Liberal, Irreverent

Saturday, June 26, 2010

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Monday, June 14, 2010

The myth of the anti-immigrant majority

Supporters of immigrant rights can make a difference by organizing and activism.

ALL IT took was one glance at the headline of the Pew Research Center poll released last month--"Broad Approval for New Arizona Immigration Law"--and the mainstream media had a new storyline ever since about the state's latest anti-immigrant attack.

Sure, SB 1070 enshrined racial profiling into state law. Taken together with Arizona's ban on ethnic studies programs, yes, it did seem like a throwback to the era of Jim Crow segregation. But what does that matter as long as SB 1070 is "broadly" popular? The "American people" are okay with racism. End of story.

It's up to opponents of anti-immigrant bigotry to make sure that isn't the end of the story.

The survey results from Pew and other pollsters do reflect broad public sentiment in favor of immigration law enforcement. But there are a lot of contradictions in that sentiment if you examine what people actually tell the pollsters. And more importantly, supporters of immigrant rights have the opportunity to reshape the supposed consensus on this issue--but only if we organize an energetic campaign to counter the anti-immigrant lies and make our case to a wider audience.

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THE PEW Center poll may have surprised supporters of immigrant rights, especially coming in the wake of the immediate activist response to Arizona's racist law.

According to the survey, 59 percent of people nationally approved of SB 1070. Only 32 percent disapproved. Nearly three in four respondents agreed with the core provision of the law--requiring people to have documents verifying their immigration status when asked by a law enforcement official acting on "reasonable suspicion."

These findings are similar to other polls, both specifically about SB 1070 and on the question of enforcement. But a closer look at the results undermines the media conclusion that people in the U.S. "broadly" support the policies pushed by the anti-immigrant right.

For one thing, there's a substantial generation gap in attitudes about the Arizona law and immigration policy generally, with people under 30 opposing SB 1070 in greater numbers. And, of course, Latinos, who have the most experience with the consequences of anti-immigrant criminalization and discrimination, oppose SB 1070 by a strong majority.

The polarization is particularly sharp in Arizona as a result of the interplay of these two factors. According to William Frey of the Brookings Institution, Arizona has the country's largest "cultural generation gap"--between older Americans who are mostly white (83 percent) and children under 18 who are increasingly members of minorities (57 percent).

What's more, among people who say they support SB 1070, the picture is more mixed than the headlines let on.

Numerous surveys show that only a small minority--roughly one in five Americans--agrees with the right wing's preferred "solution" of criminalization and deportation of the 12 million undocumented people in the U.S.

By contrast, an overwhelming majority of people say they would like to see national immigration reform legislation, including a "path to citizenship" for the undocumented--a proposal that the anti-immigrant right rejects outright. For example, in an America's Voice Education Fund poll, five out of six people who said they support SB 1070 also said they back comprehensive reform.

Obviously, there's a contradiction in this. The harsh enforcement mechanisms that many people say they support alongside "reform" are the prelude to the criminalization and deportation policies they say they oppose. Immigration crackdowns are not only a violation of basic human rights, but they undermine the possibility of a genuine "path to legalization."

The reason these contradictory ideas can coexist in many people's heads is because the right wing has been able dominate and disorient the debate on immigration in national politics.

The right's hysteria about a "crisis of illegal immigration" today is opportunistic. In reality, there were more undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S. five years ago and getting low-wage jobs. The debate has sharpened today because the Great Recession opened the way for the right to package its bigotry in a campaign of scapegoating immigrants for the crisis.

The small minority of people opposed to immigrant rights in any form has an influence far beyond its small size because, first of all, it gets outsized access to the media--but also because the right wing makes its case without qualifications or hedging.

On the other hand, genuine champions of immigrant rights--people who would make the case for legalization without punitive enforcement policies--aren't actually represented in the national debate. Instead, the "left" end of the mainstream political spectrum is occupied by the Democrats, who have given ground to the right at every step.

Consider how Barack Obama and his administration responded to the passage of SB 1070. When it was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer at the end of April, Obama criticized the law for undermining "basic notions of fairness." Administration officials promised that the Justice Department would consider taking federal action against it, which could lead to a court injunction before SB 1070 goes into effect at the end of July.

At the same time, however, Obama said he sympathized with what he called "frustrations" with the current immigration system that produced SB 1070. Standing next to Mexico's conservative President Felipe Calderón during a state visit last month, for example, Obama was the more cautious of the two, insisting that the solution to laws like SB 1070 was federal legislation with a "path to citizenship," but also toughened enforcement and punishment for both undocumented workers and businesses that hire them.

Then, just a few days before the May 29 national day of action against SB 1070, Obama took a page out of George W. Bush's playbook and announced he was sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest--the lion's share destined for Arizona--for a renewed border crackdown.

