to embark on their often-breathtaking journeys, the truth-telling work of artists and cultural activists has taken a definitive turn. Foregrounding immigrant beauty, immigrant freedom and immigrant solidarity in order to disarticulate the myths manufactured by the anti-immigrant industries, as the Dream Kites and butterflies do, is still vitally important. But, because of the astonishing confluence and complexity of these crises, engaged artists must not only fight dehumanization but also craft a constructive path towards the social equilibrium necessary to decimate anti-immigrant hatred everywhere. Through the storm, the perilous flight to freedom continues.

To (Re)Gain Latino Voter Trust, Obama Must End SCOMM

October 18, 2011

A piece I wrote about the record-breaking, family-breaking pace of the imprisonment and deportation regime that is the Obama Administration’s preferred policy.

 

 

 

Last Sunday, during a speech made at the dedication of the monument honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King, President Obama declared, in King-like cadences, that the slain civil rights leader “stirred our conscience.”

The president, who is desperately trying to win back Latino votes lost since 2008, went on in the speech to say that King reminds us “to show compassion to the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of are just a few generations removed from similar hardships.” He has also taken to engaging in high-profile appointments and meetings with Latino media executives, like Univision’s president, César Conde, and Latino superstars like Shakira.

While Obama’s meetings and his words of compassion for immigrant families are most welcome, the president’s deeds – and their effects on immigrant families – provide a stunning and tragic contrast.

As documented in Tuesday’s broadcast of PBS Frontline’s ‘Lost in Detention‘ documentary, President Obama’s policies have led to the record and heart-breaking deportation of more than 1 million immigrants, the separation of thousands of families, and the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands forced to live in subhuman conditions in what some of us are calling “Obama’s Immigrant Gulag.” Detainees fall victim to rape and sexual abuse, racism, having to eat worm-infested and rotten food, physical and psychological abuse, the denial of basic rights and other humiliating conditions.

At the heart of this immigrant tragedy is a radical racial profiling program known as “Secure Communities,” or S-COMM, which turns local and state law enforcement officers into immigration officers who are beginning to ask everyone – citizen and non-citizen – for their papers simply because they look a certain way.

By the tens of thousands, Latinos, one of the groups most profiled under S-COMM, will watch the documentary, which will speak to the concerns about the president’s immigration policies and about which an increasing numbers of us are growing angry and impatient.

Polls, like the Latino Decisions-ImpreMedia, conducted in August 2011, tell us definitively that most Latino voters know one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Presente.org and its allies in 10 cities will call on the Obama Administration to do away with the rotten fruits of S-COMM and other immigration policies he promised to either alter or abolish altogether. The absolute failure and damage of these immigration policies have been thoroughly documented by lawyers, immigrant rights groups and, increasingly, journalists like those responsible for tonight’s unprecedented documentary.

Trying to cover up and divert the attention of the public, especially the now very fed up Latino voter public, will not work. Trying to blame the failure of S-COMM, a program of the executive branch of government, by handing over responsibility to Congress, the legislative branch, as Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top advisor on immigration, has done repeatedly, will not work.

Latinos are not stupid. We will not accept the false statements and diversionary tactics of apologists for the abominable immigration policies of the administration.

To (re)gain trust of Latino voters, Obama must make fundamental changes to the immigration laws he can change at will, as he proved on August 18, when he announced slight changes to immigration policy after groups across the country protested his campaign offices, including his campaign headquarters.

Until President Obama makes more fundamental changes to his dangerous immigration policies, we will take back the slogan that Obama the candidate borrowed from Latinos – “Sí Se Puede/Yes We Can” – and use it for our efforts to both stop S-COMM and abolish Obama’s Immigrant Gulag.

Roberto Lovato is Co-Founder and Strategist at Presente.org.

 

Of América’s Anthem: Latinoamérica by Calle 13

September 30, 2011

 

For those of you that haven't heard it, this song by the ever-incisive 
Calle 13, speaks to the sensibilities-cultural, political, visionary- that 
inform this blog. Check out the lyrics (below) as you play the vid. One thing 
i would add: include those of us in the new country we're
giving birth to-the United States of América.

Latinoamérica

Soy,
Soy lo que dejaron,
soy toda la sobra de lo que se robaron.
Un pueblo escondido en la cima,
mi piel es de cuero por eso aguanta cualquier clima.
Soy una fábrica de humo,
mano de obra campesina para tu consumo
Frente de frio en el medio del verano,
el amor en los tiempos del cólera, mi hermano.
El sol que nace y el día que muere,
con los mejores atardeceres.
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva,
un discurso político sin saliva.
Las caras más bonitas que he conocido,
soy la fotografía de un desaparecido.
Soy la sangre dentro de tus venas,
soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena.
soy una canasta con frijoles ,
soy Maradona contra Inglaterra anotándote dos goles.
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera,
la espina dorsal del planeta es mi cordillera.
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre,
el que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre.
Soy América latina,
un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos.
Tengo mis dientes pa` cuando me sonrío.
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas.
Tengo el sol que me seca  y la lluvia que me baña.
Un desierto embriagado con bellos de un trago de pulque.
Para cantar con los coyotes, todo lo que necesito.
Tengo mis pulmones respirando azul clarito.
La altura que sofoca.
Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca.
El otoño con sus hojas desmalladas.
Los versos escritos bajo la noche estrellada.
Una viña repleta de uvas.
Un cañaveral bajo el sol en cuba.
Soy el mar Caribe que vigila las casitas,
Haciendo rituales de agua bendita.
El viento que peina mi cabello.
Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello.
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial,
Porque el abono de mi tierra es natural.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Você não pode comprar o vento
Você não pode comprar o sol
Você não pode comprar chuva
Você não pode comprar o calor
Você não pode comprar as nuvens
Você não pode comprar as cores
Você não pode comprar minha felicidade
Você não pode comprar minha tristeza

Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
(Vamos dibujando el camino,
vamos caminando)
No puedes comprar mi vida.
MI TIERRA NO SE VENDE.

Trabajo en bruto pero con orgullo,
Aquí se comparte, lo mío es tuyo.
Este pueblo no se ahoga con marullos,
Y si se derrumba yo lo reconstruyo.
Tampoco pestañeo cuando te miro,
Para q te acuerdes de mi apellido.
La operación cóndor invadiendo mi nido,
¡Perdono pero nunca olvido!

(Vamos caminando)
Aquí se respira lucha.
(Vamos caminando)
Yo canto porque se escucha.

Aquí estamos de pie
¡Que viva Latinoamérica!

No puedes comprar mi vida.

White Nationalist Anger and Violence: A Preview of Even Greater Anti-immigrant Violence?

August 10, 2009

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Though its primary subject is the rise of violent white nationalism, this important article by Eric Ward and our friends at Imagine 2050 has indirect and seriously bad implications for the not-so-distant immigrant future.

I say this because I think and fear that recent developments- the acidic anger seen during the Sotomayor hearings, the deadly absurdity of the “birther” frenzy in the media and the outbreak of violence seen in the health reform debate- preview what will likely be even greater levels violence we will see during the immigration debate, if and when Obama and the Democrats decide to move forward with their proposal.

Given what I believe anyone traveling throughout the country sees and hears-that immigrant violence grows exponentially- we should begin preparing on how to deal with the more open anti-migrant warfare that those invested in promoting false ideas of immigrant criminality are working towards.

I say “even greater levels of violence” only because the violent cat of anti-migrant violence has already been let out of the white nationalist bag: spikes in anti-Latino, anti-migrant hate crimes, increased murders and only God knows how many unreported cases there are; The overwhelming number of hate crimes, especially those targeting the most vulnerable, undocumented have been perpetrated without ever being documented. And we can only imagine what it’s like in most places in the country, places that have never created systems to document such crimes as in Los Angeles, where we will likely see those systems diminished by budget cuts. I fear that such a situation make the anecdotal descriptions of violence I encounter with unrelenting intensity throughout the country a preview of things to come.

Beyond building and saving existing hate crime reporting infrastructure, by far the most important thing the immigrant rights movement can do is stop the debate from including any more legislation that directly or implicitly reinforces the constitutionally dangerous notions of immigrant criminality.

