Wednesday, April 23, 2008

David Bacon | In Mississippi, Work Is Now a Felony for Undocumented Immigrants

David Bacon | In Mississippi, Work Is Now a Felony for Undocumented Immigrants
Reporting for Truthout, David Bacon writes: "On March 17, Mississippi Governor Hayley Barbour signed into law the farthest-reaching employer sanctions law of any on the books in the US. Employer sanctions is a shorthand name for laws that prohibit employers from hiring immigrants who don't have legal immigration status in the US."

In Mississippi, Work Is Now a Felony for Undocumented Immigrants
By David Bacon
t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Jackson, Mississippi - On March 17, Mississippi Governor Hayley Barbour signed into law the farthest-reaching employer sanctions law of any on the books in the US. Employer sanctions is a shorthand name for laws that prohibit employers from hiring immigrants who don't have legal immigration status in the US. That provision was part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed by Congress in 1986, which - for the first time in US history - required employers to verify the immigration status of employees.

The Mississippi bill, SB 2988, requires employers to use an electronic system to verify immigration status, called E-Verify. That system has only recently been developed by the Department of Homeland Security, and by the department's own admission the system is not a complete record. Its accuracy is unknown, but by comparison, the Social Security database of US workers, compiled since the 1930s, contains millions of errors.

The Mississippi bill goes much further, however. Employers are absolved from any liability for hiring undocumented workers so long as they use the E-Verify system. But it will become a felony for an undocumented worker to hold a job. Anyone caught "shall be subject to imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for not less than one (1) year nor more than five (5) years, a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or both." Anyone charged with the crime of working without papers will not be eligible for bail. The law is set to become effective for large employers on July 1.

In The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger, University of Mississippi journalism professor Joe Atkins called the law "a new xenophobia ... that threatens once again to lock down the state's borders and resurrect the 'closed society' that once made it the shame of the nation." According to the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, the bill got the support of many Democratic state legislators because party leaders "wanted the house to bring out at least one bill dealing with immigration to relieve the political pressure being put on members (i.e. white Democrats), by right-wing forces in their districts. Many Black Caucus members were persuaded to go along. Unfortunately, the bill they brought out was the worst of the six the Mississippi Senate passed."

Passage of the bill was a setback to the political strategy that has shown the most promise of changing the old conservative power structure in the state, the "closed society" described by Professor Atkins. That strategy, building over the last several years, has relied on creating an electoral base of African-Americans, immigrants and unions. The new employer sanctions law, according to supporters of that strategy, is intended to drive immigrants out of the state by making it impossible for them to find work.

In Mississippi, African-American political leaders and immigrant and labor organizers have cooperated in organizing one of the country's most active immigrant rights coalitions - the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance. They see hope for political transformation in the demographic changes sweeping the South. Beginning after World War 2, Mississippi, like most Southern states, began to lose its black population. Out-migration reached its peak in the '60s, when 66,614 African-Americans left between 1965 and 1970, while civil rights activists were murdered, hosed and sent to jail. But in the following decades, Midwest industrial jobs began to vanish overseas, the cost of living in Northern cities skyrocketed, and the flow began to reverse.

From 1995 to 2000, the state capital, Jackson, gained 3,600 black residents. In the 2000 census, African-Americans made up over 36 percent of Mississippi's 2.8 million residents - no doubt more today. And while immigrants were statistically insignificant two decades ago, today they're over 4.5 percent of the total, according to news reports. "Immigrants are always undercounted, but I think they're now about 130,000, and they'll be 10% of the population ten years from now," predicts MIRA Director Bill Chandler.

"We have the chance here to avoid the rivalry that plagues Los Angeles, and build real power," says Chandler. Eric Fleming, a MIRA staff member and former state legislator who recently filed for the Democratic nomination to replace Senator Trent Lott, believes "we can stop Mississippi from making the same mistakes others have made."

The same calculus can apply across the South, which is now the entry point for a third of all new immigrants to the US. Four decades ago, President Richard Nixon brought its white power structure, threatened by civil rights, into the Republican Party. President Ronald Reagan celebrated that achievement at the Confederate monument at Georgia's Stone Mountain. MIRA-type alliances could transform the region, and change the politics of the country as a whole. SB 2988 is not only intended to stir anti-immigrant sentiment, but to reverse that demographic change and the political transformation it might make possible.

MIRA is the fruit of strategic thinking among a diverse group that reaches from African-American workers' centers on catfish farms and immigrant union organizers in chicken plants to guest workers and contract laborers on the Gulf Coast, and ultimately, into the halls of the state legislature in Jackson. Activists look back to changes that started when Mississippi passed a law permitting casino development in 1991, bringing the first immigrant construction workers from Florida. Employers in gaming then began to use contractors to supply their growing labor needs. Guest workers, eventually numbering in the thousands, were brought under the H2-B program to fill many of the jobs development created.

Through the '90s, more immigrants arrived looking for work. Some guest workers overstayed their visas, while husbands brought wives, cousins and friends from home. Mexicans and Central Americans joined South and Southeast Asians, and began traveling north through the state, getting jobs in rural poultry plants. There they met African-Americans, many of whom had fought hard campaigns to organize unions for chicken and catfish workers over the preceding decade.

It was not easy for newcomers to fit in. Their union representatives didn't speak their languages. When workers got pulled over by state troopers, they found themselves not only cited for lacking driver's licenses, but also often handed over to the Border Patrol. Sometimes their children weren't even allowed to enroll in school.

In the fall of 2000, labor, church and civil rights activists formed an impromptu coalition, and went to the legislature. At their heart was the core of activists who'd organized Mississippi's state workers, and a growing caucus of black legislators sympathetic to labor. Jim Evans, a former organizer for the National Football League Players Association, headed the group on the House side, while Senator Alice Harden, who'd led a state teachers' strike in 1986, organized the vote in the Senate. "We decided that the place to start was trying to get a bill passed allowing everyone to get driver's licenses, regardless of who they were or where they came from," Evans remembers.

Harden's efforts bore fruit when the drivers' license bill passed the Senate unanimously in 2001. "But they saw us coming in the House, and killed it," Chandler says. Nevertheless, the close fight convinced them that a coalition supporting immigrant rights had a wide potential base of support, and could help change the state's political landscape. In a meeting that November, the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance was born.

To build a grassroots base, MIRA volunteers went into chicken plants to help recruit newly arrived immigrants into unions. In the casinos, MIRA volunteers worked with UNITE HERE organizers. In Jackson, the coalition got six bills passed the following year, stopping schools from requiring Social Security numbers from immigrant parents, and winning in-state tuition for any student who'd spent four years in a Mississippi high school.

Then Katrina hit the Gulf. MIRA fought evictions and the cases of workers cheated by employers, and eventually recovered over $1 million. MIRA organizer Vicky Cintra and other activists participated in several celebrated cases defending guest workers, especially in the Signal International shipyard in Pascagoula. "There's still a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment here," Cintra says, "but when people give the police their MIRA ID card they get treated with more respect, because they know their rights and have some support." Laborers Union organizer Frank Curiel says, "In Kentucky, outside of Louisville, Latinos are afraid to go out into the street. In Mississippi, it's different."

Not always that different, however. In Laurel and many other Mississippi towns, police still set up roadblocks to trap immigrants without licenses. "They take us away in handcuffs and we have to pay over $1,000 to get out of jail and get our cars back," according to chicken plant worker Elisa Reyes. And the way the state's Council of Conservative Citizens demonizes immigrants is reminiscent of the language of its predecessor - the White Citizens Councils: "The CofCC not only fights for European rights, but also for Confederate Heritage, fights against illegal immigration, fights against gun control, fights against abortion, fights against gay rights etc. SO JOIN UP!!!" its web site urges.

In 2007, the Republican machine introduced twenty-one anti-immigrant bills into the state legislature, including ones to impose state penalties for hiring undocumented workers and English-only requirements on state license and benefit applicants, to prohibit undocumented students at state universities, and to require local police to check immigration status. MIRA defeated all of them. "The Black Caucus stood behind us every time," Evans says proudly. There are no immigrant or Latino legislators. Without the Caucus all 21 bills would have passed in 2007, and 19 similar bills in 2006.

The 2008 legislative session was different, however. Chandler describes three factions in the party - the Black Caucus at one end, white conservatives hanging on at the other, and "liberals who will do whatever they have to do to get elected" in the middle. After some Democratic candidates campaigned in 2007 on an anti-immigrant platform, MIRA wrote a letter in protest to Howard Dean, national chair of the Democratic Party. Those tactics, it said, were undermining the only strategy capable of changing the state's politics. "The attacks on Latinos, initiated by Republican Phil Bryant a year and a half ago, and joined by other Republicans, are now being echoed by Democrats like John Arthur Eaves and Jamie Franks," the letter said. State party leaders who "would go along to be accepted, rather than show the courage necessary for positive change ... are peddling racist lies against immigrants that violate the core of the party's progressive agenda." Anti-immigrant campaigning by Democrats was unsuccessful. Conservative Republican Hayley Barbour was returned to the governor's mansion and Phil Bryant was elected lieutenant governor. And in the legislative session that followed, some Democrats began to buckle under pressure from vocal right-wing groups, including the Klan.

During the 2007 elections, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally of 500 people in front of the Lee County courthouse in Tupelo, wearing white hoods and robes, and carrying signs saying, "Stop the Latino Invasion." Their presence was so intimidating that Ricky Cummings, a generally progressive Democrat running for re-election to the State House of Representatives, voted for some of the anti-immigrant bills in the legislature. When MIRA leaders challenged him, he told them that Klan-generated calls had "worn out his cell phone."

