Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
“We Are Human!”
in Phoenix Against Anti-Immigrant Terror
Chanting “No more Joe!” “¡Si, se puede!” and carrying signs with the message: “We Are Human,” thousands of protesters marched for four miles in 90-degree heat on February 28 in Phoenix to protest the cruel assaults against immigrants being carried out by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Musician Zack de la Rocha was part of the march. Speaking at a rally before the march he painted a picture of the “state of terror” Arpaio oversees against Latino immigrants in Arizona, how he “raids the homes and workplaces of janitors and gardeners,” and “at routine traffic stops, he detains and deports mothers, violently separating them from their children, who are left abandoned.”
A few weeks before the protest, on February 4, Arpaio forced over 200 immigrant prisoners—in striped prison uniforms, handcuffs, and leg chains—to march from Durango Jail to his “Tent City,” a makeshift concentration camp out in the open under the blazing Arizona sun. A news release from the Sheriff’s office gave details of the forced march to ensure major media coverage. The prisoners were described as hardened criminals “adept” at escape, even though none of them had been convicted of any crime. In fact, they were pre-trial detainees charged with crimes but not convicted. Speaking of the electric fence that surrounds the “Tent City,” Arpaio declared that “this is a fence they won’t want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock—literally.”
This highly publicized chain gang march was aimed at mobilizing and stirring up racist sentiments, among fascistic vigilante forces like the Minutemen and more broadly in society, as well as creating an atmosphere of generalized terror for immigrants, who have to fear that any time they go outdoors, get caught in a traffic stop, or are in any situation where they encounter law enforcement, they face the risk of being seized, detained, and deported. This apartheid-like oppression enforces an intimidating climate for those who seek to protest their conditions, and puts pressure on people to leave the U.S. Since his election to his post in 1992, Arpaio has become a rallying figure for anti-immigrant hatred. He has institutionalized racial profiling on a massive scale, carrying out “saturation” patrols and “crime suppression” sweeps in Latino neighborhoods and using minor (or made-up) violations to stop Latino drivers. Anyone supposedly looking “illegal” is subject to being stopped, hit with racist insults, and ordered to produce proof of citizenship.
Arpaio has been carrying out his anti-immigrant offensive under a federal program that empowers and funds local police to act as immigration agents. This program is authorized under section 287(g) of an immigration law signed by the Democratic Clinton administration in 1996. One of the demands of the February 28 protest in Phoenix was an end to this 287(g) program (for background on Arpaio and the 287(g) law, see “The Growing Nightmare for Immigrants in Arizona,” Revolution #123, 3/16/08, at revcom.us).
In 2007, ICE “partnered” with Mari-copa County to make 100 of Arpaio’s detectives and patrol deputies—and 60 detention officers—sworn federal agents with broad power to arrest immigrants under federal law. (“Sweeps and saturation patrols violate federal civil rights regulations,” East Valley Tribune, 7/11/08) Since then, Arpaio’s deputies have arrested more than 1,400 people for “immigration violations.” (“Immigrant Busts Faulted,” Wall Street Journal, 3/4/09)
Recently, several Democratic congressmen sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking for an investigation of Arpaio. The letter read, in part: “Members of the Latino community—whether they are U.S. citizens or foreign-born, whether they are legal immigrants or undocumented—feel under siege.” The terms of this call for an investigation, however, are that authorities “fairly” enforce draconian anti-immigrant laws.
Barack Obama’s choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was governor of Arizona until the end of last year. As governor, Napolitano lobbied for bringing the 287(g) program (which Arpaio seizes on) to the state. And she signed into law Arizona’s Fair and Legal Employment Act, which requires employers to check the immigration status of anyone applying for a job with the federal E-Verify database. This law affects the estimated 500,000 or more undocumented immigrants that make up 9-12 percent of the Arizona workforce, making their ability to survive more tenuous, and the terms under which they are viciously super-exploited and oppressed even more extreme.
In addition, Napolitano and the Democrats have called for more “boots on the ground” to beef up militarized security at the U.S.-Mexico border and declared that immigrants must “get right with the law.” One protester at the February 28 protest, a 45-year-old welder, told a group of religious activists that, “I voted for Obama for change, but with respect to immigration, I see no change at all.”
In this situation, the February 28 march in Phoenix was very much on time—and there is urgent need for people to step out in even greater resistance against the system’s unjust, inhumane war on immigrants.
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