Revolution #63, October 1, 2006
The Movement for Immigrants Rights…
And the Battle to Drive Out the Bush Regime
A new immigration bill appears to be on hold while Bush focuses on war on Iran and promoting torture and his trials at Guantanamo. But the government is forging ahead with its anti-immigrant moves and militarization of the border. The House just approved—for the second time—a plan to build a 700-mile wall at the U.S.-Mexico border; arrests and deportations of immigrants are rising, and so on. And, as I will get into, these things - attacks on immigrants, and the whole fascist package from Bush - are more closely related than many people realize.
While a single comprehensive immigration “reform”—read “repression”—bill is on hold, the House of Representatives is pushing ahead with anti-immigrant laws, passing three bills just recently. Many of the provisions in the bills passed were contained in the Sensenbrenner bill that sparked the massive demonstrations in the spring. Briefly, if these bills become law, they would, among other things, allow state and local law enforcement authorities to enforce immigration laws and go after the undocumented, meaning all immigrants would face even more forces of government trying to hunt them down and deport them; overturn two Supreme Court decisions that barred the government from imposing what is effectively a life sentence on certain immigrants who have been in prison and have finished serving their sentence; would deny immigrants who have been convicted of a crime and ordered deported the right to appeal their deportation to a judge; would give the Attorney General the ability to designate any group as a “gang,” and then punish an individual for belonging to that group—regardless of whether the individual committed a crime; and on and on.
At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agency, the old la migra, has unleashed a wave of raids and detentions across the country. They say they are arresting 1,000 people per week. For example, starting over the Labor Day weekend, agents converged on immigrant workers’ homes in Stillmore, Georgia, with guns and bulletproof vests, arresting 120 Mexican immigrants since then. These raids prompted Stillmore mayor Marilyn Slater to say, “This reminds me of what I read about Nazi Germany, the Gestapo coming in and yanking people up.”
In this context, there is a lot of turmoil in the immigrant rights movement. The rallies and marches around Labor Day were much smaller than those in the spring, though tens of thousands came out across the country. People are up against big questions. They marched in their millions, but yet no steps have been taken to give them full rights—instead, the government’s answer is raids, deportations and more repressive legislation. Many immigrant rights groups in the Spring fell into supporting one bill or another that would have created an apartheid multi-tiered stratification of immigrants in which some could obtain papers with a small chance of becoming citizens while many others would forever be “illegal.” But even these bills have been shot down. They and many others who never supported any of these bills are trying to figure out where to go now.
Where to Next?
There is ongoing controversy over what was accomplished by the big mass protests, whether it does any good to protest, and how to look at what was accomplished in the big marches and what was not. First of all, these big mass protests accomplished a great deal. Millions of people poured into the streets, refusing to be beaten down and criminalized by the Sensenbrenner bill, gaining a sense of their own strength, and in the process opening the eyes of millions of non-immigrants to the reality of their lives at the bottom of society as well as inspiring millions with their bold determination. Cities were shut down. As someone who until recently lived all my life in Texas, I must say that I was blown away when I read that 500,000 people marched through the streets of Dallas. A lot of people got a glimpse of the power of those who have been criminalized and super-exploited stepping onto the political stage. Many in the progressive movements were energized. In the midst of the marauding by the Bush Regime, immigrants in their millions burst upon the scene to forcefully demonstrate that they were not going to be treated like slaves.
At the same time, many marching in the streets were being told to put their energies into becoming citizens so they could vote, wrap themselves in the U.S. flag, not offend mainstream America, tone down the struggle, put their faith in the Democrats in Congress, and accept one or another of the bills in Congress that would create apartheid-like conditions with the illusory hope of “legalization.” A full-court press was put on people to channel all their energies into the well-worn rut of remaining within the acceptable political boundaries and going nowhere.
Not only has there been the effort to demobilize people—the movement has run head-first up against the determination of the Bush Regime to “radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come,” as we say in the Call for the World Can’t Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime! Back in the spring, there was a lot of talk about this being the new Civil Rights Movement, and a lot of illusions. That is not where the Bush Regime is taking this country. The Bush Regime is not going to somehow give full equality and a better life to immigrants on the one hand while rampaging through the world and this country, torturing, detaining people in secret prison, jailing people indefinitely without charges, imposing a fanatical fundamentalist government in the U.S., eliminating a woman’s right to choose and all the rest. Think about it. It is just not going to happen. Instead, it will be just the opposite, an even more horrific nightmare for immigrants than it is now. There is absolutely no prospect for a better life for immigrants and everyone else in the world as long as the Bush Regime stays in power. For people who are demanding full quality and to be treated with the dignity that all people deserve then that means today getting down with October 5 and driving out the Bush Regime.