The Klan's web site says "it's time to declare war on these illegal Mexicans.... The racial war is among us, will you fight with us for the future of our race and for our children? Or will you sit on your ass and do nothing? Our blissful ignorance is over. It is time to fight. Time for Mexico and Mexicans to get the hell out!"

The web site has links to the site of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement (the state affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform), directed by Mike Lott, who sits in the state legislature. After MIRA's Erik Fleming urged Governor Barbour to veto the employer sanctions bill, saying it would be "devastating to our economy and community here in Mississippi," he was then targeted on the MFIRE website.

For those threatened by changing demographics and the political upsurge they might produce, SB 2988 law is a finger in the dike. The fight to implement it is not over, however, and MIRA has assembled a legal team to challenge its constitutionality in court.

David Bacon is a California photojournalist who documents labor, migration and globalization. His book "Communities Without Borders" was just published by Cornell University/ILR Press.

Re-Entering Immigration Battle In Texas

Sun Apr 20, 2008 2:45 pm (PDT)
Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2008 - Tyler Morning Telegraph
Leo Berman Re-Entering Immigration Battle In Texas

Appropriately, the first salvo will take place on San Jacinto Day.

On Monday, State Rep. Leo Berman hopes to begin a new "battle for Texas independence" when he appears before the House State Affairs Committee.

The Tyler Republican pledges to re-introduce the immigration reform bills he authored last session, despite opposition from Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas. And he'll tell Swinford so Monday, when he testifies in Austin before Swinford's State Affairs Committee.

Swinford prevented those bills from emerging from committee in 2007, saying immigration is a federal matter.

Berman disagrees.

"According to the oath that we take at the beginning of every session, we are required to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and all laws of the United States and the state of Texas," Berman says. "It's our obligation to Texas taxpayers to do exactly that. In the case of illegal aliens, we can't depend on the United States Congress to do it for us."

That's why Berman will be reintroducing several measures aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Some will be modeled on efforts in neighboring states that have had some success, he says.

Oklahoma, for example, passed a sweeping immigration reform bill last year.

"But Oklahoma's success has created additional problems for Texas," Berman says. "Thousands of illegal aliens are moving south, across the Red River, into Texas. And a bill that passed in Arizona last year, making it almost impossible for illegal aliens to get a job in that state, has them moving back to Mexico, or east to Texas."

He contends that the number of illegal immigrants in Texas is nearing 2 million, due to reforms in those two states.

The measures he plans to author or co-author include:

a.. Penalties for businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants.

a.. A challenge to the concept of "birthright citizenship" for the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States.

a.. Ending all public assistance benefits for illegal immigrants.

a.. Empowering state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

a.. Taxing the $6 billion per year sent to Mexico from Texas by illegal immigrants, and setting that money aside for indigent health care.

a.. Preventing illegal immigrants from filing lawsuits.

a.. Making English the official language of Texas.

a.. Requiring photo IDs for voting.

The burden of illegal immigration on state, county and local budgets justifies the measures, Berman says.

"As of February 2008, there were 12,000 illegal aliens in the Texas prison system," he says. "There are many more in county and municipal jails, and illegal aliens make up the bulk of violent gangs in major cities across the United States and Texas. And across the state, school districts demand more money to build new schools at an enormous cost to home and other property owners. This works counter to our legislative effort to reduce school property taxes. Someone has to pay the bill."

Berman doesn't expect a warm reception from Swinford on Monday. Nor does he think his arguments will persuade the powerful committee chairman to support his legislation.

But he does have a new strategy for the upcoming 2009 Legislature. He'll bypass Swinford and State Affairs completely.

"We've already talked to House Speaker (Tom) Craddick, and if a bill has to do with repealing in-state tuition for illegal aliens, for example, then we'll send it to the Higher Education Committee," Berman says. "That way we'll get around Swinford."

Berman will appear before the State Affairs Committee in Austin at 1 p.m. Monday.

Early Returns is the political observations column of staff writer Roy Maynard, who can be reached at 903-596-6291 or at

School Superintendent Threatened over Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish

School Superintendent Threatened over Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish
By Matthew Rothschild,
April 21, 2008

The Pledge of Allegiance is creating an uproar in a high school in southern Wisconsin. Not the Pledge itself, but the language it's recited in.
For many years now, Edgerton High School in Wisconsin has allowed students in its Spanish class to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish over the Intercom one day of the school year. It also invites foreign exchange students (the school now has three) to say it in their own language.
This year, when Spanish students recited the Pledge on March 11, it caused a ruckus.
Parents complained. They demanded that the Spanish teacher, the principal, and the superintendent be fired. And they intend to press the issue at the school board meeting on April 28.
The superintendent, Dr. Norman Fjelstad, has even been physically threatened.
"There were a couple of people who made threats," he said. "I said, 'It's a felony to threaten me,' and they apologized. Once they got set back on their heels, we had a good discussion. It's the people who leave the messages on my phone-it's like shooting you in the back. I don't even know who they are."
Fjelstad has been superintendent for 20 years. The current controversy has taken a toll.
"It's not been fun," he says. "When I went to vote I was confronted. When I went to the grocery store, I was confronted. I get about five phone calls a day. They want me removed from my position unless I'm willing to put in writing that this will never happen again. And I won't do that. We don't allow bullying in our schools, and I won't be bullied by this."
Fjelstad realized he had a problem on his hands when the phones started ringing at the administration building on March 12.
The following day, the Janesville Gazette ran a story entitled "Spanish Pledge Angers Veteran."
It quoted Todd Dix, whose son goes to the high school.
"This is America; we speak English," said Dix, who retired from the National Guard last year. "I don't want any of my three boys coming home saying, 'Dad, we did the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish.' "
His son Kyle told the paper that he thought it was disrespectful to the troops.
The article in the newspaper sparked some heated exchanges on the paper's website, so much so that the editor, Scott Angus, decided to yank the debate.
"It started out fairly high brow," Angus said, "but then it got to be a racist thing."
One said: "I go to Edgerton High School and I don't appreciate Mexicans saying the Pledge in Spanish. . . . If you think Mexicans can waltz right in this school and have an influence on these American students, then you're wrong. This is America, home of the free and not the illegal."
"I've heard their frustration," says Superintendent Fjelstad. "I understand what they're saying. They feel it dishonors our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. My response is this: I know there are 400 Hispanic speaking soldiers that won't disagree with them. They can't disagree because they gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there are 110,000 Spanish-speaking Hispanics serving in the military that I believe would agree with me that speaking Spanish does not dishonor the military."
Fjelstad also points out that George W. Bush had the National Anthem sung in Spanish at his inaugural in 2001.
Fjelstad adds a personal point. "I have a Norwegian heritage," he says. "My father could not speak English until the third grade, and he was patriotic, and he recited the Pledge in Norwegian."
Fjelstand also notes that "our Wisconsin Constitution was written in three languages: English, German, and Norwegian. The reason it was written in three languages is because it's important that people understand the words."
On top of that, Fjelstad invokes the First Amendment to the Constitution. "Government should never mandate that the Pledge or the National Anthem be said in one language," he says.
Fjelstad's conclusion: "I see nothing wrong with what we've been doing."
But he's not sure the school board will see it that way.
"The school board has the right to overturn my decision," he says. "If they do, I won't be insubordinate. I will comply. I won't be fired. But I'll be on record as saying I disagree with that decision, and that I believe people are suppressing what is a freedom of our country."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Immigration, Off the Books

April 17, 2008
Immigration, Off the Books

Every American who has a job or wants one should be following the debates in Congress over bills to crack down on illegal hiring. Employment verification is one of the few ideas still lurching around the Capitol after last year’s Senate shootout mowed down a forest of immigration reforms. It’s boring and complicated — it’s about databases — but unlike other immigration fixes, it affects every worker and employer in America, native-born or not.

Two House bills — the SAVE Act, sponsored by Heath Shuler, and the New Employee Verification Act, sponsored by Sam Johnson — are designed to squeeze illegal immigrants out of the country by making it impossible for them to find work.

Immigration reform is always tricky, but employment verification is where the details get demonic.

It starts with a flawed database that everyone would have to rely on to get work or change jobs. Think of the “no-fly” list, the database of murky origins with mysterious flaws that you, the passenger, must fix if you are on it and want to fly. These immigration bills seek to take small, badly flawed “no-work” lists and explode them rapidly to a national scale. With an error rate of about 4 percent, millions of citizens could be flagged as ineligible to work, too.

That’s only part of the price. The Congressional Budget Office says the SAVE Act would cost $40 billion over 10 years, adding up lost tax revenue and spending on things like thousands of immigration judges. It is likely to overwhelm the Social Security Administration, which already is swamped with disability benefits and retiring baby boomers. It won’t do much for small businesses that would have to pay to comply.

The problem is not with employment verification itself. Illegal immigrants should not be allowed to work, and any system that is rational and lawful needs to be backed up with a hiring database. The trouble with these bills is that they don’t fix the database errors first, and they are strict enforcement-only measures, uncoupled from any path to legalization for undocumented workers.

Imagine that we end up with an airtight workplace verification system built on a perfect database — but without a path to legalization. In that world, an honest company that learns it has undocumented workers has the unhappy choice of firing them or taking them off the books. How many would choose option B?

Sleazy employers who already hire under the table would be encouraged, since the millions of workers stranded in the shadows would have nowhere else to go. (They will not deport themselves en masse, no matter what the Minutemen say.) American workers would then be more vulnerable to competition from illegal labor, not less.