In other words, in an environment in which visual, verbal and physical anti-migrant violence has gone viral, there should be a moratorium against ANY AND ALL LEGISLATION PREMISED ON DANGEROUSLY FALSE NOTIONS OF THE IMMIGRANT AS CRIMINAL NEEDING AND DESERVING PUNISHMENT FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Such notions only further legitimate similar notions proferred by pols -Republicans and Democrats-, mainstream media and the racial extremists whose ideas they give a platform to.

We no longer need to give extremists and their ideas a platform by legitimating them thru “tradeoffs”, “compromises” and with toxic talk of more enforcement and punishment. There has to and is another way: stop. Regardless of whether the messenger advocating for more punitive policy is Republican or Democrat, Minuteman or “immigrant advocate”, anyone promoting even more punitive legislation (don’t we have enough punitive laws as it stands?) should be called out for fomenting policies premised on dangerous ideas of immigrant criminality that enable further violence against immigrants and others.

If hate crimes are any indicator, the idea that comprehensive immigration reform will do anything to diminish hatred is proven painfully wrong by the broken bones, bruised faces and cracked ribs of the citizens and residents attacked for their appearance. Hate crimes against migrants are rapidly rising worldwide. Just imagine how vast the toxic sea of violence against migrants in the US is.

There is another way and it begins at the border between policies that equate immigrants with criminality and those that don’t.

Act Now to Stop the Obama Administration’s Racist 287G Immigration Policy

July 24, 2009

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Groups across the country are mobilizing to put pressure on Department
of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama to
end the devastation caused by the Obama Administration’s 287G program.

Denounced by l(some) police chiefs, several government officials and
many, many community groups, 287G is the program that allows local and
state law enforcement officials act as enforcers of federal
immigration law and provides the legal means for the racial profiling,
mass and arrests and other violations of the most basic civil and
human rights. The program enables the widespread and illegal practices
of notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Join the increasing numbers of Latinos, civil and immigrant rights
groups and others who are growing impatient about what they consider
the hypocrisy and duplicity of President Obama with regard to racial
profiling. In light of the massive amount of racial profiling taking
place under his recently expanded 287G program-a program Obama and
Napolitano recently expanded- many find lees-than-credible President
Obama’s statements concern about how the recent arrest Professor
Louis Gates reflects “a long history in this country of
African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement
disproportionately.”

The current target of what will be a series of actions to pressure the
Obama Administration is tonight’s appearance by Secretary Napolitano
on the Bill Maher show. Community groups are asking Maher to raise
racial profiling and other 287G issues during his interview

You can take several actions including:

Contact the Bill Maher Show on Facebook and ask them to raise the
issues with Napolitano- http://www.facebook.com/Maher?ref=t

And on twitter here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23billmaher

Press release for the action (complete with lots of hyperlinks) is
here: http://jornaleronews.ndlon.org/?p=349

And those of you in Los Angeles can join the protest and press
conference at Bill Maher’s studio tonight (more information below_

For Immediate Release // Excuse Cross Postings // Please Forward

Contact (Engish y Español): Loyda Alvarado, (323) 434- 8115
What: Press Conference, Rally, and Demonstration
Why: To Urge Bill Maher to Ask Secretary Napolitano about DHS
Racial Profiling Practices, 287(g), Joe Arpaio
Where: 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (Near corner of Beverly
and Fairfax)
When: Friday, July 24, 2009
Time: 5:30 to 7 pm

(Los Angeles) Immigrant, civil, and labor rights advocates will hold
a rally and press conference outside the taping of Real Time with Bill
Maher on Friday at 5:30 pm. Protestors will urge Mr. Maher to ask
tough questions of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about her
relationship with the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Specifically, Secretary Napolitano should be asked why DHS has not
severed its contract with Arpaio (Napolitano’s hometown sheriff), and
why DHS opted last week to expand a failed experimental Bush
immigration enforcement policy that has demonstrably resulted in mass
racial profiling.

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama used very
strong language to denounce racial profiling practices by local
police. However, last week week, Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the
widely-criticized 287(g) program, which outsources federal
immigration enforcement authority to local sheriffs. In recent
years, Joe Arpaio has become a symbol of the program’s failure, as his
use of 287g has resulted widespread allegations of racial profiling.
The Department of Justice recently launched a high-profile
investigation of Arpaio’s practices. Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio’s
relationship with neo-nazi’s has been noted by Phoenix Mayor Phil
Gordon; Arpaio himself has said it’s an honor to be called KKK; and he
has even posed for photos with high-profile neo-nazi’s. The New
York Times has published several editorials calling for the
termination of the 287(g) program in general and Arpaio’s contract in
particular. Those editorials are available here, here, here, and
most recently, here.

Salvador Reza, a community leader in Phoenix, issued the following
statement: “Secretary Napolitano has the legal authority and the
moral obligation to end Arpaio’s reign of terror in her hometown of
Phoenix. Instead, she is expanding the 287(g) program and intends to
make the country look like Maricopa County. We hope Bill Maher has
the courage to ask hard questions of Secretary Napolitano.”
###

Immigrant Rights Leaders Issue Unprecedented Statement “Condemning the Obama Administration’s Expansion” of Racist 287G Policy

July 17, 2009

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More groups and individuals going against the “Washington Consensus” -legalization in exchange for even more enforcement-on immigration.

Please distribute this far and wide as President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano are trying to cover their political a..ses by announcing their continuation and expansion of the radical and racist 287G policy below the clouds-and some fog- of excitement around the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. Rather than announce it at a time when it would draw attention to iteself, the Obama Administration chose to announce it last Friday, as the country and media buzz prepared for this week’s Sotomayor hearings. The Obama Administration would prefer we gaze at the smiling visage of soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor instead of the scowling face of the greatest benefactor to date of the infamous 287g program: rabidly racist, anti-immigrant Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

This statement by a host of groups including the Detention Watch Network, National Immigration Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and many others, (see list below) “Condemning the Obama Administration’s Expansion” is the clearest statement to date of the growing disapproval of Obama’s willingness to support racist, dangerous and ultimately failed immigration policy. That some of these groups have not previously made statements against Obama and that they waste no time using language still unheard of in the echo chamber of Washington (ie;”Condemning”) provides, I think, an interesting preview of where and how Obama’s credibility may rapidly drop in immigrants rights and Latino communities. It also indicates that, more and more, the monopoly of groups sanctioned and bankrolled by powerful liberal interests- the big Democratic party, big foundations, big media and, in some cases, big corporate interests- to be the official Latino and immigrant “voice” is starting to crumble.

Contrary to what you may or may not be hearing from your Latino aides and others of a more institutionally pliant bent in Washington, there are, Mr. Obama, limits to how much deadly garbage policy some of us are willing to swallow silently. You’re committing a strategic error if you believe that you can count on our unconditional support in the name of both giving you cover and securing legalization for the most desperate among us.

Our failure to follow Detention Watch Network and other groups in their condemnation will communicate that we too are willing to go along with what his recent actions-continuing racist control policies like those institutionalized by 287g while waving the affirmative action flag embodied by the nomination of centrists of color like former corporate lawyer and prosecutor, Sonia Sotomayor-do. And that President Obama then goes on to deliver what the reliably uncritical MSM calls a “stirring” civil rights speech to the NAACP says much about 2 things: the analytical and political abyss we inhabit and how utterly commodified conceptions of civil rights have become.

So, again, please do distribute this important statement by these courageous groups, as the media and those with access to the mainstream will do nothing to
echo this important statement by so many important groups. Having run an organization like those making the statement, I can tell you that it’s not easy to make such statements when you have to worry about alienating Democratic Congress members, big foundations and others who can hurt you by cutting your funding, politically isolating you and other repressive measures taken by the powerful of a more liberal bent.