That was good enough for Jan Brewer. She declared after a meeting at the White House that she and Obama were working together to tighten border security.

The effect of Obama's qualified criticisms and actions has been to signal opposition to the letter of SB 1070, but to confirm the claims of the law's supporters that there is a "crisis of illegal immigration" about which the federal government can't or won't do anything.

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MAINSTREAM IMMIGRANT rights groups have signaled their disappointment in Obama's ramped-up enforcement and inaction on reform legislation. These groups had greeted Obama's victory as a signal that their voices would finally be heard in Washington.

But immigrant rights advocates, however well connected to the party establishment, aren't foremost in shaping the Democrats' position on immigration. Corporate America is.

Ever since the right wing's Sensenbrenner bill--which would have criminalized all 12 million undocumented immigrants, along with anyone who aided them--was pushed back by the pro-immigrant mega-marches of spring 2006, Democrats leaders have supported a series of pro-corporate immigration proposals masquerading as compassionate compromises.

The latest of these--the bipartisan "framework" for legislation from Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham--is the worst yet. It proposes a highly restrictive "path to citizenship" that ties the undocumented to employers through a guest worker program and requires them to pay fines and perform "community service," with the threat of deportation for even minor violations of the law still hanging over them.

And that's not to mention the sops to the right wing in the proposal--a national biometric ID card and, inevitably, more money and personnel for border enforcement.

These proposals don't reflect the interests of immigrants--but they do reflect the interests of Corporate America.

U.S. businesses of all kinds depend on being able to employ immigrant workers at low wages, so they don't want to see the anti-immigrant right succeed with its full program. But they also depend, in order to keep those wages low, on immigrants being denied full legal rights, including the right to organize unions.

This two-faced position can be seen throughout U.S. history and the history of other counties. All other things being equal, capitalists support the free movement across borders of every commodity but one--human labor. They seek to use the undocumented twice over--as workers who can be super-exploited because they have no legal rights, and as a group that can be pitted against other workers, whether native-born or immigrants themselves, to push down the wages of everybody.

In other words, Corporate America needs an immigration system that secures its access to cheap labor, but that also continues to consign immigrants to second-class citizenship--just what Schumer-Graham does.

And this is what passes in national politics for the "liberal" position on immigration. As a consequence, the case for legalization without punishing the undocumented and without tighter border controls never gets heard.

The contradictory public sentiment on immigration is the product of a national political debate that is taking place not between left and right, but between the center and a bigoted right-wing fringe.

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THE ANSWER to polls that show public sentiment against equality for immigrants--however shallow and mixed that sentiment may be--can't be to wait for the Democrats to take a stand or do the right thing.

Democratic Party politicians are, by nature, cowards. They hate taking a controversial position that might lose them votes. Compromise and concession are second nature to them--which is why the Democrats are uniquely qualified to serve Corporate America on an issue where it needs to steer between the fanatics of the right and the legitimate demands of immigrants.

It's up to immigrants themselves and everyone who supports social justice to take that stand, loud and proud. We need to apply pressure from below to counter the relentless pressure on politicians from above. Our movement needs to become a pole of attraction on the issue of immigration, so the debate isn't between the center and the right, but our side against theirs.

Such a movement can take heart when Obama and the Democrats feel compelled to criticize SB 1070 and even take legal action against it. That can open space for a genuine immigrant rights position. But we can't depend on the Democrats to follow through.

The New York Times put its finger on an important connection between civil rights struggles past and present in an editorial in support of four immigrant students who were arrested for sitting in at Sen. John McCain's Arizona office:

The fight for reform is stalled. It could be simple acts of protest that ignite a fire. Half a century ago, it was young people, at lunch counters and aboard buses across the South, who helped galvanize the movement for civil rights, and wakened more powerful elders to injustice.

One important lesson of the actions of those young people 50 years ago is that they weren't deterred by majority opinion. As columnist Sharon Smith pointed out, national polls in the late 1950s showed overwhelming support for the most vile elements of Jim Crow segregation. By 1964 and 1965, majority views had turned around 180 degrees. "There is no doubt," Smith concludes, "that the civil rights movement challenged and ultimately changed prevailing opinion."

Supporters of immigrant rights are finding that they, too, can make a difference by organizing and activism.

The 50,000-plus people who turned out in Phoenix for the May 29 demonstration against SB 1070--not to mention other protests around the country--dwarfed the size of anti-immigrant events. The spirit on the demonstrations was defiant--and the actions marked the rejuvenation of a movement that emerged with the mass marches of 2006 that opposed anti-immigrant legislation on the federal level.