Some employers, meanwhile, would readily abuse the system, prescreening job applicants, avoiding or discriminating against non-natives, not letting workers know their rights, firing them at will.

Remind us, again, why we wanted this so badly?

Oh, to protect American workers.

Doing that means, at the very least, fixing the employment database before beginning a huge, untested worker-verification experiment and imposing it only as part of a broader reform that allows the eight million undocumented workers to become legal. Otherwise, we would be giving countless employers and workers the incentive to go off the books, which would be exactly where we started, billions of dollars and countless lost jobs ago.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The fight continues in Farmers Branch

by Victor Landa
Web Posted: 04/13/2008 05:00 AM CDT

San Antonio Express-News

Democracy is not a guarantee. Even in this country, where we lionize the
benefits of equal rights, human rights and democracy as God-given; where we rely
on that idea to proselytize our belief in the virtue of freedom, even if it
be done with military might; even here, even now, democracy is a work in

The prevalent idea in the United States, up to the early 1960s, was that
democracy was a limited concept and that some folks were more free than others.
I remember a recent conversation with my mother in which, as part of the
story she was telling about an incident that happened many decades ago, she
nonchalantly mentioned how on the day she was recounting she had stopped to pay
her poll tax. She went on with her story, treating that part as no more than an
aside. I was aghast.

"Hold on, hold on, hold on," I said, making the "time out" sign with my
hands for emphasis. "¿Cómo que poll tax?"

It's well documented that the powers-that-were tried, by many means, to
deny democracy. The poll tax was one such tactic. But it failed because it
was wrong and went against the basic tenets of our political faith:
Everyone is equal under the law and one person's vote is no greater than
another's. My mother tells the story of how the community had come
together, pooled their resources, to "buy" poll taxes (it's interesting
how they thought of it as purchasing the right to vote) for as many
persons as possible. The 1964 Voting Rights Act was long in coming, but
when it was enacted, it became the single most effective tool in the
struggle for democracy in America. Through the years, the VRA has been
the principal weapon against the tyranny of political exclusion and
discrimination. And as the years have passed, the battles in favor of a
more perfect democracy have continued, even to this day.

If we don't hear about those fights, it may be because those of us
entrusted to tell those stories are falling short in our duty. It may
also be because the battles are rendered in tucked-away courtrooms where
there's little possibility of generating revenue for a profit-hungry
media. But just because the headlines are scarce, and the battle more
tactical than before, it doesn't mean that the fight is over and democracy
has won. In our country, democracy has prevailed, mostly because the fight
to preserve it is ongoing. There's a cloud of dust rising over the most
recent battle for democracy in Farmers Branch. That's where a couple of
civil rights lawyers have come to the defense of a community that hasn't
been able to gain equal representation.

The Latino community in Farmers Branch is substantial, large enough to
warrant equal representation in their municipal government. Their problem
is that their City Council is structured with at-large districts and try
as they may to prepare and field candidates from their community, their
voting power is diluted. Civil rights lawyers Rolando Rios and Domingo
Garcia have gone to Farmers Branch to fight the cause. One of three
plaintiffs in the case is Jose Galvez, who ran for City Council last May
and lost. The lawsuit contends that had single-member districts been in
place last May, Galvez would have won and the Latino community would have
gained equal representation on the municipal council.

The defendant, the City of Farmers Branch, contends that the Latino
community is not concentrated enough to warrant single-member districts.
In other words, there may be plenty of them, but they don't all live in
one place, so geography trumps democracy. The odd thing about this
argument is that it proves the plaintiffs' case.

The Latino vote is denied because it is diluted. It's OK to keep democracy
from Latinos because they're politically weak. Odd as it sounds, a poll
tax may be easier to contend with. The suit is not over, far from it. In
fact, the trial has been going through its preliminary stages and is set
to start in earnest on May 8.

I doubt it will happen, but I'd like to see the fight for democracy in
Farmers Branch lead the headlines as much as the war to spread it in the
Middle East does.


( >

AL DIA, Dallas, Texas

Las Mega Marchas, 2 anos

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, April 12, 2008

Domingo García

El 9 de abril del 2008 marcó el segundo aniversario de la histórica
Megamarcha en Dallas, la más importante en la historia de Texas. Mucha gente hoy se
pregunta ¿Qué ha cambiado? Y la respuesta es que muchas cosas han cambiado.

En el 2006 los republicanos controlaban el Senado y la Cámara de
Representantes y apoyaban leyes como la HB4437, leyes que hubieran hecho criminales a
todos los inmigrantes indocumentados. Por primera vez en décadas, estudiantes
de Dallas y áreas vecinas abandonaron las aulas en protesta. Estudiantes como
Gustavo Jiménez y grupos juveniles de Lulac usaron el poder tecnológico de
internet, como MySpace, correos electrónicos y mensajes de texto para
organizarse a lo largo del metroplex.

Después de las primeras protestas estudiantiles, los líderes locales
hablaron con los jóvenes y decidieron canalizar toda esta energía de una manera
positiva que ayudara a la comunidad.

Así fue como grupos juveniles, grupos inmigrantes, activistas y líderes
comunitarios empezaron en el Restaurante Tejano a organizar la Megamarcha para el
domingo de ramos, el 9 de abril del 2006.

Cuando empecé a sacar los permisos para la marcha y preguntaron cuánta gente
asistiría, la respuesta fue 20,000 personas, que en aquel momento era la
cifra que pensábamos podíamos alcanzar.

La marcha que se organizó en dos semanas rebasó las expectativas. Más de
500,000 personas salieron a manifestarse en un hermoso y soleado día.

Recuerdo a las abuelitas marchando con sus nietos, trabajadores de
construcción, artistas y personas de todas las esferas sociales juntas, unidas
reclamando justicia para todos los inmigrantes en EU.

Un océano de camisas blancas con banderas americanas arrazó Dallas. Los
inmigrantes tuvieron voz ese día. Fue uno de los días más satisfactorios y
emotivos de mi vida.

El impacto de esta marcha fue eliminar la propuesta HB4437 y detener el
movimiento antiinmigrante. Se registraron nuevos votantes y desde entonces miles
de residentes legales se han hecho ciudadanos americanos y los demócratas,
que por lo general siempre han apoyado posiciones políticas inmigrantes más
amigables, ahora representan la mayoría en el Congreso.

En el condado de Dallas una nueva generación de votantes latinos ha ayudado
a elegir nuevos jueces latinos y Dallas es ahora un condado dominado por los

Intentos en ciudades como Farmers Branch por aprobar leyes antimigratorias
han sido derrotados una y otra vez, en diferentes niveles, en las cortes.

Por primera vez en la historia, municipios como Irving tienen en la papeleta
electoral a latinos lanzando sus candidaturas para la alcaldía, el concejo
municipal y el distrito escolar.

Hoy nuestra comunidad ya no está a la defensiva, sino a la ofensiva. En el
2007 el Senado rechazó por un pequeño margen una ley que habría dado a
inmigrantes un camino justo a la legalización y la ciudadanía.

Hoy los tres candidatos a la presidencia, John McCain, Barack Obama y
Hillary Clinton, apoyan una reforma justa para los inmigrantes.

La semana pasada estuve en Washington D.C. y tuve la oportunidad de
conversar con el senador Edward Kennedy y él se siente optimista de que la reforma se
puede lograr aún.

Dos años después podemos sentirnos orgullosos por lo que la comunidad latina
logró en Dallas, aunque aún queda mucho por hacer.

La Megamarcha del 9 de abril del 2006 fue el comienzo de un nuevo día para
los inmigrantes en Dallas y en Estados Unidos, y es por eso que nunca debemos
olvidar que la historia la escribimos nosotros y no dejaremos que nadie más
la escriba.

Ahora más que nunca debemos continuar la lucha, esta vez con nuestro voto.

Domingo García es abogado y activista en Dallas.