R

ADVOCATES ISSUE STATEMENT CONDEMNING OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S

EXPANSION OF DHS’S FAILED 287(g) PROGRAM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2009

Media Contacts:

Adela de la Torre, Communication Specialist, National Immigration Law
Center, 213.674.2832 (office), 213.400.7822 (cell)

Andrea Black, Coordinator, Detention Watch Network, 202-393-1044 ext.
227 (office), 520-240-3726 (cell)

Judith Greene, Director, Justice Strategies, 718-857-3316,
jgreene@justicestrategies.net

Civil rights and community groups across the country denounce
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s
plans to expand the highly criticized 287(g) program to eleven new
jurisdictions around the country. The program, authorized in 1996 and
widely implemented under the Bush Administration, relinquishes, with
no meaningful oversight, immigration enforcement power to local law
enforcement and corrections agencies.

Since its inception the program has drawn sharp criticism from federal
officials, law enforcement, advocates and local community groups. A
February 2009 report by Justice Strategies, a nonpartisan research
firm, found widespread use of pretextual traffic stops, racially
motivated questioning, and unconstitutional searches and seizures by
local law enforcement agencies granted 287(g) powers. Justice
Strategies recommended the program be suspended. “We found evidence
that growth of the 287(g) program has been driven more by racial
animus than by concerns about public safety. The expansion of this
deeply flawed program cannot be justified before a thorough test of
corrective actions shows solid proof that they have been effective,”
reports Judy Greene, Director of Justice Strategies. A March 2009
Government Accountability Agency (GAO) report, criticized DHS for
insufficient oversight of the controversial program.

Also in March, the United States Department of Justice launched an
investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, to
determine whether Arpaio is using his 287(g) power to target Latinos
and Spanish-speaking people. In Davidson County, Tennessee, the
Sheriff’s Office has used its 287(g) power to apprehend undocumented
immigrants driving to work, standing at day labor sites, or while
fishing off piers. One pregnant woman—charged with driving without a
license—was forced to give birth while shackled to her bed during
labor. Preliminary data indicate that in some jurisdictions the
majority of individuals arrested under 287(g) are accused of public
nuisance or traffic offenses: driving without a seatbelt, driving
without a license, broken taillights, and similar offences. Such a
pattern of arrests suggest that local sheriff’s deputies are
improperly using their 287(g) powers to rid their counties of
immigrants, by making pretextual arrests that are then used to
forcefully deport people. “We need only look at the example of
Maricopa County to understand the devastating effects the increased
287(g) program will have on our communities,” said Chris Newman, Legal
Programs Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
“The Obama administration must recognize that the 287(g) program is
predatory and ripe for corruption and profiling that will harm
community stability and safety for everyone.”

The Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of
Police, and the Major Chiefs Association have expressed concerns that
deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce civil federal
immigration law undermine the trust and cooperation of immigrant
communities, overburdens cities’ already reduced resources, and leaves
cities vulnerable to civil liability claims. “When victims and
witnesses of crime are afraid to contact police for fear of being
jailed or deported, public safety suffers,” said Marielena Hincapie,
Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center.

Napolitano’s July 10 announcement that DHS has granted 11 new
jurisdictions 287(g) powers stunned advocates who had been expecting a
major overhaul of – or end to – this failed program. “DHS is fully
aware that the abusive misuse of the 287(g) program by its current
slate of agencies has rendered it not only ineffective, but dangerous
to community safety. It is surprising Napolitano did not simply shut
this program down. Expanding this failed program is not in line with
the reform the administration has promised,” said Andrea Black,
Coordinator of the Detention Watch Network.

Signatory Organizations:

A Better Way Foundation, New Haven, CT

All of Us or None, San Francisco, CA

Border Action Network, Tucson, AZ

Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY

Center for Media Justice, Oakland, CA

Detention Watch Network, Washington, DC

Families for Freedom, New York, NY

Florida Immigrant Coalition, Miami, FL

Grassroots Leadership, Austin, Texas

Homies Unidos, Los Angeles, CA

Immigrant Defense Project, New York, NY

Immigrant Justice Network

Immigration Law Clinic, UC Davis School of Law, Davis, CA

Immigrant Legal Resource Center, San Francisco, CA

Judson Memorial Church, New York, NY

Justice Strategies, New York, NY

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, San Francisco, CA

Main Street Project, Minneapolis, MN

Media Action Grassroots Network, Oakland, CA

National Day Laborer Organizing Network

National Immigration Law Center, Los Angeles, CA

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Boston, MA

Partnership for Safety and Justice, Portland, Oregon

Project Rethink

Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta, GA

Death, Detention and the Dream of Legalization: GritTV Panel on Immigration Reform

July 3, 2009

This show about the possibilities of immigration reform this year was deftly done by the folks at GriTV. Host Laura Flanders steered panelists in what I think is one of the better discussions on this topic I’ve seen. Check out show which includes Mallika Dutt, Executive Director of Breakthrough, Ravi Ragbir who spent two years in immigration detention and is a member of Families for Freedom, Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice and yours truly. Issues hidden away in the shadows of the debate are brought to light and the results are really infromative. So, check it out the clip below! And if you like it, then check out the full episode here.

Arrest of Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Raises Questions, Concerns in Community

June 25, 2009

alex-sanchez

Today’s FBI arrest of Alex Sanchez, one of the most respected gang intervention leaders in the country, has raised major concerns in Los Angeles and around the country. As his wife and children watched, Sanchez, who leads Homies Unidos, a violence prevention and gang intervention organization with offices in Los Angeles and El Salvador, was arrested and taken away by FBI agents this morning at his home in Bellflower. The federal charges- being a “shotcaller (someone who manages narcotics operations) for Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, an MS member shot and killed in El Salvador in 2006- have raised fears and great concerns among the many who’ve known and worked with Sanchez over the years, including myself.

First and foremost among the concerns in the community are concerns for Alex’s immediate safety. As a former gang member who works to help others leave gang life, Alex faces great danger in whatever LA County facility he’s held in-even if he’s put under Protective Custody (PC). Law enforcement authorities have an axe of historic proportions (see Rampart scandal) to grind against Alex and some have demonstrated a lethal propensity towards retribution. Known as “Pecetas”, those held under PC are considered by many gang members to be informants and, therefore, legitimate targets for direct retribution from gang members -and direct and indirect retribution from police.

For more reasons than I have time to enumerate here, I for one do not believe the charges. Rather, I think that these recent accusations are but the most recent in the long, rotten chain of attempts by law enforcement officials to frame Alex, who was regularly beaten, framed, falsely arrested, deported and harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department since founding Homies Unidos in 1998. First and foremost, I spent the evening calling those who know and have worked most closely with him, and they ALL share that sense that, as one of his best friends told me, “He really is a good person.” I’ve known him for years and will be sending a strongly worded support letter like the many I’ve sent over the course of the many years and many frame-ups law enforcement has ravenously pursued. Those close to Homies and Alex know and are again feeling that cloud of anger and concern that comes with being harassed by authorities abusing the power delegated to them.

Also, Alex is alleged to have conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, who sources in the Salvadoran and gang communities tell me had, in the words of one gang expert interviewed, “many, many enemies in the U.S.-and El Salvador.” While most of charges levelled against most of the the 24 other plaintiffs point to physical acts and evidence, the one and most serious indictment (see full indictment here) naming Alex alleges that he participated in “a series of phone conversations” in which the possibility of killing Lacinos is discussed. No proof is offered to corroborate the charges relating to managing narcotics operations for MS.

Lastly, the sensationalistic judgements of many media and some law enforcement officials raise serious concerns, as well. Close scrutiny of the media coverage reveals an definite disposition to judge and convict Alex before his trial even begins. For example, almost all of the coverage follows uncritically the logic laid out in the indictment. No attempt is made to notice that, for example, Alex is not named in most of the 66-page indicment. Other plaintiff’s names appear throughout. Those reading reporting in the LA Times and other outlets might come away believing that Alex might be involved in the murder of seven people or in conspiring to kill another 8. Consider this note from today’s LA Times:

The arrests cap a three-year investigation into the gang and its cliques, which operated in the Lafayette Park area, west of downtown. Among the most serious allegations contained in a 16-count federal indictment unsealed today was the claim gang members conspired to murder veteran LAPD gang officer Frank Flores.

Those named in the indictment include Alex Sanchez, a nationally recognized anti-gang leader and executive director of Homies Unidos.