Building for, and Controversy Over, October 5th
October 5th is being built among and taken up by immigrants rights activists. For instance, the March 25 Coalition in Los Angeles, which organized the massive march of one to two million on March 25 and the May 1st “No Work, No School” actions, has endorsed the October 5 Day of Mass Resistance and are organizing for it. In addition, the National Immigrant Solidarity Network at their national conference in DC endorsed October 5 and are calling on people to come out. In San Francisco, the Coalición 1° de mayo (May 1st Coalition), composed of Spanish speaking immigrants, voted to endorse and participate.
A few days ago, “An Open Appeal to Immigrants and the Immigrant Rights Movement from Activists within the Movement and Others - October 5: Bring Your Spirit and Determination Into the Struggle to Drive Out the Bush Regime” began circulating. It was written by several of us from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and DC, including people who were in the middle of organizing the Spring outpourings. It is calling for exactly what the title says.
Ads calling for October 5th, some signed by immigrant rights activists, are being placed in Spanish language newspapers in Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York City, and Chicago.
The responses I am hearing from people involved in the immigrants rights movement to taking up October 5th, and driving out the Bush Regime, basically fall into two categories. People who wrote the appeal, the groups endorsing October 5, and others are talking about how the fight for immigrant rights is connected to fighting all the other injustices in society and how this wave of repression is part of the fascist program of the Bush Regime. Some in particular point to the impending attack on Iran and the disaster that will be. There is a certain understanding that immigrants cannot stop this wave of repression against them, they need allies, and that the Bush Regime is the source of this repression against immigrants and everyone else.
Among people who at this moment have not yet thrown in with October 5, I have heard two arguments. One group of people says that this wave of repression against immigrants is not new and correctly point out that the militarization of the border took a big leap under Clinton and the Democrats. They argue that both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for attacking immigrants and there is nothing unique about the Bush Regime. I agree with them that the Democrats have many times led the charge, especially under Clinton. But what I argue is the whole leap being taken with moving all of society in a fascist direction. As we say in the recently written appeal, “Immigrants are in the crosshairs of the Bush Regime. All the bills in Congress and new laws are unacceptable: the Bush guest worker program, the use of military against immigrants inside the US and at the border, ‘show me your papers’ police state, massive detention camps, mandatory detention, biometric identification cards, legalized apartheid, driving people to their death at the border.” Think of what all this will mean for immigrants under conditions of a police state.
A more widespread argument is that October 5 and driving out the Bush Regime is a diversion from fighting for immigrant rights and that we need to focus on that, we do not have the resources to take on any other battles, and our message will be lost. I tell people that, as we say in the World Can’t Wait Call, “We need more than fighting Bush’s outrages one at a time, constantly losing ground to the whole onslaught.” The point I make to people is that in fact all these moves against immigrants are a critical element in the implementation of the fascist program of the Bush Regime. The use of the military in domestic law enforcement like at the border, detention centers, biometric identification cards, indefinite detention without charges, military tribunals, and all the other measures can and will be used against everyone. The Bush Regime is getting over, establishing the precedent for all of this, and building this repressive apparatus in the name of protecting the border and fighting terrorism. This regime is not going to give up these measures against immigrants because these are vital to them if they are going to clamp down and create a police state. Driving out the Bush Regime is not a diversion from fighting for immigrant rights but is instead what is necessary if immigrants are to have any hope of having rights. It is like Pastor Martin Niemoeller said about his experience in Nazi Germany, “First they came for the Communists but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist…,” except in this country they first came for the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants, and now they are coming for the rest of the immigrants.
As for resources, there is a huge untapped reservoir of tens of millions of people who hate this regime. We need to quickly draw millions of them into this great effort. Think of where we would be if a force of millions of politicized and mobilized people came forth to drive out the Bush Regime. Think of how much further along we would all be in accomplishing our goals for a better world.
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