Perhaps the racist right thought it could intimidate immigrants in Arizona and beyond with harsh new laws. But rather than cement "broad popularity," the attacks are provoking a vigorous response.

Thus, when a Columbus, Ohio, radio station started promoting a contest to win a trip to Phoenix for "a weekend chasing aliens," it took all of 24 hours and a campaign of phone calls to force an apology out of the station. The next target, as the National Council of La Raza suggested, ought to be Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, to get him to move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix.

The coming months will be important ones for the movement, whether activism comes in the form of protests and marches, or boycott campaigns, or public forums in every part of the country, where people can hear the stories of immigrants themselves--and the lies of the bigots exposed.

The Alto Arizona Web site that spearheaded the May 29 day of action against SB 1070 is promising a "Day of Non-Compliance" on July 29, when SB 1070 is scheduled to go into effect. And more besides:

We will make this summer a Human Rights summer everywhere. Wherever the Diamondbacks play, protest. Wherever there are new police/ICE collaborations, push back. Wherever Arizona companies do business, boycott. Wherever there is injustice, we must shut it down.

The key to turning the tide against the anti-immigrant bigots is what our side does to counter the lies and stand up for justice.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Arizona is the testing ground

Isabel García
June 10, 2010

UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS and anyone with brown skin were already under assault in Arizona, so why is the political establishment pushing for SB 1070?

YOU'VE GOT to remember that SB 1070 is a culmination point. It is the crown jewel in order to launch new and different attacks. But let's not talk about the new attacks that are coming forward now because of SB 1070--let's talk about why SB 1070 occurred. I believe that SB 1070 occurred because Arizona was intentionally selected as a target. This is exactly what the right wanted.

Many people say, "Well, aren't Arizona politicians doing this because the federal government has failed to act in order to address the problem at the border?" But in truth, it's the exact opposite.

The federal government has acted--by funneling all the migrants through the state of Arizona with its Operation Gatekeeper that closed up the traditional crossing areas for 100 years. Arizona then became fertile ground for all of this to take root.

In Arizona, the federal government owns nearly all of the borderlands, unlike in Texas. Texas, like Arizona, is a very conservative state, but as soon as Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff started building walls there, the communities came unglued. There were lawsuits by white and brown and black alike. They knew that wouldn't happen in Arizona.

Knowing that the chaos and division at the border wouldn't result in the kind of fightback that it did in Texas, they weren't going to pick any other state.

Plus, in the last 10 years, we were the number-one growing state, and not because of migrants, but because of the influx of retirees--which means, of course, more conservative people.

Since 1994, U.S. border enforcement efforts have destroyed the wilderness out there, but what's more, the division and chaos have given hate groups a foothold here and poisoned the media. Everybody's been complicit.

In 1996, the media replayed video of Mexicans jumping over the border wall every single night, helping to stir up fears. The hate groups went unchecked. They committed all kinds of atrocities. They've threatened my life, they've threatened many lives, and not one thing has really happened to them.

With this fear in the air, the moment was ripe for electing anti-immigrant folks. Arizonans elected Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant sheriff of Maricopa County; Tom Horne, the anti-immigrant superintendent of public instruction; Richard Romley, the anti-immigrant county attorney of Maricopa County; and the entire gang that surrounds State Sen. Russell Pearce, who was the sponsor of SB 1070.

They were all elected on an anti-immigrant platform. They didn't run on platforms to improve education or prosecute criminals more effectively. They ran on anti-immigrant platforms.

There are several anti-immigrant laws that form the immediate legal context for SB 1070: the toughest employer sanctions in the country; a charge of "aggravated identity theft," which is a class 4 felony, for anybody using a made-up Social Security number to gain work; a state smuggling statute, even though the Feds have a federal smuggling statute.

The smuggling statute should have been challenged and struck down on the constitutional basis that federal laws preempt state laws, but without political pressure, this didn't happen. It boggles the mind, really. How could a state have an anti-smuggling law challenging smuggling from another country into the state?

So we have an anti-smuggling statute, and it doesn't even target the smugglers. They arrest the people who are being smuggled. They get them to admit, "Yeah, I was going to pay a coyote [the human smugglers who help border crossers for a price] another $2,000 when I got to Phoenix." Once you admit that, you are considered a smuggler yourself, because it's conspiracy to commit smuggling.

In 2004, voters approved a ballot measure that tried to deny public services--like California's Proposition 187 did--but the courts limited its reach. Still, it impacted all of us because now, in order to vote, we have to show proof of citizenship. We are the first state ever in the history of the U.S. to demand proof of citizenship in order to vote.

The politicians know full well that there is no evidence of even one undocumented immigrant voting. So that tells you that the purpose of the law is to target us, Latino citizens and voters, so we don't vote. And also, again, to stir up the idea that our system--economic and political--is being taken advantage of by undocumented workers.