Notice how there’s zero attempt to clarify or give greater context to Alex’s story, even though he headlines most of these stories. Even worse is the way that law enforcement authorities like L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton, who the Times tells us has a big “I told you so” for the city, use Alex’s case to build the case for punitive-and failed-anti-gang policies,

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said the Sanchez case reinforces the thinking behind the city’s efforts to consolidate and more strongly regulate anti-gang funding.

Bratton is no stranger to racially charged policing policies in New York or in Los Angeles (ie; Bratton was roundly repudiated when he first tried to apply the “terrorist” frame to L.A. gangs). Neither he nor any other L.A. official has accepted responsibility for helping create Mara Salvatrucha in L.A. and El Salvador, a country with no previous history of gangs before LAPD collaborated with immigration authorities to deport Mara members. Adding fuel to the fire burning to replace the anti-gang work of Homies Unidos with more punitive, law enforcement-centered approaches favored by Bratton and his, boss, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are reports like this one which have begun a non-profit and politico witch hunt even before Alex has seen a single day in court. Rather than look more deeply into the charges, media, political and police personalities appear bent on assuming Alex’s guilt and then waving this alleged guilt as if it’s a flag at the front of the contemporary equivalent of a witch hunt.

Although the story of Alex Sanchex touches upon people and issues-immigrants, gangs, Salvadorans- that are explained-and dealt with- simplistically, dangerously, the leadership of Los Angeles must speak out in defense not just of Alex, but of a fundamental principal of a just society: that you are innocent until proven otherwise.

Much more on this important issue in weeks and days to come.

Climate of Hate Means Immigrant Rights Organizations Should Commit to Excluding Punitive Policies in Any Reform Proposal

May 5, 2009

This post was inspired by another post by my friend, Alisa Valdez, who uses the MSM’s coverage of the Markoff “Craig’sList Killer” case to draw our attention to how twisted -and dangerous-the values of the media ecology we inhabit have become. Reading Alisa’s tight analysis alongside reports of that the racist killers of immigrant Luis Ramirez were declared innocent (and of course, the daily bread of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino hate found on radios, TV’s and websites everywhere), triggered concerns made even clearer during a recent visit to Europe to cover the UN conference on racism. More specifically, Alisa’s piece provided me with the spark to say something I’ve been mulling for while: the dangerous even murderous anti-migrant climate requires that immigrant advocates commit not to support any “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR) proposal containing punitive immigration policies.

The piece below floats the seemingly uncontroversial idea of a petition asking immigrant rights orgs-and their leaders- to commit
to excluding, not supporting any and all punitive policies in any “comprehensive immigration reform.” Seems pretty obvious,
but the absence of such accountability allows the noxious policies-and the immigrant=criminal logic undergirding them- to pass
with the apparent support of that segment of the “immigrant rights movement” that can afford media flaks, PR spinsters, bloggers
and others allowing them to speak for the entire immigrant rights movement. Hopefully, this is non-controversial, but let’s put it to a test.

Neither aggressive, nor hostile, such a petition simply commits its signatories to excluding policies that, in such a radically hateful
climate, enable further hatred, terror and death in immigrant communities. how could anyone purporting to be a defender of immigrants
not agree to something so basic?

I encourage any comments, suggestions or disagreements those of you reading this might have. Gracias, R

Here’s the response to Alisa’s piece:

That a crazed murderer would be described with such fawning language while maids, gardeners and immigrants and other Latinos are described in the harshest, most hateful language speaks powerfully to how perverted the “values” of this decadent “civilization” have become. Reinforces a theory I have about how we’ve moved beyond the rather stale notion that legalization or increases in the Latino vote will do anything to diminish the rise in hate towards Latinos.

Between radical demographic shifts (young, rapidly growing Latino population, aging, diminishing white population), editorial rooms chock full of old- and young- still mostly white “editors” who normalize lethal logics and the companies that capitalize and profit from “news”programs, talk shows premised on promoting Darwinian racial ideologies, what we have is the possible institutionalization of perpetual race war targeting Latinos, especially immigrant Latinos, who are suffering the brunt of hatred, death and devastation.

In such a lethally charged climate, at such a decadent moment in the history of this country, we need to raise the cost of promoting or enabling the radical racial logic of the newsrooms described so cogently by Alisa. This is why I propose, for example, that we start eviscerating any trace of the racially charged immigrant=criminal logic in our own “community.” We can start addressing this by developing and circulating a petition or some document demanding that any “immigrant rights organization” commit itself to excluding any and all punitive immigration proposals they might advocate in the name of “legalizing the 12 million” or whatever spin people come up with in their efforts to legitimize the now deadly immorality known in legislative circles as a “tradeoff” (legalization in exchange for more punitive policy). We can then extend the commitment to the Hispanic Caucus and other members of Congress and move forward into the editorial rooms with greater force and unity of purpose.

As the possibility of “comprehensive immigration reform” rears its head again, we might want to consider the possibilty that, in allowing or even supporting punitive policies, we in the “immigrant rights movement” are unconsciously accepting the logic of criminality by allowing or supporting laws premised on now extremely lethal notions of immigrant criminality manufactured in hate groups, “think tanks” and the news rooms Alisa aptly describes. Make no mistake, in times when hating immigrants is proven to yield daily profits for news organizations and their advertisers, times when you can kill an immigrant and go scott free (or even hailed as heroes as in the gross distortion that is the Compean case), “tradeoffs” mean we are willing to accept logic that kills, the same logic of the racists disguised as editors use. I also think that the institutions-news orgs, hate groups, political parties, including Democrats- invested and investing in this radical, deadly turn deserve the same treatment we used to give those who enabled the slaughter of innocents in El Salvador: pouring colored red liquid symbolizing the blood of the dead and maimed on their offices-or even their suits and dresses. Things, have, I believe, reached that point of urgency-but the “news” will not report it or, if they do, they’ll do so in the most banal terms possible. Such are the rotten fruits of decadent “civilization.”

Thanks again for your work on this, Alisa. Good writing should spark discussion and debate and you succeeded.

Best,

R

Silencing the Breakers of Silence: UN Durban II Conference Threatened by Conflicts

April 21, 2009

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND Before asking him about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial speech here at the followup to the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism (Durban II), I first gave Nobel prize-winner, Elie Wiesel, my thanks. I thanked him not because of his condemnation of an opening speech in which the Iranian president called the holocaust a “dubious question”; I thanked holocaust survivor Wiesel because he provided us with one of the main slogans for combating past and recent racism in the United States: “No Human Being is Illegal.” After he shook my hand and after I offered, in the most Spanish-inflected French possible, my gratitude on behalf of the Central Americans who first launched the “No Human Being is Illegal” campaign back when the United States denied them political asylum and refugee status in the 1980’s, Wiesel smiled and reminisced,”Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement. It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.”

As one who dedicated a significant part of his adult life to the cause of Central Americans, meeting Wiesel served as a deeply personal reminder of the profoundly serious issues being discussed here. But as one dedicated to the global movement for migrants rights, which has, in many countries, also adopted his elegantly simple coinage, I’m also gravely concerned about how the focus on Ahmadinejad and the boycott of the Geneva conference supported by Wiesel, the United States and the powerful minority of countries backing the Israeli government is distracting the world from one of its most urgent facts: the exponential rise in xenophobia, hatred and racism around the world, especially following the exponential decline in economic stability triggered by the global greed and corruption centered in the United States.

Were Iran, Israel and other players involved in this display of geopolitical drama not so viscerally divided, someone attending the conference might reach the conclusion that their high-profile conflicts are a subterfuge designed to mask over and disguise the most damaging and deadly racial and ethnic consequences brought on by the depredations and failures of western governments – and the “blue eyed bankers” in the U.S. and other countries recently denounced by Brazilian President Lula and others.

Speaking with some from among the thousands of passionately committed and very smart participants from around the globe attending Durban II, I couldn’t help but hear the grave disappointment and even anger at the damaging, even catastrophic effect that both the the boycott and President Ahmadinejad’s speech are having on issues discussed throughout the conference.  For example, lost in the global media’s almost exclusive focus on Ahmadinejad’s speech and on the walkout by a small minority of mostly white Western diplomats, are concerns of the overwhelmingly non-white majority attending the conference, attendees like Yousif Aboh.

