Revolution #64, October 8, 2006


Anti-Immigrant Bills, Border Militarization, and Raids Move Full-Speed Ahead

With tears rolling down her face, Rosa left her baby son Victor in the care of her friend and neighbor, Julie. Victor’s father had already been picked up. Rosa had to leave the state immediately. La Migra had come to Stillmore, Georgia: Population 1,000.

The Immigration Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) arrived on Labor Day weekend, with guns, bullet proof vests, and a list of undocumented immigrants at a trailer park, and took people from their homes. Only earlier this year, agents started investigating the employee records at the Crider poultry plant and gathered a list of over 700 names and addresses of undocumented workers.

More than 120 undocumented immigrants were picked up in the raids and loaded on to buses to immigration courts in Atlanta. Hundreds have fled as far as they could. Many hid in the nearby woods, without shelter or clean water and food.

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Migra raids. A thousand arrests every week. Detention centers. Deportations. Ultra-militarized border. A 700 mile wall. Cameras, sensors, more virtual technology to hunt down humans. Police-state laws criminalizing immigrants—with more being proposed.

These attacks against immigrants are moving full speed ahead.

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On Thursday, September 21, the U.S. House passed immigration bills that would give the Department of Homeland Security and local and state law enforcement the green light to arrest, detain, and hold undocumented immigrants, and would significantly increase the number of deportations, including of non-citizens accused of being “gang members.”

These House bills, if they became law, would: 1) Allow the Department of Homeland Security to hold undocumented immigrants who are detained and are said to be “threats to national security” for up to 6 months or more. It would bar suspected “gang members” from entering the country and would allow the Department of Homeland Security to deport non-citizens if they are believed to be gang members. It would also expedite the process of deporting undocumented immigrants who are detained for alleged crimes. 2) Increase the prison term for people who construct or finance unauthorized tunnels under a U.S. border. Anyone who permits the construction of such a tunnel could face 10 years in prison. 3) Allow the immediate deportation of undocumented Salvadoran workers who are currently living here and protected under court decisions on asylum that date back to the 1980s civil war in El Salvador. It would give state and local law enforcement the authority to arrest and transfer undocumented immigrants into federal custody in the name of enforcing federal immigration laws. It would also increase the numbers of attorneys assigned by the Justice Department to prosecute immigrant “smuggling” cases.

Then September 29, Congress passed a bill to build a 700-mile fence along the U.S/Mexico border, that would have to be completed by 18 months from now; once built, the fence would cover one-third of the total area of the border. The double-layer fence, which would include roads, lighting, and sensors, would fence off many major cities and border crossing areas: Tecate and Calexico, California; Douglas, Arizona; and El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville in Texas. Bush is expected to sign this bill into law soon.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the bill includes $21.3 billion for enforcement, including 1,500 more Border Patrol agents and 6,700 new beds for detention centers for immigrants, and “ billions of dollars for a ‘virtual’ fence of ground sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and other surveillance equipment.” The Department of Homeland Security had already hired Boeing Co., the second-largest defense contractor in the world, on September 21 to build the $2 billion “virtual fence” along the border. Boeing’s proposal includes over 300 radar towers along the borders the U.S. shares with Mexico and with Canada, but the project will first be implemented along the U.S./Mexico border in the Arizona area. Some of these cameras were developed by an Israeli company and can detect people at up to 8.7 miles

Tucked into the bill is a mandate that the Secretary of Homeland Security begin studying ways to “stop fleeing vehicles that enter the United States illegally.” In Iraq, U.S. troops at checkpoints regularly shoot at cars they think are “suspicious,” and many Iraqis—including children—have been killed in such incidents. Will we now see the same sort of thing at the U.S.-Mexico border?

Beyond the new border fence, the September 29 bill calls for Homeland Security to “take appropriate actions to achieve operational control over U.S. international land and maritime borders.” It defines “operational control” as “the prevention of all unlawful U.S. entries, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

Stepped-up border militarization since the 1990s has forced immigrants into ever more isolated and dangerous areas of the border, like the deserts of Arizona. Deaths on the border have greatly increased since then-President Bill Clinton began militarizing the border in 1994 with his “Operation Gatekeeper.” A September 14 government report, from the General Accounting Office, notes that deaths along the border nearly doubled over a six-year period—from 241 in 1999 to 472 in 2005. The group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, more than 4,000 people have died trying to cross.

The fence would also have a devastating impact on the environment and ecology of the border. For example, environmental activists told the San Francisco Chronicle that the government’s plan to build a road near Tijuana, as part of its fence plan, would cause increased erosion, destroying a delicate and rare estuary and causing more raw sewage to flow into the Pacific Ocean. The fence would also disrupt the movement, habitat, and migratory patters of thousands of species along the border, including several severely threatened species.

The response of the Democrats to all this has been to criticize the Republicans for not being tough enough on militarizing and “securing” the border. Ken Salazar of Colorado called the fence a “gimmick”; Harry Reid told the Washington Post that “This is about incumbent protection, not about border protection.” And Nancy Pelosi told the Associated Press that the bill fell “very far short of what Democrats have proposed over and over and over again.”

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“These people might not have American rights, but they’ve damn sure got human rights,” said David Robinson, the man who runs a trailer park in Stillmore. “There ain’t no reason to treat them like animals.” He took a U.S. flag to a nearby pond and planted it upside down in protest.

The town of Stillmore is nearly deserted now. There’s hardly anyone in grocery store, in the poultry plant, or on the streets. The Associated Press described it as a “ghost town.”

The Mayor of the town, Marilyn Slater said, “This reminds me of what I read about Nazi Germany, the Gestapo coming in and yanking people up.”

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