Then in 2006, voters overwhelmingly approved four anti-immigrant measures. Two of them violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Eighth Amendment guarantees bail and sits at the base of our concept of "innocent until proven guilty." This is a good theory, and what gives it life is the idea that you're out and about until you have a trial by a jury of your peers to determine whether you are guilty or not. That's innocent until proven guilty. Arizona's Proposition 100 eliminated bail for anybody who is undocumented and charged with a crime. In other words, the accusation of criminal conduct is sufficient to deny bail, so "innocent until proven guilty" is turned on its head.

We also violated the Constitution by passing Proposition 102, which bars undocumented from being able to obtain punitive damages in any court.

If a wooden beam falls on me on a construction site as a result of negligence or other criminal conduct, not only do I get my medical bills paid for, but I am also paid for what I lost at work. Together, those are called compensatory damages. But if my lawyer finds out that the producer of these beams has done this in 25 states, that's what sets the stage for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the wrongdoer as a deterrent to future violations.

Now, were immigrants suing for tort? Absolutely not! I personally know many undocumented immigrants who have been injured and refused to make any claim--not workers compensation or anything.

Also in 2006, voters passed Proposition 300, which eliminates in-state tuition for undocumented workers, even for kids born, raised and educated here, who want to go to college. The same proposition eliminated any adult education, including English classes, for parents. And finally, there was Proposition 103 that declared English the state's official language.

This set of laws has poisoned the atmosphere, and so is it so surprising that four years later SB 1070 is passed? Absolutely not. This is what they've wanted all along. They knew that passage of this bill would not only give them the tools to really clamp down on all of us, but further poison the whole social structure.

What's more, 1070 is not supposed to go into effect until July 29, but we already have dozens and dozens and dozens of calls about this law already being implemented--not only by law enforcement agencies, but also by regular people at the gym or the supermarket talking about the "wetbacks" and "it's about time."

These themes have entered the social discourse here, and to our detriment. Arizona has become the laboratory. And the idea is to export all of these measures after they've been tested here. That's why the Department of Homeland Security gave the University of Arizona $16.5 million to fund the National Center for Border Security and Immigration from 2007 to 2013.

RACIAL PROFILING at checkpoints along roads near the border has been standard operating procedure for some time now. Is SB 1070 aimed at bringing this kind of harassment and intimidation into the state's urban areas?

ABSOLUTELY. THE intention is to take it into the interior.

Remember, we have been saying that the purpose of all of this, beginning back in 1994, was to take it beyond the border. In December 2006, Julie Meyers, then head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, carried out the first massive raids at the Swift meatpacking plants in Denver. Since then, they've carried out raids in Laurel, Miss., and Postville, Iowa, but the first one was there.

What were her first words at the press conference? "This is to signal that enforcement will not remain at the border," she said.

We have been saying all this since 1994, and if you unearth and read their documents, they knew that this was what they wanted, but they lied to the American public. For 15 years, activists have been talking about this, but it really hasn't been in the public discourse. The fact that it doesn't take root is a whole other issue that has to do with our own immigrant rights organizations stabbing us in the back because they have conceded enforcement.

All these immigrant rights groups are getting millions and millions of dollars in foundation monies, but what has it accomplished? They have merely helped the authorities to carry out this massive repression on all of us. Imagine that--our own side has agreed to this!

And they demonized Derechos Humanos and others who agree with us when we were opposing the STRIVE Act of 2007, with its restrictions on a path to citizenship, guest-worker program and border militarization provisions.

These groups were really kissing up to politicians and unions and foundations, and they hid their involvement. And now we're demanding accountability. Because now, they are all on the same bandwagon, saying, "Oh, let's stop the militarization of the border."

But all along, they've been saying, "We have to have smart enforcement, Isabel, we have to have enforcement, Isabel, otherwise we'll never get legalization." We've been having the same discussion for five years, and we've spent millions of dollars. Have we gotten one single visa out of this? Nothing.

The American public is still as ignorant as ever. The polls show support for SB 1070, even though they are worded to produce that result. But even if you stated all the facts, and then you ask the American public, "Do you still believe we should have a crackdown?" they would say yes. Because they have been fed lies for all these years.

It's not just the white community. In November 2006, about 47 percent of Hispanic voters also voted for those four anti-immigrant measures, which shows you the real need for a focus on political education.

ON THE other hand, the polls also tend to show a generation gap. When you talk about people under 30, there's an openness toward people from other countries, people from Mexico and all over the world. It's quite stark how set the older generations is in its beliefs.

AND IT'S amazing that they're so nativist against their neighbor, while they are giving a pass to Wall Street and Big Oil. They've allowed themselves to be pitted against each other instead of really looking at who are the real culprits.