“These conflicts (around the speech and the boycott) only help governments like Sudan’s to continue racist practices that push people out, that starve people and that attack and kill people,” said a very somber Aboh, who works with Darfur Peace and Development, a non-governmental organization which is the only Darfuri-led organization still operating in Darfur. “I’m here to get support for the people still living a great crisis in Darfur- people without food and water because of discrimination-and these kinds of controversies make my work difficult to impossible because many in the media don’t want to talk about anything else except Israel and Iran.”

Aboh and others attending Durban II also expressed deep disappointment at the Obama Administration’s decision not to attend the conference.  Non-attendance was roundly condemned as a very dangerous act that communicates the wrong message to racists, xenophobes and genocidal governments around the world. “Their (the Obama Administration) not attending tells governments like Sudan’s that their dangerous racist policies are not a priority,” said Aboh, who also condemned the government of Iran for its support of the Sudanese government.

For his part, Khalil Shahabi, an economist at the Tehran-based Insitute for Sceintific and Political Research, agreed with Aboh about the Obama Administration but also defended the Iranian government against Aboh, Wiesel and other critics, “Our President is the only head of state to come. It’s important that he tell the world about how Israeli racism kills innocent people in Gaza, including fifteen percent who were children.” When I asked him about the Iranian President’s statements about the situation in Palestine, Wiesel told me he thought Ahmadinejad had done “dishonor to his people, who have such a rich history. What arrogance he has to come here to a UN conference on racism only to express such hatred.”

Largely lost in the largely simplistic media coverage of both the conference and the speech by President Ahmadinejad were the more nuanced discussions taking place inside and outside the stately halls of the U.N. For example, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, delivered a speech indirectly criticizing Iran, Israel and the United States. “We who have made a point of defending freedom of expression cannot opt for non-attendance as a strategy, leaving the floor to precisely those who hold opposite views” said  Støre  “We will not surrender the floor of the United Nations to the extremists.The President of Iran has just exercised that human right. He did so – I believe – in a way that threatens the very focus of this conference.”

Such an inauspicious start to an event of such global import inspires fears; fears that the specific conflicts involving only a few of the world’s many actors may detract from communicating the powerful spirit motivating most of those attending the Durban II conference. This spirit was best captured by Wiesel, when he said many years ago, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Mo(u)rning in El Salvador

March 26, 2009

The Nation.

A young supporter of FMLN presidential candidate, now president-elect, Mauricio Funes. RODRIGO ABD/AP

Roberto Lovato

March 26, 2009

In Izalco, El Salvador, an idyllic but very poor village nestled under the gaze of the great volcano of the same name, I asked Juliana Ama to help me understand how the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the guerrillas-turned-political-party, had managed to triumph over the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in the presidential election on March 15, ending the right-wing party’s twenty-year reign. Ama guided me to a dusty, football field-size dirt lot adjacent to a church. The 61-year-old schoolteacher said nothing at first, staring meditatively at a round spot blackened by a campfire or some burnt offering. Then she said simply, “It’s our dead.”

Her explanation lacked the revolutionary bravado and the análisis político heard from chain-smoking former guerrilla commanders and Facebook-using radical students in San Salvador, the capital. Instead, she threw open her arms and said, “Most of the people killed in the Matanza [the Great Killing] are buried here.” Before us lay the remains of many of the 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous Pipil-Nahuat killed in January 1932 on the orders of military dictator Maximiliano Hernández.

In slow, measured speech, Ama, one of a tiny fraction of Salvadorans who identify themselves as indigenous, explained how indigenous peasants like her great-great-granduncle, the peasant leader Feliciano Ama of Izalco, and others from the western coffee-growing part of El Salvador rose up against deadly poverty, stolen land and other abuses in Depression-era El Salvador, only to be brutally slaughtered.

“We’ve organized commemoration ceremonies on this spot since 2001,” said Ama, as she pointed at the darkened patch on the lot. “People who can’t remember and are silent are people who are submitted (sumisos). Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us. Nothing like this was ever possible before, and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.”

My initial reason for visiting Izalco during the country’s presidential election season was that I’d learned of ARENA’s defeat in the Izalco mayoral race in January–the party’s first defeat since it was founded in 1981 by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads. The death squads, backed by the right-wing military government, were responsible for killing many of the 80,000 people who died during the bloody civil war of 1980-92.

The FMLN’s recent victory in small, neglected Izalco–after campaigning on a message of change backed by a coalition of Catholics, students and evangelicals–had political analysts buzzing about how it might herald a national trend in the lead-up to the historic presidential election. Even some ARENA loyalists I interviewed quoted D’Aubuisson’s prophetic maxim: “The day we lose Izalco, that day will be the end of the party.”

In Izalco it became clear how Ama’s explanation of the FMLN’s victory aligned perfectly with the central lesson of revolutionary political warfare that some former Salvadoran guerrilla commanders told me they’d learned in Russia, Vietnam and other Communist-bloc countries in the 1960s and ’70s: the spirit of the people matters most. The power that broke the chain of oligarchies and military dictatorships that shackled El Salvador for 130 years was the will of the people to break their silence.

Few embody this will to break the silence like Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate and the first leftist elected president in the history of El Salvador.

Funes, a 49-year-old former journalist, rose to prominence in no small part thanks to the democratic space created by the signing of the peace accords ending the war in 1992. Until then, the seventy-year rule of oligarchs and dictators made freedom of expression a rarity. My first memories of Funes are as the talk-show host and commentator my family in San Salvador would listen to in the late ’80s as they huddled around a small, battered black-and-white television set during their lunch breaks.

As the grip of state military-run television loosened in the postwar period, Funes became the country’s most popular TV personality in his role as host of Entrevista al Dia (Interview of the Day), El Salvador’s equivalent of Meet the Press.

Hosting al Dia, on which he grilled and debated left- and right-leaning guests with his famously mercurial intelligence, helped to make Funes a symbol of the openness ushered in by the signing of the peace accords. After losing every presidential race since laying down its arms to become a political party in 1992, the FMLN embraced change. With the help of people like Funes’s mentor Hato Hasbun–a sociology professor who worked closely with the six Jesuit priests killed by the military during the FMLN offensive in 1989–the party finally recognized that putting up presidential candidates who were former guerrilla commanders or wartime opposition leaders might not be the best strategy for winning over an electorate trying to overcome the war’s painful legacy. The party chose Funes, who was neither a combatant nor a member of the FMLN during the war.

In doing so, the former guerrillas gave their party a much-needed upgrade that allowed them to use the FMLN’s legendary organizational capacity (during the war, the US State Department called the FMLN one of the “best organized” and “most effective” people’s movements in Latin America in the last fifty years) to meet the political requirements of the media age. And as a Jesuit-influenced intellectual, Funes also gave the FMLN–an organization with many leaders who were themselves profoundly influenced by liberation theology and first organized in Christian base communities–some ideological comfort.

When I interviewed Funes on the night of his victory, in the restaurant of a San Salvador hotel, the first thing he did was echo the thinking of one of those who courageously broke El Salvador’s silence. “Now we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.”

Like almost every Salvadoran I spoke with after Funes’s victory, the candidate said he wished a deceased family member, in his case his brother killed during the war, was with him to share the moment.

And like Juliana Ama, he too rooted his victory in the legacy of silence and struggle from Izalco: “Our history–what happened in 1932, the poverty of the ’70s that caused the armed conflict in the ’80s and the state in which many in the countryside like Izalco still find themselves today–these can be explained fundamentally by the unjust distribution of wealth, the use of the government to support the process of concentrating wealth.”

After talking with Funes at the hotel, I went to the Escalon neighborhood, where those who have benefited from the concentration of the country’s wealth live and do business behind the big, heavily guarded walls of gated buildings and fortressed mansions. For reasons I don’t know, but imagine have something to do with poetic justice, the FMLN decided to hold its massive victory celebration that Sunday night on Escalon Boulevard.