Central America Migrant Flow to US Slows

y OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ – 2 days ago

ARRIAGA, Mexico (AP) — For thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America, the long journey to the U.S. starts here, on the groaning back of a freight train they call The Beast.
But these days many don't get too far.
Central Americans without documents now face increased security within Mexico, including checks on the train for stowaways. It's also harder for them to head north once they cross into Mexico because of hurricane damage to the train tracks.
The result: The number of non-Mexican migrants stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol has dropped almost 60 percent from 2005, despite increased detention efforts. About 68,000 non-Mexican migrants — mostly Central Americans — were detained last year, compared to 165,000 in 2005. Non-Mexicans make up about 10 percent of all migrants caught by Border Patrol officers.
Mexico itself is also seeing fewer illegal immigrants — 120,000 were arrested last year, a 50 percent drop from 2005, when Hurricane Stan hit and destroyed the railroad, according to the National Immigration Institute. Since President Felipe Calderon took office two years ago, Mexico has added more soldiers and federal police on its border with Guatemala and more immigration and military checkpoints throughout the south.
Despite its efforts to secure its own southern border, Mexico does not try to stop its own citizens from crossing north illegally into the United States, beyond pursuing drug and people smugglers. By law, Mexico notes, Mexicans can go wherever they want within the country, including the border. They don't break any laws until they are on U.S. soil.
Many Mexicans are also sympathetic to illegal immigrants from Central America, but the issue still causes some tensions that echo the U.S. debate. Isaac Castillo, owner of the Hotel La Posada in Arriaga, argues that Central American immigrants often end up working in Mexico, where wages can be double the few dollars a day they might earn at home.
"The problem isn't just in the U.S., but in Mexico, because a lot of Central Americans want to stay here and compete with Mexicans for jobs," he said.
The crackdown on Central American migrants has left them searching for new routes. Some pay smugglers $7,000 to go by boat into southern Mexico, then hide in tractor-trailers heading north.
These boats and trucks try to evade highway checkpoints set up every few miles alongside most of Mexico's southern roadways. But migrants have been crushed to death when false floors collapsed under the weight of freight, and 22 Salvadoran migrants drowned in an October shipwreck off the coast of southern Oaxaca state.
For those Central American migrants unable or unwilling to risk the sea, a cargo train — The Beast — remains the only option for the 2,000-mile trip to the U.S.
The long trek begins at the Suchiate river, on the border with Guatemala, where for $1 they cross on makeshift rafts into sweltering jungles.
Then they hike along the destroyed, sun-scorched train tracks to Arriaga for up to nine days. Arriaga, 200 miles from the Guatemalan border, is the closest place to hop a train since Hurricane Stan destroyed the Chiapas-Mayab line.
As they head north, they pay off thieves, immigration officials, police and railroad employees.
Juan Gabriel Ramos, a Guatemalan 17-year-old trying to join his mother in California, said he bribed a Mexican federal police officer and an immigration agent before even making it to Arriaga.
"They both told me that if I didn't give them money they would send me back to Guatemala," Ramos said.
When they're caught, migrants say they're often abused by Mexican authorities. In one notorious case last year in the northern city of Saltillo, migrants complained to the National Human Rights Commission of rectal exams done by immigration officials who said they were checking for cholera.
"The mistreatment of migrants here is brutal, and no one does anything about it because everyone sees them as booty," said Heyman Vasquez, a Roman Catholic priest. He estimated 80 percent of migrants are robbed before they arrive at his two-room shelter in Arriaga.
The slowdown in immigrant traffic is notable in Arriaga, a town of corn and sorghum farmers. Only a few clusters of Central American men and women linger around the mostly abandoned, graffiti-covered train station, where they wait for the first train they can grab. Many stay at a local migrant shelter, watching television or sharing stories of abuse.
Sitting on a cracked sidewalk outside the shelter, one Nicaraguan man told of the time he saw a group of criminals gang-rape a woman and shoot her boyfriend. A Honduran couple talked of fleeing their country after gang members killed their teenage daughter, and leaving their seven children, ages 18 to 1, in hiding.
It doesn't get any easier once immigrants hop a train. They must often bribe private guards and police stationed along the tracks. Many stowaways are too tired to hold on to the train and fall, losing limbs.
The trip itself can be deadly.
Jorge Guevara, a 21-year-old Salvadoran, said he first rode the train to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2001 and saw 20 people crushed, and probably killed, when cars derailed. He fled and never found out what happened.
"That accident left me in shock, but I kept going," Guevara said to a group of first-time migrants, listening intently. "One doesn't think about the danger, only about getting to the United States. Once I'm there, I'll think about it."
Guevara said he drove a forklift in Dallas until he was pulled over for a burned-out taillight and deported last year.
It took Milagros Rivera and her family a month to reach Ixtepec, just 85 miles north of Arriaga. By then, the 36-year-old from El Salvador said they had been robbed three times.
The first time was at the river crossing into Mexico. Soldiers demanded money before allowing her, her boyfriend, her 20-year-old son and her 18-year-old daughter-in-law to continue on.
About 50 miles later, gunmen held them up along the tracks, forced them to strip naked and took about $1,500 they had saved, Rivera said.
"It was a terrible moment because they took my daughter-in-law away, and we thought they were going to rape her," said Rivera.
The thieves ended up freeing the girl unharmed. But then they were robbed by a local police officer of the $40 they had collected begging on the streets.
Rivera said she is bound for Virginia, where friends have promised to help her find work.
"There is a lot of suffering," she said. "But the hope of reaching your destination helps you to keep going."

Immigrant Crackdowns Are Building the National Security State

By Roberto Lovato, Public Eye
Posted on April 14, 2008, Printed on April 16, 2008

"He [King George] has erected a multitude of new offices and set hither swarms of officers to harass out people and eat out their subsistence." The Declaration of Independence, 1776

Building Up the Domestic Security Apparatus

Most explanations of the relentless pursuit of undocumented immigrants since 9/11 view it as a response to the continuing pressures of angry, mostly white, citizens. The "anti-immigrant climate" created by civic groups like the Minutemen, politicos like (name the Republican candidate of your choice) and media personalities like CNN's Lou Dobbs, we are told, has led directly to the massive -- and growing -- government bureaucracy for policing immigrants.

The Washington Post, for example, told us in 2006 that "The Minutemen rose to prominence last year when they began organizing armed citizen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move credited with helping to ignite the debate that has dominated Washington in recent months." Along the way to allegedly responding to "grassroots" calls about "real immigration reform" and "doing something about illegals," the Bush Administration dismantled the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and created the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, whose more than 15,000 employees and $5.6 billion budget make it the largest investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government after the FBI. In the process of restructuring, national security concerns regarding threats from external terrorist enemies got mixed in with domestic concerns about immigrant "invaders" denounced by a growing galaxy of anti-immigrant interests.

Implicit in daily media reports about "immigration reform" is the idea that bottom-up pressure led to the decision to dismantle the former INS and then place the immigration bureaucracy under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Citizen activism contributed significantly to the most massive, most important government restructuring since the end of World War II. Nor do press accounts mention Boeing and other aerospace and surveillance companies, which, for example, will benefit as government contractors to the federal Secure Border Initiative (SBI) that is scheduled to receive more than $2 billion in funding for fencing, electronic surveillance and other equipment required for the new physical and virtual fence being built at the border.

Nowhere in the more popular explanations of this historic and massive government restructuring of immigration and other government functions do the raisons d'etat -- the reasons of the state, the logic of government -- enter the picture. When talking about immigration reform, what little, if any, agency ascribed to the Bush Administration usually includes such mantra-like phrases like "protecting the homeland," "securing the border," and others. And even in the immigrant rights community few, for example, are asking why the Bush Administration decided to move the citizenship processing and immigration enforcement functions of government from the more domestic, policing-oriented Department of Justice (DOJ) to the more militarized, anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security.

Little, if any, consideration is given to the possibility that immigrants and immigration policy serve other interests that have nothing to do with chasing down maids, poultry workers, and landscapers.

Failure to consider the reasons of state behind the buildup leading to the birth of the ICE, the most militarized branch of the federal government after the Pentagon, leaves the analysis of, and political action around, immigration reform partial at best. While important, focusing on the electoral workings of the white voter excludes a fundamental part of the immigration bureaucracy equation: how immigrants provide the rationale for the expansion of government policing bureaucracy in times of political crisis, economic distress, and major geopolitical shifts. Shortly after the attacks and the creation of DHS, the Bush Administration used immigrants and fear of outsiders to tighten border restrictions, pass repressive laws and increase budgets to put more drones, weapons and troops inside the country.

Government actions since 9/11 point clearly to how the U.S. government has set up a new Pentagon-like bureaucracy to fight a new kind of protracted domestic war against a new kind of domestic enemy -- undocumented immigrants. While willing to believe that there were ulterior motives behind the Iraq war and the pursuit of al Qaeda, few consider that there are non-immigration-related motives behind ICE's al Qaeda-ization of immigrants and immigration policy: multi-billion dollar contracts to military-industrial companies like Boeing, General Electric and Halliburton for "virtual" border walls, migrant detention centers, drones, ground-based sensors, and other surveillance technology for use in the Arizona desert that were originally designed for war zones like the deserts of Iraq; the de-facto militarization of immigration policy through the deployment of 6,000 additional National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border; hundreds of raids in neighborhoods and workplaces across the country; the passage of hundreds of punitive, anti-migrant state and federal laws like the Military Commissions Act, which denies the habeas corpus rights of even legal residents who are suspected of providing "material support" to terrorist groups.

In the same way that private companies like the Pinkerton Detective Agency provided highly profitable policing, surveillance, and other government services targeting immigrants and citizens in the 20th century, companies like Halliburton, Blackwater, the Corrections Corporation of America, Boeing, and others are reaping profits by helping build the government's immigrant policing bureaucracy today.

Contrary to the electoral logic prevailing in "pro-immigrant" and mainstream media explanations of the current buildup of the (anti)immigrant government bureaucracy, ICE's war on immigrants is not solely, nor even primarily about shoring up support for the Republicans and other prowar political and economic interests as most analysts and activists would have us believe. A look at precedents for this kind of government anti-immigrant action yields the conclusion that using immigrants to build up government policing and military capabilities is, in fact, a standard practice of the art of statecraft. The historical record provides ample evidence of how national security experts, politicians, elected officials, bureaucrats and other managers of the state have used immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies as a way of normalizing and advancing militarization within the borders of the United States (the "homeland").

At a time when the mortgage and banking crises make obvious that the American Dream is dying for most, a time in which even its illusion is hardly tenable as revealed in polls that found that less than 18 percent of the U.S. population believes it is living the "American Dream," the state needs many reasons to reassert control over an increasingly unruly populace by putting more ICE agents and other gun-wielding government agents among the citizenry.

Focusing on non-citizens makes it easier for citizens to swallow the increased domestic militarism inherent in increasing numbers of uniformed men and women with guns in their midst. Constant reports of raids on the homes of the undocumented immigrants normalize the idea of government intrusion into the homes of legal residents. Political scientists, investigative journalists, and activists have long reminded us of how elites are constantly concerned with creating the structures that may be needed to control a potentially unruly population, especially one protesting for its rights like the millions of immigrants who marched in 2006.