But the generational aspect I think is absolutely true, and thank goodness for that, because our young people now have grown up, not only in a more diverse situation, but in a global society. They have become aware that what happens in Africa will affect us here. They know that global climate change is going to impact all of us.

It's the only thing that gives me hope really--especially if young people, college-age and other students, decide to listen to immigrant youth. If they come together with the immigrant youth, nothing can stop us from achieving more justice than we are seeing, both at the border as well as in sending countries, because nobody wants to talk about that either.

The response of all these national organizations to anything that happens at the border--the deaths at the border, the shootings at the border--is to say, "Oh, that's why we need comprehensive immigration reform."

But that won't solve the problem. Because migrants leave Mexico because of the devastation of Mexico's agriculture sector. Six million corn farmers can't make a living anymore because NAFTA allowed U.S. agribusiness--with its billions of dollars in U.S. government subsidies--to run poor Mexican corn farmers out of business.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez, when he was about to submit his immigration reform bill, held a conference call to discuss it, and on his very first phone call, they didn't allow me to ask this question: "Even if your program allowed for the legalization of all undocumented people here--12 million, 13 million, however many there are--will the deaths continue at the border?"

It's easy to see why they refused to take my question, because the answer is, of course, yes. Again, we see Democrats and Republicans upping the ante to see who can be more anti-immigrant than the other, which is what is behind this stupid REPAIR bill that Schumer and Feinstein have now drawn up.

APPARENTLY, ATTORNEY General Eric Holder has met with several police chiefs who are not so keen about SB 1070. What do you think the prospects are for a legal challenge by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against SB 1070?

WHO KNOWS if it will be a DOJ lawsuit, MALDEF [Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund] and the ACLU, or someone else, but there will be movement. Unfortunately, I think that even if they decide to do what we are asking them to--to not cooperate, not to take anybody into custody, not help them determine the lawful status of a person--even if they did all of that, guess what they're going to do?

The Obama administration has already announced that it's sending 1,200 new National Guard troops and another half billion dollars. Where will this get us? Already, in mid-April, the Obama administration carried out a massive raid of our communities here. It was unprecedented.

More than 800 agents from several law enforcement agencies--U.S. Marshals, DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], Pima County sheriffs, Maricopa County sheriffs, the Tucson police department--were involved. Their pretext was arresting smugglers? Give me a break.

Not only do I believe they did it to scare our community into accepting whatever it is that they say, but more importantly, I think that was an example of an operation that they want to do across the country.

How do you best institute collaboration federal, state and local of law enforcement? You stage an exercise, a joint operation. Again, Arizona is the testing ground.

WHAT DOES the movement need to do?

OUR MOVEMENT needs to wake up and start with the fundamentals. And that means telling the truth. We can no longer accept politicians and other national immigrant rights organizations feeding us the same bunk. We can't allow them to continue to say, "Yes, we need security, but give us legalization."

What we need to do is demand a total reframing of the issue. We need to say immigration has nothing to do with national security or law enforcement. It is a social, political and economic phenomenon.

We know why people are migrating. Why did 6 million people leave Mexico since 1994? We began building walls way back then, seven years before any terrorist attack, but now people think we are building the walls because of that. But we built walls and passed NAFTA in the very same year.

We knew full well that workers were going to flee to escape sheer poverty. When are we going to have that discussion? How dare anybody tell us, "Oh, we need to stop the flow of immigrants at the border." Then you should get up to Congress immediately and start talking about what we are going to do to address the root cause immediately. How are we going to undo NAFTA?

How are we going to undo the drug war? We are creating a national security situation in Mexico, and I believe we are going to have hundreds and thousands of political refugees. And then we pretend we had nothing to do with it--that's it's all these migrants, it's stupid, corrupt, violent Mexico, and that the U.S. has nothing to do with it. It's maddening.

This country is filled with people ignorant of the history of migration and immigration policy. That's why anything that is racist like, "What don't you get about illegal?" has an immediate appeal--because we're talking about years and years of conditioning a public to respond to that.

Because we are living in an ocean of not only fear but ignorance, it's difficult for our slogan of "No human being is illegal" to catch on. We've not been able to provide the background information in the media, which they own and which respects their interests more than ours.

In Texas, they are changing textbooks, as if they don't already distort U.S. history. Now they are excluding even more references to the struggles of brown, Indian and Black people. That's the same here with this piece of legislation.

We are in terrible shape, and until we take that challenge--to really become educated and then be able to educate the public--it does us no good to pat ourselves on the back and say, "Yeah, we got out the vote." What vote? The voters who voted on the propositions in 2006?