The neighborhood was also where the FMLN launched its offensive on San Salvador in 1989. After the demise of Communism put in doubt the survival of Latin American revolutionary movements, including El Salvador’s, the FMLN made a strategic decision to bring its guerrilla army of young men and women and older adults, some of whom had little to no combat experience, into the capital, leading to some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

I walked along the crowded blocks of the Escalon with my good friend Joaquin Chávez, a fellow in the NYU history department, who founded the first Central American studies program in the United States with three other colleagues and me. Passing by Citibank and Scotiabank, OfficeMax, McDonald’s and other corporate buildings on the Escalon never felt so exhilarating. The major difference was the hundreds of thousands of boisterously happy, red-shirted, mostly poor children, youth and families waving homemade red-and-white FMLN flags.

For his part, my bookish, bespectacled historian friend Joaquin, who had lost many friends and family members during the war, was initially pretty academic about what the electoral victory meant.

“The origins of the war were not ideological. What brought on the armed struggle,” began Joaquin, whose current research looks at the role of intellectuals in the origins of the war, “was the reaction of various groups to the repression of the state. If the government had allowed fair elections in 1972 and 1977, there would have been no war.” His voice started to crack slightly with emotion. “And that’s what makes tonight so hope-inspiring: it makes possible a political transition through legal and electoral means.”

Watching the wave of thousands of mostly young FMLN supporters walk, sing and dance as they held handpainted signs with messages like Misión Cumplida: Compañeros Caídos en La Lucha (Mission Accomplished: Compañeros Who Fell in the Struggle), Joaquin reminisced, not as the accomplished historian but as the former guerrilla leader: “I remember being here on Seventy-fifth Street (during the 1989 offensive) to pick up the bodies of dead and injured young combatants. They were the ages of these kids walking here now.”

He continued: “Tonight I feel like they didn’t die for nothing. Spiritually, it feels like a weight has been taken off of you, where you feel the absence of those who initiated these processes. This is an explosion of happiness and a celebration of rebellion, a triumph of the 1932 rebellion of Feliciano Ama and the indigenous people.”

Back at the empty lot, near the blackened patch of dirt that is ground zero of revolutionary El Salvador, Juliana Ama pondered the escape from silence her country had begun. Despite the threats the commemoration ceremonies provoked, she said, “our ceremony is not intended as a political act. It is first and foremost a spiritual act. We have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Her eighth-grader son, Alex Oswaldo Calzadia Chille, stood solemnly nearby.

Asked what he thought the political turns in his country portended, the rather reticent, dark-skinned 14-year-old star student, soccer forward and drummer at the Mario Calvo school responded with an unexpected forcefulness. “I’m Pipil (Indian). Feliciano Ama, he’s my family and was killed defending the land against the government, like many people do today.” As if he’d been waiting for the opportunity to speak even more, he declared, “My family voted for the FMLN because they wanted change.” His intense brown eyes alive with the energy one imagines his rebellious ancestor had, Alex added, “When I’m old enough, so will I.”

Must See Moyers Interview: Mike Davis on “De-globalization,” the Socialist Option and the Role of the U.S. Left

March 22, 2009

Mike Davis, photo by Robin Holland

If we lived in a world in which depth of thought-regardless of political orientation- was publicly recognized and rewarded, my friend and companero (a word he loves), Mike Davis, would have a movie about him called “A Beautiful Mind” (hopefully a better-made, well-acted and ardently personal-is-political version.) One of less than a handful of inspirations for my own preferential option for the Militant Word, Mike is the author of more books than I have time to name here (Late Victorian Holocausts & City of Quartz are among my favorites).

I can think of few thinkers whose depth of analysis, way with words and serious conviction rise to the moment of crisis we face. This interview with Bill Moyers gives Mike the ample space needed for us to appreciate his thought, short of actually reading him.Trust me: you can’t leave listening to Mike without reconfiguring your synapses in some way. Besides introducing concepts like “de-globalizaton,” one of the most interesting things about the interview, which, BTW, Bill conducts nimbly, is that Mike let’s out the lesser-known optimism lurking in his socialist heart. Must Watch Television. Really. Enjoy.

R

CUNY TV Interview on El Salvador Elections

March 22, 2009

This interview with CUNY TV‘s Gary Pierre-Pierre goes over lots of terrain. Thanks to CUNY TV’s Michelle Garcia for conceiving of and developing the idea for what turned out to be a good interview. Enjoy!

Daring to Change: Exclusive Interview with El Salvador’s President-Elect, Mauricio Funes

March 18, 2009

A Conversation With Mauricio Funes

by Roberto Lovato & Josue Rojas

March 17, 2009

On March 15, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) became the first leftist party to clinch a presidential election in the history of El Salvador. By 10 pm, it became clear to Salvadorans and to the world that the former guerrillas had ended more than 130 years of oligarchy and military rule over this Central American nation of 7 million. In the streets, thousands of red-shirted sympathizers chanted “¡Si Se Pudo!” (Yes, We Could), while they celebrated the victory of the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes.

Funes captured 51 percent of the vote, to 49 percent cast for Rodrigo Avila of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, which had been in power for twenty years. Though Funes, a former journalist, is the best-known Salvadoran on his country’s TV networks, he is little known outside the region. Thanks to a collaboration between The Nation and New America Media (NAM), reporters Roberto Lovato and Josue Rojas had the opportunity to interview El Salvador’s next president on the night of his election. What follows is an excerpt from this interview with Funes, who addressed numerous issues: the meaning of his presidency, El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, immigration and other domestic and foreign policy concerns.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the US-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s approach to this issue differ from that of the outgoing Saca administration?

The fact that we’re going to rebuild the democratic institutions–enforce the constitution and make of El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law–is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration. Salvadorans who leave to go the United States do so because of the institutional abandonment, the lack of employment and dignified ways to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the US. It’s not the same for us to ask the US government to renew TPS [temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, as to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent who will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war. What will your approach be to these issues?

We can’t get mixed up in repealing CAFTA…nor can we reverse dollarization, because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we’d be facing serious problems because we wouldn’t have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

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What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regard to El Salvador at this time?

To the degree that we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the US and we’ll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the US.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We’re going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions. This government implies a break from traditional policy-making. Now, what we’re going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people–the totality of the Salvadoran people–but fundamentally, of that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country’s social and economic development. [The people who for] not just the last twenty years but for last 200 years or more have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies. A government like the one I’m going to create will give them the protagonist’s role, which, until now, they have not ha

U.S. Immigration Policies Bring Global Shame on Us

February 26, 2009

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As one of the five full-time media relations specialists working for Maricopa County Sheriff and reality TV star Joe Arpaio- “America’s Toughest Sheriff” – Detective Aaron Douglas deals with the world’s media more than most. Though he is a local official, his is often the first voice heard by many of the foreign correspondents covering immigration in the United States.

“We talk to media from literally all over world: New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Chinese and other parts of the Orient,” Douglas drawled in a Southern accent. “We just did a series with a TV station from Mexico City about the isolation of illegal immigrants and why we’re putting them in a tent.” He was referring to a controversial march reported and discussed widely by international media and bloggers last week.

Alongside reports on Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement in Phoenix last week of his plan to revive the American Dream by fixing the U.S. housing crisis that led to the global economic crisis, millions of viewers, listeners and readers around the world also got stories reminiscent of the American nightmare Obama was elected to overcome, Guantanamo. “Immigrant Prisoners Humiliated in Arizona,” was the title of a story in Spain’s Onda Cero radio show; “Arpaio for South African President,” declared a blogger in that country; an op-ed in Mexico’s Cambio newspaper denounced “the inhuman, discriminatory and criminal treatment of immigrants by Arizona’s radical, anti-immigrant Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.” Stories of this week’s massive protest of Arapaio will likely be seen and heard alongside reports of Obama’s speech to Congress in media all over the world, as well.

The proliferation of stories in international media and in global forums about the Guantanamo-like problems in the country’s immigrant detention system- death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards; prolonged and indefinite detention of immigrants (including children and families) denied habeas corpus and other fundamental rights; filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; denial of basic health services – are again tarnishing the U.S. image abroad, according to several experts. As a result, reports from Arizona and immigrant detention facilities have created a unique problem: they are making it increasingly difficult for Obama to persuade the planet’s people that the United States is ready claim exceptional leadership on human rights in a soon-to-be-post-Guantanamo world.