History and present experience remind us that, in times of heightened (and often exaggerated) fears about national security, immigration and immigrants are no longer just wedge issues in electoral politics; they magically morph into "dangerous" others who fill the need for new, domestic enemies required by an economy, a political system, a citizenry, a country created, nurtured and dependent on civilizational warfare and expansionism. Historians write about the geopolitical contours of the U.S. empire that began with the stealing of Mexican land. But little to no attention is paid to how, today, the domestic contours of empire -- and the infrastructure that supports it -- are also being reinforced by targeting Mexicans and other immigrants actually living inside this now very troubled land.

The ICE's media and policy framing of the issue of immigration as a kind of "war" complete with "most wanted" lists of terrorists, drug traffickers, and immigrants like Elvira Arellano, the undocumented immigrant leader deported after seeking and gaining sanctuary in a Chicago church, follows clearly the directives outlined in a couple of critical documents developed just after 9/11.

A Key Moment After 9/11

In order to understand how and why ICE now constitutes an important part of the ascendant national security bureaucracy, we must first look at the intimate relationship between National Security policy and "Homeland Security" policy. One of the defining aspects of immigration policy and the current attacks on immigrants is the fact that they are being shaped by elite priorities of the post-9/11 climate.

Shortly after 9/11, the Bush Administration had, in July 2002, introduced its "National Strategy for Homeland Security," a document that outlines how to "mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks." Two months later, the Bush Administration released the more geopolitically focused "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," whose purpose is to "help make the world not just safer but better." 9/11 provided the impetus to create a bureaucratic and policy environment dominated by security imperatives laid out in two of the most definitive documents of our time, documents which outline strategies that, we are told, "together take precedence over all other national strategies, programs, and plans," including immigration policy. Immigration policy nonetheless receives considerable attention, especially in the Homeland Security Strategy. The role of the private sector is also made explicit on the DHS website, which says, "The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for assessing the nation's vulnerabilities" and that "the private sector is central to this task."

By placing other government functions under the purview of the national security imperatives laid out in the two documents, the Bush Administration enabled and deepened the militarization of government bureaucracies like the ICE. At the same time, immigrants provided the Bush Administration a way to facilitate the transference of public wealth to military industrial interests like those of Halliburton, Boeing and others through government contracts in a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism.

For example the two documents called for DHS to "Establish a national laboratory for homeland security" that solicits "independent and private analysis for science." This materialized through the budget of ICE, which has resources for research and development of technologies for surveilling, capturing, detaining, and generally combating what politicos and Minutemen alike paint as the Malthusian monster of immigration. Again, immigrants help the state justify massive expenditures like those for the creation and maintenance of ICE, which, in turn, have led to a major reconfiguration and expansion of the state itself.

Perennial complaints of the former INS's infamous inefficiency in both its border enforcement and citizenship processing functions, and the 9/11 catastrophe, combined to create the perfect political storm that swept in another historic bureaucratic shift. Hidden behind what some call the "anti-immigrant hysteria" characterizing periods like ours are the political crises, economic earthquakes and geopolitical crises that drive history.

The Lessons of History

History provides several precedents that illustrate how immigrants have consistently provided elite political and corporate interests the rationale for major government restructuring that often has little to do with migration and much to do with other things, like: bureaucratic patronage (think big government contracts for military industrial firms); deploying and displaying power; controlling the populace and rallying different sectors of society round the idea of the nation (nationalism).

Long before the Patriot Act, DHS and ICE, policies linking immigrants to the security of the country have formed an important part of U.S. statecraft. The period before and after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which gave then-president John Adams the authority to remove any immigrant he deemed a threat to national security, is one example. During this time, the Bush-like enumeration of "Seditious Acts" was linked to the elite need to control the populace, and militarize the society in times of profound instability. Another example is the period of the Red Scare of 1919, when millions of mostly-immigrant-led strikers provided the political impetus leading to the creation of the domestic policing bureaucracy known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). History has shown that, in times of extraordinary instability, governments go to extraordinary lengths and spend extraordinary amounts of money to create and reinforce the ramparts of their policing apparatus and of nationhood itself. Current efforts by the U.S. government to instrumentalize immigrants as a means of buttressing itself in times of domestic and geopolitical crisis follows a logic tried and true since the establishment of the country amidst the global and internal turbulence around the turn of the 18th century.

Immigrants and the Establishment of the National Security State

Like many of the newly established countries suffering some of the political and economic shocks of economic and political modernization in the late eighteenth century, the fledgling United States and its leaders needed to simultaneously consolidate the nation state established constitutionally in 1787 while also maneuvering for a position on a global map dominated by the warring powers of France and England. Central to accomplishing this were immigrants who provided both a means of rallying and aligning segments of the populace while also legitimating massive expenditures towards the construction of the militarized bureaucracies meant to defend against domestic threats to "national" security which linked external enemies real and perceived.

At the turn of the 18th century, the United States was much weaker than and still very vulnerable to the power of Britain and France, which were engaged in a war that defined political positions inside and outside the new country. Like many of their elite and more imperially inclined Federalist peers, Alexander Hamilton and President John Adams were fearful of the French revolution. Developments in the revolutionary republic pushed people and states around the Atlantic world to take positions for and against the revolution at that time. In addition, some Federalists like Hamilton also wanted to push out the French and conquer Florida, Louisiana, and South America.

Immigrants and immigration policy of the post-revolutionary period became ensnared in the battle for power between Federalists, who advocated a more urban and mercantile route to nationhood, and the anti-Federalist Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson, whose romantic proto-capitalist path to consolidation of the nation was paved by agrarian expansion. The battles between the Federalists and anti-Federalists played themselves out in relation to France and the ideals of the French revolution, as elites tried to cope with the instability wrought by capitalist expansion on the rural majority.

The political, economic and geopolitical crises inherent in the modernization process had a profound impact on how elites and the state viewed the large immigrant population in the United States. In response to the devastating effects of economic transformation, thousands of French, German, Irish and other immigrants led uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay's Rebellion, which were viewed as threats by elites, especially the Federalists.

In the face of both popular unrest and Republican competition for political power, and in their efforts to consolidate the state and the globally oriented mercantile and pre-industrial capitalist economy, Hamilton and then-President Adams did what has, since their time, become a standard operating procedure in the art of U.S. statecraft: build the state and insert its control apparatus in the larger populace by scapegoating immigrants as threats to national security.

In the words of historian John Morton Smith, "The internal security program adopted by the Federalists during the Administration of John Adams was designed not only to deal with potential dangers from foreign invasion growing out of the "Half War" with France, but also to repress domestic political opposition." In this context, immigrants became the domestic expression of the threat represented by the French Jacobins, the proto-communist and al Qaeda-like subversive threat of the early nineteenth century. Commenting on this threat, Samuel Sitgreaves, a Federalist Congressman from Pennsylvania, made the connection between internal immigrant threats and external big power threats when he said in May 1798 " ... the business of defence would be very imperfectly done, if Congress confined their operations of defence to land and naval forces, and neglected to destroy the cankerworm which is corroding the heart of the country ... there are a great number of aliens in this country from that nation [France] with whom we have at present alarming differences ... there are emissaries amongst us, who have not only fomented our differences with that country, but who have also endeavored to create divisions amongst our own citizens."

Also considered a threat were the free and unfree blacks who elites feared might form a "domestic army of ten thousand blacks." Other fears of subversion by domestic interests linked to external enemies were stoked by rampant rumors of a French-influenced "Illuminati" conspiracy, an "internal invasion" to create a godless, global "new world order" allegedly led by emigrants from France and St. Domingue. The modern use of the word "terror" first enters the language when Sir Edmund Burke gazed across the English Channel and applied it to the actions of the Jacobin state in France.

Burke's conservative American cousins then adopted the term and applied it to French-influenced immigrants and others considered subversive. Such a climate aided Federalists in their efforts to centralize and consolidate both power and nationhood. Hamilton and then-President John Adams undertook several legal and other institutional initiatives designed to enhance their and the state's power while also putting their Republican critics and other opposition in check. Laws facilitating press censorship were coupled with calls to unify the nation in preparation for war with France. After Hamilton and the Federalists raised taxes to pay for their expansionist expenditures to consolidate their version of the new country, a group of people who refused to pay taxes unleashed Fries' Rebellion. In response, Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists seized on the unrest to unleash heretofore unrealized state powers and nation-reinforcing state bureaucracy.

At the core of the moves was the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts proposed by Adams and passed in 1798. The law targeted the immigrant threat by making it easier to put them in jail for subverting the government.

At the same time that they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists also implemented the first major reorganization of government bureaucracy. Central to this reorganization was the establishment of the Department of the Navy, a revived U.S. Marine Corps and a "New Army" in the 1798. In the same session in which it passed the Alien and Sedition acts, the Federalist-dominated fifth congress passed in its first session a bill authorizing $454,000 on defense, which, at that time represented a large expenditure. During its second session it authorized $3,887,971.81, an amount equal to "more than the entire 1st congress had appropriated for all government expenditures". During its third session it authorized $6 million for a total of over $10 million. The end result of the anti-immigrant expenditures Federalists created what some call the first national security state.

Immigrants, the Red Scare, and the Birth of the FBI Bureaucracy

A similar situation in which a crisis sparking immigrant activism led to a major build-up of the government policing apparatus took place during the Red Scare of 1919. The U.S. government faced several economic and political pressures including the end of World War I, the demobilization of the Army, returning troops, joblessness, depression, unemployment and growing inflation.

