Our Lives On the Line:
He looked squarely into my eyes. “So, you see what’s coming,” he said.
I was speaking with one of the core leaders of the movement for migrant’s rights, and had laid before him a sketch of a plan of resistance for the nation’s barrios, for the protection of people from the mass raids and mass deportations that will result from new anti-migrant legislation being birthed in Washington.
"This is the calm before the storm; they’re going to make it tough,” Professor Armando Navarro had told LA’s La Opinion. “They’re talking about raids, deportations. In every barrio we have to organize migrant defense committees, and get ready for civil disobedience.”
The meeting we had just attended unanimously called for the rejection of the so-called Hagel-Martinez “compromise” in the US Senate, under which as many as 7 million migrants could face deportation. Such a compromise would then have to be “reconciled” with House Bill 4437, an even more extreme measure inspired by supporters of the ultra-Right and the racist shock troops called the Minutemen.
The House bill calls for the universal deportation of every woman, child and man in the country without papers, for an utterly devastating depopulation -- an ethnic cleansing -- of the barrio, and the destruction of much of its cultural and economic life.
The difference between the bills under consideration is the difference between partial and virtually complete ethnic cleansing, and any “compromise” between such measures will not change the racist and quasi-genocidal nature of the result. A “compromise” can only mean the deportation of millions and the legal stigmatization and terrorization of millions more.
Under international law, ethnic cleansing means the expulsion from a territory of one ethnic group by another, and pertains to official policies aimed at the forcible removal of a targeted group. The crime is considered a form of forced emigration, deportation and genocide.
International law recognizes ethnic cleansing as a crime against humanity when carried out in a time of literal warfare. The US war on migrants is the moral equivalent of ethnic cleansing. It is a crime against humanity.
Fittingly, the Bush administration has flatly stated its intent to make “enforcement” the cutting edge of its new approach to migrants, and to prove the point it recently initiated the largest single mass arrest of migrants in US history, and put a severe new focus on penalizing employers, as well.
Bush has already deported more people than any other president in U.S. history.
Since he took office ICE has deported some 150,000 migrants a year and had deported 881,478 people through 2005, figures that do not include, for example, the 1.2 million people who were arrested at the U.S.-Mexican border itself last year.
Now, in his Monday night speech, Bush has promised to fulfill one of the Minutemen’s most draconian hopes -- turning the border into a green zone, a quasi-military zone occupied by forces of the National Guard, backed by a super high tech “virtual” wall -- a wall more deadly, and more effective, than a mere fence.
And, in apparent defiance of the Posse Comitatus Act -- which forbids the use of military troops within US borders -- the House recently passed legislation that, according to the Pentagon, "gives authority to the Defense Department to assign military members to assist Homeland Security organizations in preventing the entry of terrorists, drug traffickers and illegal aliens into the United States…”
Migrant deaths at the border are expected to skyrocket, and the State is already building mass detention centers for migrants. Bush claims he’s not “militarizing” the border. His claim will mean nothing to the dead and the incarcerated.
Every version of the so-called “immigration reform laws” now under renewed consideration in Washington also authorizes and pays local police to act as immigration agents and to oversee the deportation of those they arrest, effectively adding a permanent quasi-military force of 650,000 for “internal enforcement” of immigration laws.
This is an example of the “middle ground” on migrants trumpeted by the US’s white colonial ruling elite: the state will combine mass raids with the slow process of day by day racial profiling to eliminate the migrant population. According to an ICE plan called Operation Engame, they mean to deport every “deportable” migrant by the year 2012.
In his Monday speech Bush said migrants are “beyond the reach and protection of American law.” Indeed, he means to get them in his grasp, but their “protection” is nowhere on the agenda.
The plan is to control and terrorize the migrants who will remain in the US, and to incarcerate and deport the rest. When that much is achieved, the ruling elites will find themselves in a comfortable position to continuously exploit the labor of a subjugated, highly controlled and vulnerable ethnic under-caste, and they will have provided themselves with the kind of ethnic scapegoat essential to the development of a new US-style fascism.