Consider the case of Mexico. Just last week, following news reports from Arizona, the Mexican government, which is traditionally silent or very tepid in its criticism of U.S. immigration and other policies, issued a statement in which it “energetically protested the undignified way in which the Mexicans were transferred to ‘Tent City'” in Maricopa County.

David Brooks, U.S correspondent for Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, believes that immigrant detention stories hit Mexicans closer to home because those reportedly being abused in detention are not from a far off country; they are family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. In the same way that Guantanamo erased the idea of U.S. leadership in human rights in the Bush era, says Brooks, who was born in Mexico, practices in immigrant detention facilities like those reported by global media in Maricopa County may begin to do so in the Obama era if something does not change. “Mexicans have never seen the U.S. as a great model for promotion of human rights. But with Obama we take him at his word. We’re expecting some change,” said Brooks. “But that will not last long if we see him continuing Bush’s [immigration] policies: raids, increasing detention, deportation. Regardless of his excuse, he will quickly become mas de lo mismo (more of the same) in terms of the experience down south.” If uncontested, the expression of such sentiments far beyond Mexico and Mexican immigrants could lead to the kind of American exceptionalism Obama doesn’t want.

In a March 2008 report, Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, concluded that “the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country a national priority, using a comprehensive and coordinated national policy based on clear international obligations.” Asked how his report was received in different countries, Bustamante said, “The non-governmental organizations have really responded. In the United States and outside the United States- in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Indonesia and other countries- NGO’s are using my report to frame their concerns and demands in their own countries- and to raise criticism about the United States.”

For her part, Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, fears a global government “race to the bottom” around immigrant detention policies. “My concern is that as the rest of world sees the United States practices, we increase the risk that this will give the green light to other governments to be just as abusive or more abusive as the United States.”

If there is a positive note to be heard in the growing global chorus of critique of and concern about U.S immigration policy, it is to be found among those human rights activists and groups doing what W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and other civil rights activists did in previous eras: bring their issues to the global stage. Government documents from the civil rights era, documents that were released just a few years ago, illustrate how members of the Kennedy and Johnson State departments and even Kennedy and Johnson themselves were acutely aware of and sensitive to how denunciations in global forums of racial discrimination in United States had a devastating impact on the U.S. prestige abroad.

Such a situation around the rights of migrants today, says Oscar Chacon of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a Chicago-based global NGO run by and for immigrants, creates an opportunity out of the globalization of the images of both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Barack Obama. “The world will be able to see him as the rogue sheriff that he is” said Chacon, who was in Mexico City attending a conference on immigration at which U.S. detention practices were criticized. “And it will be up to the Obama Administration to show the world that Arpaio is not a symbol of the rest of the country when it comes to immigration.”

Yes We Can Raid: Latinos, Immigrant Advocates Denounce Obama Administration’s 1rst Raid

February 26, 2009

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While Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief Janet Napolitano testified before a Congressional subcommittee about changes to Bush Administration immigration and security policies, DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Washington state were signaling no change: they launched the Obama Administration’s first major immigration raid. This story in the Seattle Times describes the raid on the Yamato Engine Specialists in Bellingham.

Shortly after announcement of the raid, immigrant rights and Latino organizations across the country condemned the actions of the Obama Administration.“President Obama told us to believe in change as he prepared to work on behalf of all Americans. “Workplace raids are remnants of failed immigration policies that have done nothing to solve the undocumented immigration problems we face,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “We need immediate actions that support our President’s personal commitment to the American electorate, including the more than 10.5 million Latino voters, that a just and humane immigration solution is a priority,” added Cabrera. Even groups that have called for “tough and smart” enforcement as part of an immigration reform “tradeoff” for the legalization of 12 million undocumented workers denounced the raid., groups like America’s Voice and the National Council of La Raza, whose Executive Director, Janet Murguia, declared in response to the raid, “At a time when messages of change and hope abound, we are left to wonder how change will come to these failed policies.

That Obama and Napolitano’s loud roar of “Si se Puede Redar” (Yes We Can Raid) was received with such uniform and vociferous condemnation bodes well for the immigrant rights movement, which has too often, been divided between those emphasizing legalization and those concerned about detention, raids and other enforcement issues. At the same time, the universal condemnation also serves as a measure of the depths of the immigrant detention abyss the country is mired in; It may indicate that stories of a “softening” on immigration by Obama hard-liners like Rahm Emanuel may not be sufficient for many in the immigrant rights movement to drop their guard. We’ll see.

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On the action front, should these policies continue, my own preferred response would be to create a petition asking the President to cease and desist from using the “Si Se Puede” slogan and its English language variant, “Yes We Can” and to instead adopt the increasingly popular “Si Se Pedo” slogan, which Of América can give him exclusive rights to.

Those of you wanting to denounce these actions by the Obama Administration can join the National Network for Immigrant and Refugees Rights call for letters, phone calls and other actions (see below.)
Call President Obama and Congress

Demand an End to ICE Raids & Abuses

Dear NNIRR members, partners, allies & friends,

Please call President Obama and your Representative and two Senators to denounce the brutal ICE raid against immigrant workers that took place yesterday in Bellingham, Washington (see background information below).

Call (202) 456-1414 and tell President Obama:

Ø The ICE raid yesterday in Washington state violates the rights of immigrant workers, harms the economy and makes our communities vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Ø You must end all raids and suspend all detentions and deportations.

Ø Restore and protect our Constitutional rights

Ø Please investigate ICE abuses and end the inhumane treatment immigrants are suffering in detention and deportation.

You can also send fax President Obama at: (202) 456-2461

Call (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative’s and Senators’ offices, tell them:

Ø The ICE raid yesterday in Washington state violates the rights of immigrant workers, harms the economy and makes our communities vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Ø End all raids and suspend all detentions and deportations.

Ø Restore and protect our Constitutional rights

Ø You must hold hearings to investigate ICE abuses and end the inhumane treatment immigrants are suffering in detention and deportation.

You can also get full contact information for your Congressional delegation at:

http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

Please take action today!

For more talking points and messages to our elected officials, see NNIRR’s letter with signatures

to President Barack Obama at

www.nnirr.org

The Age of Crimmigration is Upon Us: Latinos New Majority-In Federal Prisons

February 19, 2009

A Rising Share:  Hispanics and Federal Crime

A recently released report provides another startling indicator of how Latino demographics are being used to lead the United States into a new age, the Age of Crimmigration. Produced by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report found that Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group in the federal prison system.

Fueled, in large part, by changes to immigration law that have multiplied exponentially the ways in which undocumented immigrants can be prosecuted and jailed as criminals, the new Latino federal prison majority documented in the report provides definitive proof of the “crimmigration” thesis developed by legal scholars like Juliet Stumpf of the Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon. Stumpf’s groundbreaking paper, “The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, & Sovereign Power,” predicted how a lethal combination of forces-changes to immigration laws, political shifts, intensified prosecution and enforcement – would lead to what she called, in 2006, “the most important development in immigration law today: the convergence of immigration and criminal law.” On a less legalistic level,the news of the new Latino federal prison majority also means the convergence of hundreds of thousands of the poor white, black and Latino families in terms of their dealings with a prison system fed increasingly with immigrant bodies. Nearly half of all Latino offenders were convicted of immigration-related crimes, crimes that only became crimes as a result of relatively new sentencing laws and policies.

Although normalized over the course of several years by a confluence of separate but symbiotic interests – opportunistic politicians (Republican and Democrat), nationalistic and race-baiting media personalities, multi-billion dollar security and prison-industrial interests, “immigrant rights advocates” (and the major foundations that fund and legitimate them) promoting “smart” & “tough” immigration policies in exchange for legalization for 12 million undocumented-the immigrant=criminal axiom is, in legal terms, a relatively recent historical development. And it will likely worsen without major mobilizations from below.

As the new Latino federal prison majority overtakes the sizeable populations of whites and African Americans in federal facilities, it should be noted that the criminalization of immigrants and immigration policy described by the crimmigration thesis comes as an extension of previous legal and other institutional practices. For example, the exponential increase in laws facilitating the mass incarceration of mostly Latino migrants appears to follow the same pattern and logic that led to the exponential increase in the disproportionate drug sentencing laws and policies that led to the mass incarceration of African and other, mostly poor Americans. Without radical intervention from below or a definitive change of heart from above- or both, immigration laws will join drug laws as the drivers of the prison system in the Obama era.