There is so much ignorance, fear and outright lies about immigration. It's truly a concerted effort to hide the truth from us. Look at SB 2281, the Arizona bill banning ethnic studies. That's exactly what it is--they don't want the American public to know the truth.

Transcription by Karen Domínguez Burke

Who's behind the anti-immigrant crusade?

Justin Akers Chacón
June 11, 2010

"CAN YOU hear us now, Mexico? Can you hear us? This land is not your land, this land is our land," proclaimed Atlanta talk radio host Larry Wachs, whipping the crowd of 5,000 into a frenzy.

The intent of the statement was to define the enemy and expose its insidious plot: nothing less than an international conspiracy of Mexico's children to invade and occupy Arizona soil, with the criminal intentions of finding work, raising families and achieving some semblance of social equality.

The attendees at the "Stand with Arizona" rally would have none of this. They were gathered on the evening of May 29 at Diablo Stadium in the Maricopa County suburb of Tempe, a few hours after more than 50,000 people marched against Arizona's SB 1070 in downtown Phoenix. A week later, the right's own "national mobilization" of pro-SB 1070 forces, under the name "Phoenix Rising," drew only 1,000 people, despite expectations for greater numbers.

The keynote speaker at both events was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose effort to turn the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department into his personal posse to hunt down undocumented workers helped pave the way for the passage of the new law. Arpaio giddily refers to July 29--the day when SB 1070 is supposed to be officially implemented--as the "magic day."

Intended as a call to arms for a popular insurgency supposedly driving the law from the grassroots, the half-filled stadium in Tempe and poorly attended Phoenix rally told a different story.

The assortment of older, white, Republican Party functionaries and political aspirants, Tea Party activists, AM talk-radio entourages and Minuteman groups reveal the underlying nature of this movement. Far from being an organic and widespread mobilization of disaffected citizens, the latest anti-immigrant surge is a highly orchestrated campaign, emanating from within the Washington beltway.

The latest anti-immigrant campaign has a timing to it, much like previous ones. Undocumented immigrants are being targeted in the lead-up to the 2010 elections, with the hope that red-faced, fear-mongering political campaigns will inflame the population and create an internal threat to focus on and unite against. The continuing toll of the economic recession also gives the right an opportunity for scapegoating.

Hammering immigrants is designed to provide conservative Republicans with a "wedge issue" to rally supporters around, and to obscure the constellation of real and tangible problems facing the populous--problems for which the Republicans have no solutions.

But if the anti-immigrant campaign is gaining more traction in places like Arizona and elsewhere, it's also because the Obama administration and the Democratic Party-controlled Congress are providing the right with an opportunity.

The Democrats have not only abandoned immigration legalization as part of their strategy, at least for now, but they have also opened their own front in the war on immigrants. This has allowed the right to keep the initiative on this question, shifting immigration politics back onto right-wing terrain.

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WHILE ARIZONA Republicans may take credit for SB 1070 to build their political careers at the expense of undocumented workers and their families, the law is actually a foreign import into the state.

SB 1070 is the brainchild of Kris Kobach, an anti-immigrant lawyer on the payroll of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington D.C.-based lobbying group dedicated to promoting extreme measures against immigrants. FAIR is tied to the pseudo-scientific Center for Immigration Studies, which has put forward a framework for what it calls "attrition through enforcement" as a strategy to "shrink the illegal population."

Kobach's origins are far from grassroots. According to the Arizona Republic:

In 2001, just days after 9/11, Kobach got a job as chief adviser on immigration law and border security to John Ashcroft, who was in his first year as U.S. attorney general. Kobach oversaw Department of Justice efforts to tighten border security, including the design and implementation of a system that requires foreign nationals from certain nations to register with a program that tracks their movements in and out of the U.S...

When [state Sen. Russell Pearce, the sponsor of SB 1070] was ready to tackle state enforcement of federal immigration laws, he again called Kobach for help."

In the preamble to SB 1070, the "attrition through enforcement" strategy is clearly identified as the intention:

The legislature finds that there is a compelling interest in the cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws throughout all of Arizona. The legislature declares that the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.

The FAIR strategy was taken up wholeheartedly by Arizona's right-wing politicians as a way to capitalize on the anxiety and instability generated by economic recession and underlying racial tensions coming into the open in the state. Others see the anti-immigrant drive as a resume-builder or a means to push through their own racist pet projects.

But there are other factors shaping the political situation. The border militarization strategy begun in the 1990s under Democrat Bill Clinton and continued by George W. Bush has re-routed a large percentage of migrant crossings through Arizona's southern desert region, providing the pretext for the political onslaught.