The hopes of millions of migrants have been ignited by the recent wave of protests, and by the hope that white America will find them -- with their white t-shirts and American flags-acceptable, tolerable, even welcome.
The shock will be immense.
Migrants will learn in a brutal fashion that the concern of America’s elite has never had anything to do with surrender, white shirts, white dreams, or any other indication of who, as people, migrants might be or wish to be. The only concern of the ruling elites is their own need for migrants as exploitable workers -- like the slave master of the Old South they need their workers.
There is another motive as well: today’s elites also fear the very people they need -- just like any slave master. The fear is compounded by the knowledge that today’s master is not only an exploiter, he is also a usurper: the land he thrives on was stolen from the very people he degrades and dehumanizes with the epithet “illegal”.
And it’s not just Republicans and open white racists who are afraid. It’s many “liberals”, too. Ed Schultz, the liberal talk show host, recently offered two factors as a bottom line on why migrants should stay: “the economy needs them” and “they can make trouble.”
The fear is so intense that, because of our mass protests, the worst elements of the Sensenbrenner bill -- HR4437 -- were momentarily derailed as different elements of the ruling class scrambled and bickered among themselves to determine who will have the final say -- to determine who among them can assure the needs of their economy while averting the threat that migrants represent to them all.
With every passing day, with every demonstration, with each child who prays each night that her parents can come out from the shadow of the stigma of being hunted and despised, with each heartbeat of rising hope, the noose around the neck of the ruling class gets just a little tighter; the options contract.
With each day, each hour, the danger for the ruling elites of crushing the life and death expectations of migrants grows exponentially. Politically correct or not, every American flag carried in the recent mass demonstrations represents a rising, fluttering expectation, a sea of expectations whose depths promise shipwreck for the State, when, as it must, it betrays the promise of “freedom” and racial “equality.”
The crushing of those expectations could lead directly to rebellion in the streets, following the example of the recent rebellion of migrants in France, and of the African American rebellions of the 1960s. When Martin Luther King was overcome, when he lay dead of an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, a hundred cities burned across the nation.
They burned because it had become clear to the African American people that after more than a decade of struggle nothing fundamental in the structure of oppression had changed, that the changes that occurred had been mere surface changes, compromises, like the Hagel-Martinez bill today, aimed at silencing them, not at transforming the conditions of their lives or the oppression that afflicted them.
The ruling elites have not forgotten for a moment the mass rebellion in Los Angeles of 1992. Migrant neighborhoods were a focal point of intense uprisings; the unity between Black and Brown was as palpably intense as the flames that engulfed the city -- and utterly terrifying to all of those whose daily task is to keep us down.
As if to underscore the point, police were all but invisible in the recent pro-migrant marches in downtown LA -- although over a million of us were in the streets. But in Pico Union, where another million marched, riot squads were visible everywhere, even until past midnight. Pico Union was a storm center of the LA rebellion. Half of those arrested in that period were Brown.
Is it any wonder, then, that the rulers have taken pause for thought about just how far they dare to go in the war on immigrants? Sensenbrenner went too far with HR4437 -- he awakened the threat. Now they must gauge a thing all but impossible to gauge: just how far is too far?
No one on either side of the equation knows the answer to that question.
One thing at least is clear -- no one in the white mainstream is going to come to the support of migrants unless migrants themselves stop wrapping themselves in the flag of the oppressor, and dare to stand up to oppression and unless they are willing to polarize the nation against their persecutors and defiantly challenge their racism.
At the same time our demands must be made clear and millions must be challenged to re-think their prejudices. That’s exactly how the Black movement for freedom did it, and nothing less will do. The “problem,” as one writer recently put it, isn’t at the border; the problem isn’t with immigration -- it’s that migrants are being persecuted.