The precarious situation gave rise to increased elite fear of Jewish, Italian and other immigrant workers in the era of the Bolshevik revolution and an increasingly powerful -- and militant -- labor movement. Socialists, Wobblies, and other activists like Emma Goldman, who were against the war and demonstrated high levels of labor militancy, staged historic labor actions in 1919. That year saw 3,600 labor strikes involving four million workers, many of whom were led by and were immigrants. Government and big business had to watch as a full one-fifth of the manufacturing workforce staged actions. Massive organizing by Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association and race riots in northern cities further stoked elite fears and gave birth to the institutional response to what became known as the Red Scare.

Like other national governments of the period, the United States had begun intensifying the centralization of functions formerly carried out by the private sector, including keeping labor and other dissidents in check. In the words of Regin Schmidt, author of The FBI and the Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States, "In response to social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration and the potential political threats to the existing order posed by the Socialist Party, the IWW and, in 1919, the Communist parties, industrial and political leaders began to look to the federal government, with its growing and powerful bureaucratic organizations to monitor and control political opposition." Major expansion of the state via the building of new bureaucracies (Bureau of Corporations, Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission, etc.) and bureaucratic infighting for government resources and legal jurisdiction between the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor of the FBI, the Department of Labor and other agencies turned the largely immigrant-led unrest into an unprecedented opportunity for A. Mitchell Palmer and his lieutenant, J. Edgar Hoover. Both men saw in the domestic crisis an opportunity to build and expand personal fortunes and what would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI historian John A. Noakes concluded that "The domestic unrest during this period presented the Bureau of Investigation the opportunity to expand its domain and increase its power."

Illustrating the budgetary effects of the Bureau's power grab, he continues, "Following the armistice, but before the Bureau's decision to join the Red Scare hysteria, the Bureau had requested an appropriation of $1,500,000. When the Department of Justice declared the nation in imminent danger of a radical uprising, however, Congress immediately increased the appropriation by $500,000; by the end of the fiscal year the Bureau had a budget of $2,750,000."

Thousands of immigrants were surveilled, rounded up, and deported during the Red Scare. Just five years after the Scare, Hoover went on to found the FBI and became the most powerful non-elected official in U.S. history. In what sounds like a precursor to the current ICE raids, local police and federal agents collaborated around immigration. FBI historian Kenneth D. Ackerman states, "Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons." Close to none of these immigrant prisoners had anything to do with radical violence. And, according to Ackerman, "Palmer's grand crackdown was one big exercise in guilt by association, based primarily on bogus fears of immigrants being connected to vilified radical groups such as the recently formed American Communist Party." Drawing parallels between the Red Scare and the current "War on Terror," Ackerman concludes, "Almost 90 years later, today's war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare."


As shown in the examples from U.S. history, immigrants provide the state with ample excuse to expand, especially in times of geopolitical and domestic crisis. During the post-revolutionary period, the pursuit of alleged immigrant subversives led to the massive funding of the Department of the Navy and to the expansion of state power through laws like the Alien and Seditions Acts. Similarly, the crisis following the end of World War I led to the creation of the FBI and to unprecedented government repression and expansion embodied by the Palmer Raids. "In eliminating the Wobblies, government officials passed legislation, evolved techniques, and learned lessons that shaped later course of conduct." Viewed from a historical perspective, it is no surprise that the government should respond to the geopolitical and domestic crisis in the United States with expanded government power and bureaucracy. Rather than view the placement of ICE under DHS as solely about controlling immigrant labor or about political (and electoral) opportunism disguised as government policy (both are, in fact, part of the equation), it is important to connect the creation of ICE and its placement under DHS to the perpetual drive of government to expand its powers, especially its repressive apparatus and other mechanisms of social control.

From this perspective, the current framing of the issue of immigration as a "national security" concern -- one requiring the bureaucratic shift towards "Homeland Security" -- fits well within historical practices that extend government power to control not just immigrants, but those born here, most of whom don't see immigration policy affecting them.

One of the things that makes the current politico-bureaucratic moment different, however, is the fluidity and increasing precariousness of the state itself. Like other nation states, the United States suffers from strains wrought by the free hand of global corporations that have abandoned large segments of its workforce. Such a situation necessitates the institutionalization of the war on immigrants in order to get as many armed government agents into a society that may be teetering on even more serious collapse as seen in the recession and economic crisis devastating core components of the American Dream such as education, health care and home ownership. Unlike the previous periods, the creation of massive bureaucracies superseded the need to surveil, arrest and deport migrants. Today, there appears to be a move to make permanent the capacity of the state to pursue, jail and deport migrants in order to sustain what some call a kind of migration-military-industrial complex.

Several indicators make clear that we are well on our way to making the war on immigrants a permanent feature of a government in crisis. In addition to being the largest, most-militarized component of DHS, ICE, spends more than one fifth of the multibillion dollar DHS budget and is also its largest investigative arm. As mentioned previously, multibillion dollar contracts for border security from DHS have become an important new market to aerospace companies like General Electric, Lockheed and Boeing, which secured a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Borders Initiative, a DHS program to build surveillance and other technological capabilities. That some saw in 9/11 an opportunity to expand and grow government technological capabilities -- and private sector patronage -- through such contracts, can be seen in the fact that DHS was created with what the national security documents say is a priority to "Establish a national laboratory for homeland security" that would "solicit independent and private analysis for science and technology research."

Like its predecessor, the "military-industrial complex", the migrant-military industrial complex tries to integrate federal and state economic interests through a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism in which increasing numbers of companies are bidding for, and dependent on, big contracts like the Boeing contract or the $385 million DHS contract for the construction of immigrant prisons. Also like its military-industrial cousin, the migrant military industrial complex has its own web of relationships between corporations, government contracts and elected officials. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in the case of James Sensenbrenner, the anti-immigrant godfather who sponsored HR 4437 which criminalized immigrants and those who would help them. According to his 2005 financial disclosure statement, Sensenbrenner held $86,500 in Halliburton stocks, $563,536 in General Electric and Boeing is among the top contributors to the Congressman's PAC (Sensenbrenner also owns stocks in companies like Olive Garden restaurants, which hire undocumented workers.)

In conclusion, the current war on immigrants is grounded in the history of statecraft and big government bureaucracy. While critical, the almost exclusive focus of the immigrant rights movement on the laws and employment of workers fails to take into consideration the need for a war on immigrants to build and maintain massive policing bureaucracies like ICE and DHS. In their search for solutions to the continuing crisis of immigration policy, activists might consider focusing at least some energy on the reasons of the federal state rather than solely on state legislatures, white voters, elections and the immigrants.

Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media.

© 2008 Public Eye All rights reserved.
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Monday, April 14, 2008


APRIL 13, 2008 (Media release upon receipt)


In early December, a Mexican
family is pulled over by a Tucson policeofficer who promptly calls immigration
officers to the scene.In themeantime, a passenger, Miriam Aviles-Reyes, goes
into early labor onthe street. While her husband is deported, she is taken to a
hospital.There, an immigration agent prods her to "push." Outraged, she
demandsthat he leave the hospital room.After he leaves, she gives birth, andis
subsequently ordered to leave the country by the end of the month.Appeals to
allow her and her newborn to keep their doctor appointments are denied.Not
coincidentally, her departure was set to coincide one day before anew draconian
anti-immigrant law (HB 2779) in Arizona went into effect. As abhorrent as this
traumatically induced birth was, she is actually one of the "lucky" ones.

This is a part of the country in which since the mid-1990s, some 5,000 migrants from
Mexico, Central and SouthAmerica have died attempting to cross inhospitable
deserts andmountains for a chance to work in this country.Many others die
in horrific crashes as smugglers increasingly attempt to evade "themigra." Some
are killed by rogue agents, whereas many women are sexually assaulted.

Few perpetrators are ever convicted.

This is alsominutemen vigilante country.It is
where migrants get blamed for the failure of politicians to pass humane
immigration agreements.As aresult, migrants continue to die and millions of
dollars continue to be wasted to erect walls of fear and hate along the southern
border.Similar to the more than 1,000 laws that have recently passednationwide,
the Arizona law panders to those that scapegoat Mexicansfor the nation's
problems.They also conflate immigration enforcementwith the "war on terror" and
the need to "protect the homeland." Thisstate law severely punishes employers
for hiring undocumentedimmigrants.Not unexpectedly, along with hate crimes,
reports ofemployment harassment and discrimination are on the rise.

Down the
highway, under the guise of crime suppression, MaricopaCounty Sheriff Joe
Arpaio has gone wild, initiating massive dragnetraids that target Mexicans,
resembling a modern version of "Indian Removal." Similar raids are taking place
around the country, thoughnot against Canadians or Europeans, etc (nor should
they).Nowadays,there are special holding facilities for immigrant children
andfamilies (T.D. Hutto Res.Ctr, Taylor, TX) ˆ run by the for-profit Correction
Corporation of America (CCA).There are also expeditedimmigration courts on
military bases (Davis Monthan Air Force Base)with the objective of
criminalizing en masse as many migrants aspossible. Also profiting from such
kangaroo courts is CCA.The entire country is going through a convulsion, fueled
by fears overwho belongs and who doesn't.

Mexicans have gone from being "others" to enemies.Extremists want them all deported
—regardless of their legal status. Yet even some "progressives" see them as but part of asubservient
class. Yet, there is hope.At the recent annual banquet in Tucson held by the
Coalicion deDerechos Humanos organization, I approach a woman with a
cane.Sometimes I see her walking with the aid of two canes.I ask RaquelRubio
Goldsmith, an immigration rights veteran and the director of theUniversity of
Arizona's Binational Migration Institute, how she maintains her sanity in this
environment.She says few words. It's her eyes that tell the story.Her eyes do
notwell up nor is there a sign of anger.Instead they reflect exasperation, not
with right-wingers, but with the complacent middle.