The change in migrant crossing patterns has been portrayed by Arizona politicians to manufacture an "out-of-control border" scenario that is designed to misshape public perceptions. For instance, in a recent speech on the U.S. Senate floor, moderate-turned-immigration hawk John McCain bemoaned that lax border security in Arizona "has led to violence--the worst I have ever seen."

The shooting death of south Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant, was used by Gov. Jan Brewer to justify signing SB 1070 into law. It came to light shortly afterward that authorities had no evidence linking the shooting to an immigrant, and that the accusation was unfounded speculation. Nevertheless, this incident continues to be a rallying point for supporters of SB 1070.

Government data dispels the "out-of-control border" scenario. According to 2009 data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports cited in the Arizona Republic:

While the nation's [undocumented] population doubled from 1994 to 2004, according to federal records, the violent-crime rate declined 35 percent. More recently, Arizona's violent-crime rate dropped from 512 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 447 incidents in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available...

[The crime rate in Cochise County, along Arizona's border with Mexico] has been "flat" for at least 10 years...Even in 2000, when record numbers of undocumented immigrants were detained in the area, just 4 percent of the area's violent crimes were committed by [undocumented immigrants].

This led Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, another county along the border, to conclude: "This is a media-created event...I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."

Moreover, the FBI crime reports also found that the top four big cities with the lowest crime rates are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, Texas. Violent crime rates in Southwest border counties overall have been dropping steadily and are among the lowest in the country. Another recent study conducted by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than their police counterparts in U.S. cities.

Despite this trend, members of Congress from border states continue to push for more militarization. As immigrant advocate Isabel García of the Tucson-based Derechos Humanos told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Politicians are hyping up this incredible fear across the country about the border, but these numbers show these are lies being perpetrated on the American public."

The impact of the fear-mongering has become apparent from opinion polls. A May 2010 CBS/New York Times poll showed that the percentage of respondents who considered immigration a "very serious problem" had increased to 65 percent by the time the Arizona law had passed, compared to 56 percent in 2007 and 54 percent in 2006.

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TO SUPPLEMENT the immigrant-as-criminal approach, there's also economic scapegoating. Anti-immigrant forces claim their laws are needed to protect Arizona workers from the effects of the recession.

According to the Arizona Republic, job opportunities for college graduates in the state have plummeted in recent years. In 2007, 51 percent of graduates found work; by 2009, that number was 20 percent. As the paper continued:

The recession has been especially tough on young workers. As the economy has shed jobs by the thousands, many four-year college graduates have had trouble launching careers, languishing in lower-paying jobs. Historically, those with similar circumstances find it hard to get the same career opportunities and earn as much as those with college degrees who graduate in better times. Those with just a high-school education face even more difficult challenges.

The linking of unemployment to the presence of immigrant workers has been taken up in opportunistic fashion by Arizona Republicans.

Sheriff Arpaio, for example, has re-branded himself a defender of Arizona's native-born workers. Speaking at the May 29 "Stand with Arizona" rally, Arpaio boasted that his department, by arresting or detaining 38,000 undocumented workers to date, was defending jobs. "We have an unemployment problem," he said. "Every time we arrest someone in the workplace, were making room for someone in this country legally."

Other political leaders have similarly seen anti-immigrant politics as a way to advance their careers.

Jan Brewer is one. As secretary of state, she promoted Proposition 200, which cut off the few and meager social services available to undocumented immigrants in the state and requires all voters show proof of citizenship at the polls. She investigated Arizona's welfare agencies to make sure they excluded all ineligible immigrants and helped craft the final version of SB 1070.

As a politician with a mediocre record, who only attained the governor's seat by constitutional succession after Janet Napolitano vacated it to work in the Obama administration, Brewer is facing an uphill battle to retain her office. "She is running in a primary that leans heavily to the right," Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox told the Arizona Republic. "She had to outright the right, and that's what she did."

As the Republic continued:

Telephone polling since Brewer signed SB 1070 suggests her decision sat well with would-be voters in the August Republican primary. Both her job-approval ratings and her lead over her opponents appeared to have gotten a boost in Rasmussen Reports surveys released over the past month.

Then again, trying to salvage a flagging political campaign on the backs of undocumented immigrants has become an increasingly popular sport in Republican circles in other states. The Republican governor's race in California between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, for instance, degenerated into a vitriolic contest of one-upmanship over who could promise to make the lives of California's immigrants more miserable.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, Poizner sought to overcome Whitman's financial advantage by waving the "bloody-red" shirt of anti-immigration:

His campaign for governor on the ropes, Republican Steve Poizner has been blaming illegal immigration for the state's troubled schools, its crowded emergency rooms and some of its massive budget deficit. Last week, he began airing ads accusing GOP frontrunner Meg Whitman of mimicking President Obama in her positions on illegal immigration--specifically, a comment she made last year about envisioning "a path to legalization" for undocumented workers.