And voting won’t change that, no matter what the “We Are America” coalition claims. A vote in November -- and face it, most migrants simply aren’t eligible to vote -- will change nothing for the child whose mother or father is deported today. Even if the Democrats win in November, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will take up the question of immigration anew.
No. The harsh reality is that the Democrats have supported extremely draconian anti-migrant measures in their willingness to “compromise” with the overtly fascistic elements of the Republican Party.
The “compromise” already accepted by the Democrats includes mass deportations of up to several million people, the indefinite detention of migrants without due process, the treatment of minor offenses as "aggravated felonies" which would trigger harsh mandatory detention and deportation, and of course, unleashing the police as migrant hunters in a program of daily terror against our communities.
When the matter goes to the House/ Senate reconciliation committee, it can only get worse. The Democrats are no more likely to repeal the war on migrants than they have been willing to reverse their criminal support for the unjust colonial war of occupation against Iraq.
They will not relent unless we leave them no choice, unless, like the forces of resistance in other places and other times, we make the political price of continuing the war on migrants too high.
The Ultimate Showdown
The National Immigrant Solidarity Network says it clearly. “This is a critical moment for the immigrant struggle.”
“We should brace ourselves,” they say, “for the ultimate showdown of the immigrant struggle soon, and we should mobilize ourselves quickly to respond to the racist anti-immigrant xenophobia that will go down.”
The group is calling for emergency community meetings to strategize rapid response to a possible nationwide crackdown or attack on immigrants.
No matter what the rulers do, short of a general legalization, they will present our people with unbearable choices, with an unimaginable grief of separation; with the mass destruction of what is most sacred to us: our families and communities.
Will we allow the rulers of America to deport our children, 2/3 of whom are citizens of their nation? Will we allow them to force us to leave our children behind? Will we let our children live in fear that their parents may not come home from work? That they will disappear? At what point will the grief, fear and rage become unbearable, and uncontainable? At what point must we say “¡Ya Basta!”?
Flying the American flag has disarmed us. It is not our willingness to live by the rules that impresses the slave master -- his entire regime is designed to ensure our compliance. What impresses him is our potential to awaken, to shatter the framework, to throw away the “rules.”
Flying the US flag means we don’t understand the ruthless nature of our enemies; it means a basic and unconscious allegiance to the idea of getting ahead and doing so on the backs of others, an unconscious allegiance to and imitation of the very foundations of the oppressor’s outlook and his control of us, and an implicit acceptance of his colonial rule over stolen land and subjugated peoples.
Our enemies want to split our allegiances; they want us to grasp at individual chances for “acceptance” and “freedom,” and to ignore the well being of our people as a whole. That, after all, is the real “American Dream” -- private wealth and well being on the backs of other, subjugated peoples.
But we can no longer leave the fate of our children in their hands. We cannot allow our families to be shattered and our dreams to be crushed. We must refuse to live any longer in the shadows, refuse to live under slavery in any form. It is time to take matters into our own hands, to do once more what every migrant has already done just by crossing the border -- make the decision to live, to survive together, no matter what they throw at us.
Let them deal with the ramifications of attempting mass repression against a people in resistance here, while they face a similar problem overseas. Let them worry about alienating Latin America and their European partners in war and conquest. Let them worry about permanently alienating the millions -- Black and White -- who already support us, and who understand that the powers that be are taking the nation toward fascism. Let them worry what will happen when they invade our barrios and workplaces in mass raids.
Let them worry while we organize, while we create mass networks of direct action and resistance. Let us truly follow the example of the Black Civil Rights Movement and of the Black Power Movement that followed it. The Black movement of the 1950s and 60s was a resistance movement, one that both obeyed the law, and which, through civil disobedience and other strategies, broke the law, as necessary, in obedience to a Higher Law.
Black people of that era laid their lives on the line for their freedom. We can do no less.
Let us put the slogan to the test: ¡Un Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!
Si, se puede.
Juan Santos is an editor and writer in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: JuanSantos@Mexica.net.
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