Thousands of migrants die
and people just go on with their lives,unmoved to action.At this banquet,
Gerald Lenoir, head of the Black Alliance for JustImmigration, delivers the
keynote address and along with it hope as he links the historic struggle of the
African American community with thestruggle for the dignity of migrants ˆ
peoples who are nowadaysviewed as less than human.By his very presence, both he
and DerechosHumanos show a different way.

After a subsequent conference (No Vale
Nada la Vida? ˆ Is life notworth anything?) in which death on the border is the
focus, I again ask Rubio-Goldsmith how she maintains her sanity amid
the indifference.The exasperation she feels also extends to the media,she
confides: "me dan tanta rabia" (the media infuriate me), she says.What I really
want to ask her is: What indeed is the price of aMexican? A few years back, a
Texas court determined it was $6,000. In today's climate, I think we all know the

Column of the Americas 2008

"Life is not measured by the breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away."

'Our Racist, Sexist Selves'

Again, the category, "women," in this piece is presented as if white women and their experiences were the norm. What then, does this suggest of women of color? Kristof fails to address this. Perhaps the Equal Justice Center does.

Dra. Valenzuela

by Nicholas Kristof

Racial bias. How does it manifest itself in 2008? Five years ago at a conference at Stanford, the brilliant lawyer and professor Michelle Alexander delivered a transformative speech that explained that much bias operates in our unconscious mind. Her analysis led the Equal Justice Society to delve into the subject of unconscious bias.

We have worked on unconscious bias with the California Teachers Association as well as Kaiser Permanente and the Bar Association of San Franciscco. These organizations understand that unconscious bias affects how teachers, doctors, judges and attorneys make decisions. The concept of unconscious bias also informs our work on dismantling the intent doctrine. We are delighted to see that the notion of unconscious bias is gaining currency.

Our Racist, Sexist Selves

By Nicholas D. Kristof
Published April 6, 2008, in The New York Times

To my horror, I turn out to be a racist.

The University of Chicago offers an on-line psychological test in which you encounter a series of 100 black or white men, holding either guns or cellphones. You're supposed to shoot the gunmen and holster your gun for the others.

I shot armed blacks in an average of 0.679 seconds, while I waited slightly longer - .694 seconds - to shoot armed whites. Conversely, I holstered my gun more quickly when encountering unarmed whites than unarmed blacks.

Take the test yourself and you'll probably find that you show bias as well. Most whites and many blacks are more quick to shoot blacks, no matter how egalitarian they profess to be.

Harvard has a similar battery of psychological tests online. These "implicit attitude tests" very cleverly show that a stunningly large proportion of people who honestly believe themselves to be egalitarian unconsciously associate good with white and bad with black.

The unconscious is playing a political role this year, for the evidence is overwhelming that most Americans have unconscious biases both against blacks and against women in executive roles.

At first glance, it may seem that Barack Obama would face a stronger impediment than Hillary Clinton. Experiments have shown that the brain categorizes people by race in less than 100 milliseconds (one-tenth of a second), about 50 milliseconds before determining sex. And evolutionary psychologists believe we're hard-wired to be suspicious of people outside our own group, to save our ancestors from blithely greeting enemy tribes of cave men. In contrast, there's no hard-wired hostility toward women, though men may have a hard-wired desire to control and impregnate them.

Yet racism may also be easier to override than sexism. For example, one experiment found it easy for whites to admire African-American doctors; they just mentally categorized them as "doctors" rather than as "blacks." Meanwhile, whites categorize black doctors whom they dislike as "blacks."

In another experiment, researchers put blacks and whites in sports jerseys as if they belonged to two basketball teams. People looking at the photos logged the players in their memories more by team than by race, recalling a player's jersey color but not necessarily his or her race. But only very rarely did people forget whether a player was male or female.

"We can make categorization by race go away, but we could never make gender categorization go away," said John Tooby, a scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who ran the experiment. Looking at the challenges that black and female candidates face in overcoming unconscious bias, he added, "Based on the underlying psychology and anthropology, I think it's more difficult for a woman, though not impossible."

Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, agrees: "In general, gender trumps race. ... Race may be easier to overcome."

The challenge for women competing in politics or business is less misogyny than unconscious sexism: Americans don't hate women, but they do frequently stereotype them as warm and friendly, creating a mismatch with the stereotype we hold of leaders as tough and strong. So voters (women as well as men, though a bit less so) may feel that a female candidate is not the right person for the job because of biases they're not even aware of.

"I don't have to be conscious of this," said Nilanjana Dasgupta, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "All I think is that this person isn't a good fit for a tough leadership job."

Women now hold 55 percent of top jobs at American foundations but are still vastly underrepresented among political and corporate leaders - and one factor may be that those are seen as jobs requiring particular toughness. Our unconscious may feel more of a mismatch when a woman competes to be president or a C.E.O. than when she aims to lead a foundation or a university.

Women face a related challenge: Those viewed as tough and strong are also typically perceived as cold and unfeminine. Many experiments have found that women have trouble being perceived as both nice and competent.

"Clinton runs the risk of being seen as particularly cold, particularly uncaring, because she doesn't fit the mold," said Joshua Correll, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. "It probably is something a man doesn't deal with."

But biases are not immutable. Research subjects who were asked to think of a strong woman then showed less implicit bias about men and women. And students exposed to a large number of female professors also experienced a reduction in gender stereotypes.

So maybe the impact of this presidential contest won't be measured just in national policies, but also in progress in the deepest recesses of our own minds.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog,, and join me on Facebook at Also, on my blog, you can read posts from guest bloggers, including a first dispatch about a life-threatening childbirth from a British midwife working in Ethiopia.


The Equal Justice Society is a national advocacy organization that promotes social justice and racial equality through the strategic use of law and public policy, communication and the arts, and alliance building.

Equal Justice Society, 220 Sansome St, 14th Flr, San Francisco, CA 94104, Ph (415) 288-8700


No to sex harassment

No to sex harassment
By SUNITA VIJAYAN, The Salinas Californian
April 8, 2008

Their voices are not often heard.

But for some Monterey County farm-worker women, the silence about ongoing sexual assaults in their workplace stops now.

On Monday afternoon, two farm-worker advocacy groups - California Rural Legal Assistance and Lideres Campesinas - kicked off 'The Bandana Project: 'No' to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in the Fields' with a display of decorated bandanas at La Plaza Bakery, 20 N. Sanborn Road, Salinas. The project is being coordinated by The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit legal organization that promotes civil rights.

The display of bandanas decorated by women who say they've experience sexual assault will rotate through four other locations, including Soledad and Greenfield, through May 7.

The month-long project is focused on raising awareness of sexual violence and harassment against women farm workers and bringing it to an end.

Many of the women use clothing, including bandanas, to hide their faces and bodies at the fields in hopes of staving off sexual harassment. In tribute, about 30 women in the project have decorated white bandanas with messages signifying their opposition.

The bandanas, with simple, empowering messages and images standing starkly against the white-colored cloth, covered one wall inside the bakery.

In one of the displays, green-colored eyes were drawn peeking out from a blue bandana. Underneath the drawing were words in Spanish that read: 'I don't need to hide my face to get respect.'

'(Sexual harassment and assault) happens a lot,' said Marcela Zamora, an administrative and legal assistant with CRLA, 'but unfortunately for the women, it takes a lot for them to come out.'

According to CRLA, 90 percent of farm-worker women surveyed throughout the state noted sexual harassment as a significant issue.

Michael Marsh, a Salinas-based attorney with CRLA and director of the Agriculture Workers Health Program, said a third of the cases he handles involve sexual harassment of farm-worker women. Assaults usually occur in the fields, Marsh said, and can come from coworkers, supervisors and even company owners.

'A lot of the women don't know their rights, or are afraid to come forward and lose their jobs,' he said. 'I think in some ways, the feminist movement occurred in the cities, but passed the fields.'

Displays for 'The Bandana Project: 'No' to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in the Fields,' a project denouncing sexual assault on farm-worker women in Monterey County, will be shown at the following locations:
LA PLAZA BAKERY: Today through Friday, 20 N. Sanborn Road, Salinas.

VALLE VERDE MIGRANT HEAD START: April 14 through 18, 490 El Camino Real, Greenfield.
CLINICA DE SALUD DEL VALLE DE SALINAS: April 21 through 25, 219 N. Sanborn Road, Salinas.
CLINICA DE SALUD DEL VALLE DE SALINAS: April 28 through May 2, 799 Front St., Soledad.
CALIFORNIA RURAL LEGAL ASSISTANCE: May 5 through 9, 3 Williams Road, Salinas.

Common Bond for Uncommon Men: Roberto Clemente and Martin Luther King

Common Bond for Uncommon Men: Roberto Clemente and Martin Luther King

By Dave Zirin

As we remember the 40th anniversary of that dark day of April 4th 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, it's worth recalling the reaction by Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Roberto Clemente.

Clemente was devastated by the news of King's assassination but didn't suffer in silence. Instead, he led a charge to prevent the Pirates and Astros from opening their season on April 8th, the day before King's burial. He convinced his teammates on the Pirates, which included 11 African Americans, to stand with him. Opening Day was moved to April 10th, and Roberto Clemente had put sports in its proper perspective.