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SB 1070 opened the door wide for other reactionary laws and policies. For instance, the recent passage of HB 2281 bans ethnic studies courses in K-12 schools under the pretense that they advocate "race and class resentment" and promote "ethnic solidarity." A pet project of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, the bill targets a successful ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District that has been linked to higher student performance.

Horne has been advocating the upending of the program since 2007, when he published "An Open Letter to the Citizens of Tucson" that urged abolition of the program. When other methods failed, he turned to conservative lawmakers in the legislature and found a hearing. Horne hopes the law will help propel his campaign for state attorney general in the coming elections.

The attack on education set the stage for SB 1070 supporters to go after Latino teachers.

Republican partisans within the Arizona Department of Education recently established a policy requiring that "heavily accented teachers" and those "lacking fluency" be removed from developmental English classes in all Arizona's school districts. Qualifications are supposed to be determined by school officials, even though English proficiency was presumably a condition of the original hiring process.

In practice, the policy will likely empower administrators to remove "undesirable" teachers. It also makes the whole community of Latino and immigrant teachers suspect and vulnerable at a time when many are already taking a stand for their academic rights, and the civil rights of their immigrant students. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out:

The teacher controversy comes amid an increasingly tense debate over immigration. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer this month signed the nation's toughest law to crack down on illegal immigrants. Critics charge that the broader political climate has emboldened state education officials to target immigrant teachers at a time when a budget crisis has forced layoffs. "This is just one more indication of the incredible anti-immigrant sentiment in the state," said Bruce Merrill, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who conducts public-opinion research.

Other factors are driving the polarization in Arizona. According to Steven Nuño of Northern Arizona University, the battles over immigration laws represent a demographic and generational conflict in a state where a conservative and entrenched white political structure feels threatened:

Latinos in Arizona are quite young, averaging 25 years old, while the non-Hispanic white population is in its electoral prime--44 years old. Combined with Latino's higher birth rates, Latinos are simply pushing non-Hispanic whites out the back door, and the institution is fighting back, as hopeless as it is.

Citizenship status remains the greatest structural barrier to participation for Latinos. More than a third of Latinos in Arizona aren't citizens, and therefore are ineligible to vote. However, even among citizens, Latinos in Arizona lag their non-Hispanic white counterparts, with only 37 percent of Latino citizens voting in 2008 and 52 percent of eligible residents registered to vote. While Latinos make up 14 percent of those registered to vote in Arizona, they only make up 12 percent of Arizona's voters in 2008.

If Latinos participated at the same rates as non-Hispanic whites, they would make up 21 percent of Arizona's voters, nearly double. Even more daunting to the system, if non-citizens were given a clear pathway to citizenship and participated at the same rate, they would make up more than 32 percent of Arizona's voters.

Rolling out the welcome mat to Latinos may result in doubling their participation rates, and favorable citizenship laws could result in tripling the current electoral power of Latinos. Arizonans seem unwilling to do either without a fight.

The assult on immigrants isn't just taking place in the legislature. With the anti-immigrant frenzy whipped up around the passage of SB 1070, open racists have felt emboldened to act.

For example, the central Arizona city of Prescott gained attention recently when artists from the Downtown Mural Project were asked to "whiten" the faces of children they were painting in a mural at Miller Valley Elementary School. As one artist told the Arizona Republic: "We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars. We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics)."

Neo-Nazi and other hate groups have become so comfortable operating in Arizona that they are no longer seeking the anonymity of the crowd--their prominence is so much higher at anti-immigrant events that less extreme groups, such as the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, have tried to distance themselves from some recent pro-SB 1070 rallies. According to Mother Jones, "[t]he group says it is withdrawing its support from any rallies supporting the Arizona law next month 'due to the discovery of racist group involvement and the actions of former Congressman Tom Tancredo.'"

Supporters of immigrant rights and social justice can't let these attacks--whether in the legislature or on the streets--go unchallenged. It will take a mass movement to stand up to the anti-immigrant bigots and turn the tide.

Barack Obama and the Democrats have shown that they will concede ground to the right at every step of the way. The fight to stop anti-immigrant hate and to win equality and justice for our sisters and brothers is a fight that will have to be organized at the grassroots--and involve all of us.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

No Excused

With Bill Halter, we were in it to win last night and we lost. It is always hard to lose, but there is no need for excuses here today.

DFA members nationwide did great work.

The progressive movement and labor came together in a state that voted overwhelmingly for John McCain and ran a campaign that helped give a voice to over 120,000 progressive Arkansans at the polls. That's nothing to scoff at and we did it together.

Thank you. I'm honored to work for you everyday.


Jim Dean, Chair
Democracy for America