Latinos already account for 40 percent of those convicted of federal crimes, a percentage that has doubled from 1991 to 2007 (see chart below). And, according to this report in the New York Times, “Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of the four states that border Mexico.” (contd. below chart)

(from NY Times)

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Because crimmigration combines two political third rails -criminal justice and immigrant rights-, legal reform, enforcement and prosecution and detention issues in immigration policy have been and may continue to be largely ignored by elected officials and other policy influentials. That candidate and now President Obama and his allies have remained largely silent on the crisis of incarceration and criminal justice in black and Latino communities does not bode well for the “hope” that the Obama administration will be willing to take on powerful lobbies of the fast growing immigration prison-industrial complex: aerospace, surveillance and prison-building industries like Halliburton and Boeing, prison guard unions (whose fasest-growing group are Latino prison guards), and super predatory private prison management firms like GEO. Soon, we will likely see increasing numbers of immigrants themselves joining the ranks of those profiting from mass imprisonment of immigrants.

But, if there’s an opportunity to be found (and there always is) in the cloudy complexities of crimmigration policy it is the realization that the silver lining is actually and truly black and brown. Growing Latino majorities in the already overcrowded federal penitentiary system are nothing if not an unprecedented opportunity to create a visionary, mass-based movement of blacks and Latinos and others committed to ending the disgrace that makes us the largest carcereal country on earth. Rather than operate piecemeal and in separate silohs, criminal justice and immigrant detention activists can together lead a powerful movement the likes of which this country has never seen. Crimmigration represents as much a historic opportunity as it does a great danger in times of economic and political crisis.

Homeland Security Chief Napolitano Outlines Top Immigration Priorities: Militarism & Militarism

February 16, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Looks like Napolitano’s -and Obama’s- version of “hope” and “change” on immigration means pressing down on the undocumented with even more boots and guns, according to this interview on NPR.

Given the spikes in anti-immigrant hate crimes that continue spilling blood on our streets and given the colossal humanitarian crisis festering in detention centers throughout the country , such a militaristic approach to immigration policy is nothing less than immoral and inhumane. Such an approach begs the questions, “Where is the hope?” and “Is this what you meant by “change?”

If the Obama Administration continues along this deadly path, I predict that the immigrant rights movement and growing numbers of Latinos will start politically attacking Obama and his backers in DC in anticipation their support for policies that will worsen further the growing humanitarian crisis in detention. I also predict the Dems and their allies will counter with a modified version of the PR strategy used to promote McCain-Kennedy: focus media on legalization while avoiding or simply paying minimal lip service to detention, raids enforcement and other issues involving the most vulnerable. By adding more jaded chants of “Si Se Puede” to such grotesque policies, Obama and Napolitano will only make even more of us hear even more clearly the echoes of “Si Se Pedo” politics: sounds similar to something good until you get close to the smell that’s toxically bad.

In a such a dangerous climate, a climate in which economic decline worsens the undocumented condition -death in jail, hate crimes, death in deserts, daily doses of dehumanizing media-, it is our duty to reject as extremely dangerous and in the most forceful terms any of the “smart enforcement” and other militaristic language and policy used by Napolitano, GOP & Dems and some “immigrant rights advocates.” Without a powerful pushback against these powerful interests who claim to be “liberal” and “progressive” on immigration reform, their institutional advantages – government bully pulpit & policy leadership, massive foundation funding for polls, media work and even blogging, media predisposition to be DC-centric- will again push non-legalization issues into the gulag of neglect, the further normalization of the nefarious things we’re seeing in the treatment of the undocumented.

So, beware: the workings of “hope” and “change” lurketh on the horizon.

Immigration Detention Reform Moves to Front Burner

February 2, 2009

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New America Media, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Feb 02, 2009

Guantanamo Bay isn’t the only prison crisis that President Barack Obama will have to deal with. There’s another crisis growing – in the many immigration detention centers carpeting the interior of the country. Long ignored by policymakers because they make up the politically lethal combination of immigration and prison reform, calls for major restructuring of the immigration detention system may soon become unavoidable. The death of German immigrant Guido Newbrough in a Virginia detention center has pushed the issue to the front burner, helped along by incessant calls for change from advocates like Gil Velazquez.

“I went through that system. I was there. I could have died too,” says Velazquez upon hearing of Newbrough’s death. Velazquez, a recently released immigrant detainee from Oaxaca, Mexico who now lives in Richmond, Virginia, is looking for action from Washington. “I wish I could speak to Mr. Obama. I would tell him ‘They (immigration authorities) jail so many people and they don’t know what they’re doing. They have no right to let people die,'” said Velazquez.

His mobility and work possibilities are limited by the big black ankle bracelet that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is forcing him to wear until his hearing in June. He cannot leave his sister’s apartment in the evenings. But Velazquez does not let his undocumented status limit his freedom.

“I want him (Obama) to know that we should be building schools and hospitals, things that help people, not these prisons,” the very soft-spoken Velazquez declared in his most strident cadence as he took a break from folding flyers for a protest to halt the construction of another immigrant detention center in Farmville, where Newborough died.

Velazquez’s indefatigable efforts form part of a large and growing movement to put immigration detention issues front and center of any upcoming reform of the larger immigration system from the Obama administration. He and other critics of the system see the root of Newbrough’s death and a host of other problems –death from medical neglect, denial of habeas corpus and other basic legal rights, lack of sanitation, food and other basic necessities, violent and abusive guards, to name a few- in the exponential growth of the immigrant detainee population. It has tripled since 1996, according to ICE records.

Demands for a radical restructuring of the detention and deportation system have become the main message on the placards, press statements and posters of a growing galaxy of older and new advocacy groups outside the Beltway. Groups like the Detention Watch Network, an umbrella organization made up of immigrant detention advocates from across the country, report rapid growth in membership and actions since the failure of immigration reform unleashed an unprecedented regime of raids and incarceration targeting immigrants.

Fueled by what groups like Virginia’s People United, a multi-issue activist organization, are calling the “humanitarian crisis” in immigrant detention, Velazquez and others’ increasingly vociferous calls for changes to the detention system have also created a political crisis for supporters of the more legalization-centered approach to immigration reform favored by supporters of some version of the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2006-2007 which was also supported by then Senator Barack Obama. The failure of McCain-Kennedy, gave rise not just to exponential increases in the numbers of ICE raids (an average of 11 per day); it also gave long-ignored detention reform flank of the immigrant rights movement more motivated troops and unprecedented resources – more than a dozen reports on detention issues are expected in coming months.

Many new detention reform groups have arisen and established groups like People United have placed immigrant detention near the center of their agenda in the last two years thanks to the constant stream of sad and often bizarre detention stories. “I just spoke with a man being held in the jail where Mr. Newbrough died,” said Jeff Winder, a regional organizer with People United. “The man told me that they’re cutting even more services to save money. Less than two months after the second death in that prison they’re cutting heat, toilet paper, food and other basic services. He even told me that there are 30 lights on the ceiling but that only 5 are turned on. People are crowding under lights just to read.”

Winder also pointed to several recent events – a hostage situation in Texas, hunger strikes across the country, legal victories for detainees claiming they were physically and psychologically abused, other deaths in detention – as examples of the “scandal in immigrant detention we see every week.” The steady stream of bad detention news is forcing Winder and other activists to find balance in the optimism mirrored by the Obama moment. “There’s a real mood of hope in the country. The end of the horrible abuses of Bush is very important and historic. I celebrate that, he said, adding, “But I’m waiting to see what President Obama will do about creating really viable alternatives to detention.”

Asked about the alternatives, Winder cited a 1998 government-funded study by the Vera Institute of Justice. The study found that, with a battery of community services costing less than $12 per person per day (versus the national average of $120 per day for people in immigration detention centers) the government could drastically reduce the numbers of people in immigrant detention facilities. “Reducing the number of people is important,” said Winder. “But the more important question President Obama will have to answer why we have so many people rotting in immigrant prisons in the first place.”