Revolution #101, September 16, 2007

Homeland Security Head Chertoff: Crackdown is “Gonna Get Ugly”

Escalating Attacks on Immigrants & New Resistance

In July, after the Senate failed to pass Bush-backed “comprehensive immigration reform,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned that the increase of arrests of undocumented immigrants is “gonna get ugly.”

What does he mean by ugly?

He means arresting a Mexican mother, ripping her child from her, and deporting her to Mexico—splitting up her family. Like millions of other Mexicans, Elvira Arellano was forced to come to the United States to survive but was quickly captured and deported for the first time. Forced to return to the U.S., she worked cleaning O'Hare International Airport, super-exploited like millions of other Mexicans. In a post-September 11 “anti-terror” raid, she was arrested and convicted of using a fake Social Security number in order to work, like so many others who have decided not to starve. Convicted and demonized, she refused to be deported once again, taking refuge in a Chicago church with her U.S. citizen 8-year-old son and advocating for immigrant rights for a year before being arrested and deported.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) web site bragged, “ICE deports high-profile criminal fugitive alien to Mexico. Woman who sought refuge in Chicago church arrested during weekend trip to L.A.” What the fuck do they mean “criminal fugitive alien”? Who pillaged and ruined the economy of Mexico, making life impossible for her and millions more? Who super-exploited her and millions more like modern-day slaves? Who acts like modern-day slave catchers? Who are the real criminals?

“Gonna get ugly” means armed ICE agents storming through garment sweatshops and life-numbing meat packing slaughterhouses to arrest and deport immigrants. Only a generation or two ago, the grandsons of African-American slaves were super-exploited on the killing floors of slaughterhouses but then their wages got too high and their attitude too rebellious, so they were replaced with immigrants. First they super-exploit immigrants in these hellholes—under conditions that are close to those in factories 100 years ago in this country. Then they demonize them in the media, and send in the immigration police to round them up. It means random sweeps of whole communities, grabbing up and packing off everyone “without papers.” “Gonna get ugly” means local ordinances and state laws making it illegal to rent an apartment or house to anyone who is undocumented or to hire them to work or to provide them with social services or let them post bail.

Important New Resistance

The system’s “gonna get ugly” attacks on immigrants have meant ICE agents sweeping into neighborhoods, kicking down doors, dragging people out in the middle of the night to be deported, leaving crying children behind. But on September 6, when ICE agents in South Los Angeles swept into a neighborhood, trying to force their way into apartments and arresting at least two people, residents of the neighborhood made a sign that said “ICE OUT!” and stood on the street. Some took pictures of what the ICE agents were doing and collected badge numbers. The ICE agents harassed these people. First, they were told to hand over their camera. Then ICE agents asked for their identifications and wrote down their information. Then the agents told them that they were not allowed to be on the street. “But we stood our ground,” said Cristina, a resident of the neighborhood. “Finally, they backed down. We had hidden our camera, and they finally admitted that we had the right to take pictures and to be on the street with our protest signs. They couldn’t stop us.”

There are important shoots of resistance breaking out in response to all this that need to be supported and spread. As I write this, a work stoppage and economic boycott is in progress in Phoenix, Arizona, lasting from September 3 through September 9. An organizer with La Coordinadora 3 de Septiembre told me that estimates are that 20,000 to 40,000 people have left work for the week to protest the Bush decision to require companies to fire employees whose names do not match their Social Security number. Their leaflet asks, “What would YOU do if… Your child came home, found you had been taken, and your location unknown?” People are demanding in part, “To have a real immigration reform that does not simply reduce us to the level of a modern slave (guest worker).”

On September 2, an estimated crowd of 5,000 to 10,000, overwhelmingly immigrants, marched through the streets of Woodbridge, Virginia, which has a population of about 32,000, located about 30 miles from Washington, DC. They were protesting the passage of anti-immigrant legislation by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Organizers are calling for a work stoppage on October 9. On June 4, in Houston, two activists chained themselves to the front gates of the privately run Corrections Corporation of America immigration detention center to demand freedom for all the detainees and blockade the entrance.

Early this year, the New Sanctuary Movement, composed of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and other faiths, was formed. Their goal is to protect immigrant families from unjust deportation by providing sanctuary in their houses of worship. Earlier this year, in both Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, people protested and rallied to oppose ICE raids in their communities.

All of these are important developments. This movement of resistance must spread rapidly and broadly among immigrants and non-immigrants alike. Think about what a difference it made in L.A. when, in the midst of these raids, people on the spot mobilized to protect people. Imagine the impact if the movement of churches, mosques, and synagogues spreads. If in border communities, people politically challenge the brutal treatment of immigrants. And if all this is contributing to a broader spirit of defiance throughout society to the whole broader repressive agenda.

What Kind of World Do You Want to Live In?

Life has always been hell for immigrants. Until recently, the undocumented lived with the constant threat of deportation because of any unexpected encounter with the authorities. But, by and large, once here, they were allowed to be super-exploited, face discrimination and police brutality, but stay. Now something much more sinister is being hammered into place. Open season has been declared. Rules, for example, that in many places supposedly separated the normal police from the Migra are being changed to make every cop into an ICE agent. Anything goes. People who “work hard” and “play by the rules” can be snatched up at any time, their world and that of their families devastated.

On August 10, Bush announced a whole series of measures to be implemented by executive order. Many of these were contained in the so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” bill that failed in the Senate in June. They were not passed in Congress, so essentially by decree, Bush is ordering the enforcement of these regulations. The measures include 8,000 more Border Patrol agents, more walls, more detention camps, more raids, a campaign to go after workers whose names do not match their Social Security numbers, the importation of more “guest workers” to toil in slave-like conditions, and moves to require everyone applying for a job to have their identity run through a national government database.

Look at the kind of society that is emerging if we don’t STOP this: In Minnesota during the Swift raids, workers and advocates in the Swift meatpacking plant reported that individuals were first divided into groups by the color of their skin and that only non-white workers were questioned. In raids across the country, agents have arrested people based on their racial or ethnic appearance, accent, or limited English skills. People are presumed to be “illegal” with no rights based on how they look, the color of their skin, and the language that they speak.

And for those who still harbor the illusion that the Democrats will fight for immigrant rights, listen to the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi upon hearing Bush’s announcement: "Securing our border remains a top priority for the New Direction Congress."

All of this is no good. It is very, very bad for the people.

Throughout the spring of 2006, millions of immigrants and their allies poured into the streets all across the country, from the largest cities to numerous small southern and mid-western farming communities. This was a historic mobilization to defeat the draconian anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill (H.R. 4437) that would have made felons of the estimated 12–20 million undocumented immigrants in this country and anyone who aided them in any kind of way. People filled the streets to demand legalization and for immigrants to be treated like human beings. City after city saw the largest protest demonstrations in their history.

In the face of this escalating onslaught, there is great importance to promoting, supporting, and spreading new resistance. After being deported, Elvira Arellano called for a national day of action on September 12. This call has been taken up by activists in such places as Los Angeles, Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, and New York who are organizing press conferences and protests that day to announce an October 12 National Day of Action for Workers Rights Against No Match (Letters), Raids and Deportations.

If you refuse to live in a world where human beings are categorized as “legal” or “illegal” based on the color of their skin, the language that they speak, and where they were born, with life and death implications, then you have the responsibility to resist. If you refuse to live in a world where millions are condemned to be super-exploited modern-day slaves, then you must act.

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