It might seem odd that Clemente, a proud Puerto Rican national, would have led such an extraordinary action. But Clemente, who had a passionate belief in social and economic justice, considered King a personal hero. He had even met face to face with Dr. King, spending a day together on Clemente's farm in Puerto Rico.

David Maraniss quotes Clemente's feelings about King in his 2005 biography of the Hall of Fame outfielder:

"When Martin Luther King started doing what he did, he changed the whole system of the American style. He put the people, the ghetto people, the people who didn't have nothing to say in those days, they started saying what they would have liked to say for many years that nobody listened to. Now with this man, these people come down to the place where they were supposed to be but people didn't want them, and sit down there as if they were white and call attention to the whole world. Now that wasn't only the black people but the minority people. The people who didn't have anything, and they had nothing to say in those days because they didn't have any power, they started saying things and they started picketing, and that's the reason I say he changed the whole world..."

Clemente's affinity for King and the civil rights movement was rooted in his own experience with racism in the United States. Clemente played from 1954 to 1972, years that saw profound change in both Major League Baseball and U.S. society. His career spanned the entirety of the black freedom struggle from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts to the urban ghetto rebellions; from Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers. Being raised in a proud Puerto Rican household did not prepare Clemente for the racism he encountered in the U.S. Even as a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, Clemente never knew of the existence of racism before coming to the U.S. mainland. He would tell reporters that he learned that dark skin "was bad over here."

The first half of his career, the Pirates held their spring training in the still-segregated south. The Pirates' spring games were in Ft. Myers, Florida, which even by the standards of 1950s Florida was deeply segregated. Years later, Clemente's only memories of his first spring training consisted of eating on the bus with other players of color while his white teammates dined inside at both fancy restaurants and greasy spoons.

For someone who had never heard of Jim Crow, these were painful times. Clemente's friend Vic Power, a highly skilled Puerto Rican player for the Kansas City Athletics, was dragged off his team's bus one spring by the local authorities for buying a Coke from a whites-only gas station. Speaking together later, Clemente seethed at the humiliation, feeling it as if it were his own. Power tried to calm Clemente down. His approach was humor. Power liked to tell the story of a waitress telling him, "We don't serve Negroes," and responding, "That's OK. I don't eat Negroes."

But Clemente just couldn't handle it that way. In Maraniss' biography, Clemente was quoted thusly: "They say, 'Roberto, you better keep your mouth shut because they will ship you back.' [But] this is something from the first day I said to myself: I am in the minority group. I am from the poor people. I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America. So I am going to be treated like a human being. I don't want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person."

Clemente had a profound social conscience and drive for justice, colored by a belief that he would die before his time. This came to pass when he died on December 31, 1972 after he boarded a ramshackle plane, attempting to fly to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua with 4,000 extra pounds of relief materials. His wife Vera remembered, "He always said he would die youngµ that this was his fate."

Dr. King shared this personal fatalism. On April 3, 1968 King gave a speech saying, "I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land."

We aren't yet at any kind of promised land, but Clemente and King both helped chart a path in the right direction. It's critical to remember them not as superhuman icons, but as ordinary people who sacrificed to do extraordinary things. As the Black Panther Party newspaper Panther Speaks wrote in their obituary of Clemente, "It is ironic that the profession in which he achieved 'legendry' [status] knew him the least. Roberto Clemente did not, as the Commissioner of Baseball maintained, 'Have about him a touch of royalty.' Roberto Clemente was simply a man, a man who strove to achieve his dream of peace and justice for oppressed people throughout the world."

[Dave Zirin is the author of "Welcome to the Terrordome:" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by emailing Contact him at Comment on this article at]

10 Reasons to Look Critically at Dissolving Mexico-U.S.-Canada Borders

10 Reasons to Look Critically at Dissolving Mexico-U.S.-Canada Borders
By Manuel Pérez Rocha and Sarah Anderson, AlterNet
Posted on April 9, 2008, Printed on April 9, 2008
This month, President Bush will host the leaders of Canada and Mexico to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a project Lou Dobbs has predicted will "end the United States as we know it."
Lou sounds downright blasé, though, compared to all the online ranting and raving on this subject. And while there are plenty of reasons for progressives to be up in arms over this effort to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement, the xenophobes have clearly cornered the market.
In their paranoid fantasies, the three North American executive powers are secretly plotting to surrender everything they hold dear about the good ol' USA. The U.S. borders, the flag, and even the almighty American dollar would disappear as the country is submerged into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada.
Check out , whose creators are convinced that while the SPP hasn't replaced the dollar with a North American currency just yet, the switch is right around the corner. To raise alarm bells, these folks have gone ahead and designed our future money themselves. The cost of purchasing uno "amero": $10.
From the always imaginative John Birch Society , you can order a poster featuring our future North American Union flag, a collage of the three countries' current emblems with -- gasp! -- the socialist maple leaf dead center.
After an intro image of North America bursting into flames, offers screeds by anti-immigrant Minutemen about how the SPP will fling open U.S. borders to terrorists, drunken Mexican truck drivers and tens of millions more illegal immigrants who will infect us all with tuberculosis.
The video "North American Union and Vchip Truth " cranks things up another notch. Viewed more than 4.8 million times, it presents the SPP as a big step towards a single world government, with David Rockefeller preventing any resistance by implanting us all with Vchips. We can only hope this is satire, but the 10,000 comments by Youtubers suggest that many viewers aren't getting the joke.
All this would be simply entertaining if it weren't for the fact that the SPP truly is a dangerous initiative -- but not for the reasons cited by the xenophobes.
Launched in 2005, the SPP is an ongoing process of negotiation between the three countries' executive powers to change regulations and other policies to boost business and support the U.S. War on Terror. Twenty SPP working groups on everything from financial services to intelligence cooperation hammer out details in between the annual presidential summits.
In Mexico and Canada, progressive activists are already highly mobilized on the SPP. And while the far right has dominated the U.S. discourse, this is beginning to change. A half dozen U.S. progressive groups organized a strategy meeting in Washington, D.C., in March with activists and legislators from all three countries. Together with local activists in New Orleans, the site of the fourth SPP Presidential Summit on April 21-22, they are planning a Peoples Summit and a trinational meeting of energy sector workers.
Here are 10 reasons why progressives are paying attention to the SPP:
1. No democratic oversight. Although elected officials in all three countries have demanded transparency, they continue to be excluded from the SPP Presidential summits, ministerial meetings and working groups. Legislators have formed a trinational task force to stop the SPP.

2. Secrecy. The SPP excludes civil society organizations and the media from all meetings. During a peaceful demonstration outside the last summit in Canada, the government sent in undercover agents posing as rock-wielding protestors. After being confronted with video footage , authorities fessed up to the scheme.
3. Only big business has a voice. Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, and 28 other corporations and business associations are part of an official SPP advisory body called the North American Competitive Council . The council made 51 proposals to SPP negotiators in February 2007 on issues as varied as taxation and patent rights. Six months later, they boasted that "all three of our governments have committed themselves to taking action on many of our recommendations."
4. Expansion of failed NAFTA policies. Even though the lifting of trade and investment barriers under the trade pact has failed to create good jobs, the SPP is further chipping away at remaining economic regulations. For example, at the last SPP summit, the three leaders announced (PDF ) a weakening of NAFTA's "rules of origin" to allow products with a lower level of national content to receive preferential tariff treatment. This will undermine domestic industries by making trade in products from third countries like China even more profitable.
5. Privatization. SPP agreements announced thus far show a clear bias in favor of an expanded role for corporations. Two examples: 1) a North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza intended as a model for private sector and military involvement in emergency management and preparedness and 2) a Trilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Energy, Science and Technology that reflects the NACC's recommendations (PDF ) to promote energy privatization in Mexico, where there has been strong resistance to opening up to U.S. oil companies.
6. Energy grab. Progressive activists in Canada and Mexico are particularly concerned about the likelihood that the U.S. government will use the SPP negotiations to push for greater control over its neighbors' resources, under the guise of a "North American integrated energy market." Common Frontiers, the Council of Canadians, and other groups point to an SPP workshop that envisioned a fivefold increase in environmentally destructive oil production from tar sands, with most of the increase to be exported to the United States.
7. Pipeline proliferation. The Sierra Club and others have raised alarm bells about the SPP's Transportation Working Group, whose mandate includes facilitating "multimodal corridors" that could include massive water and oil pipelines, with serious costs to the environment and communities. The Alliance for Democracy is calling for public hearings on the issue.

8. More border baloney. The SPP is focusing on facilitating transit of "legitimate people" and expanding border surveillance infrastructure, rather than addressing the root causes of migration or the rights of undocumented workers. There are also worrisome implications for civil liberties, as Mexico and Canada have agreed to share vast amounts of information with the U.S. government, including the fingerprints of refugees and asylum seekers.
9. Militarization. Mexico and Canada are enlisting in the U.S. War on Terror by creating a North American security perimeter and joining forces against not only external but also "internal threats." Some fear a U.S. multibillion-dollar military aid package for Mexico, supposedly to combat drug cartels, may also end up being used to suppress political dissidence and immigration flows.

10. Polarization. The zany anti-SPP xenophobes may be amusing at times, but their hysteria shows how government secrecy and exclusion can fan the flames of a racist movement and push us further away from any rational response to migration.
Having the leaders of our three deeply interconnected nations getting together to talk is a positive thing. The problem is with what's on the agenda -- and what's not. Rather than a misguided NAFTA expansion, they should be addressing people's real needs and planning a sustainable future.
Manuel Pérez Rocha is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, where he is leading an initiative on the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Sarah Anderson directs IPS's Global Economy Project.
© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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