The Battle for Immigrant Rights
or the past two years, the
United States has been quietly pursuing its largest anti-immigrant
campaign in 50 years. President Bush, right-wing Republicans, and
many Democrats are once again using immigrants as scapegoats in
order to secure conservative votes in the November 2006 elections.
Attacking recent immigrants is nothing new. Since the Chinese Exclusion
Act of the 1890s, Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Japanese, and
Filipinos have all been the target of attacks at various points
in U.S. history.
Not surprisingly, right-wing anti-immigrant forces have been using
the Minutemen campaign to exaggerate the so-called “crisis”
of undocumented immigrants after 9/11. From the first appearance
of the Minutemen in the beginning of 2005 to the passing of the
Sensen- brenner-King Bill before the year’s end, this was a
well coordinated plan serving racist anti-immigrant forces that
caught most social justice activists off guard.
When Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the anti-immigrant vigilante group,
the Minutemen, announced plans to go to the U.S.-Mexico border in
Arizona to stop Mexican migrants from entering the U.S., it sparked
a national movement against the racist group.
For the next few months, several dozen Minutemen-sponsored actions
across the country were met with counter-protesters, sometimes 30
times larger than the Minutemen’s numbers. While most cities
didn’t welcome the Minutemen, some gave them a green light
and even a police escort to support their racist activities. The
Southern California cities of Garden Grove and Baldwin Park were
two of the cities where Minutemen actions drew national attention
during the summer of 2005. The media took great pains to avoid mentioning
that their police department was on the side of the Minutemen, attacking
and arresting the counter-protesters.
On May 25, during a counter-protest against the Minutemen meeting
in Garden Grove, community activist Theresa Dang was hit by a van
driven by Minutemen supporter Hal Netkin. He was detained by police,
but released and never charged. Instead the police arrested several
After the car incident, Dang went to the Orange County District
Attorney’s office to complain about the incident. On June 16,
the Garden Grove PD raided Dang’s house and charged her with
two counts of felony charges, falsely accusing Dang of stealing
a police flashlight during the counter-protest. The case went to
a jury trial in late November and Dang was found not guilty. Nonetheless,
the Garden Grove police department never apologized for their abuse
of power, and the corporate media has been almost completely silent
about the case.
Many feel that the Minutemen’s attempt to use anti-immigrant
xenophobia to build their national movement has been a complete
failure. However, this view underestimates the political forces
behind the Minutemen. Since the beginning, Gil- christ has been
praised by some right-wing Republicans as a political celebrity.
With this newfound fame, Gilchrist and his associates have been
invited to speak in cities across the country.
Gilchrist ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in the November
2005 elections for Orange County’s 48th Congressional District
(a Republican stronghold) as the candidate of the American Independent
Party (AIP), a racist party founded in 1968 by then presidential
candidate and former Alabama governor, George Wallace. Gilchrist
lost the election, but received almost 25 percent of the vote and
declared he would run again in 2006.
According to news reports, Gilchrist’s campaign had been supported
by right-wing Republican Colorado Congressperson Tom Tancredo. Tancredo
has been a well-known anti-immigrant advocate and works closely
with anti- immigrant advocacy groups such as the Federation of Americans
for Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies
(CIS), and NumbersUSA. Tan- credo is also a strong political ally
of House Judiciary Committee chair F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI)
who promoted the odious anti-immigrant House bill HR 4437, the so-called
Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control
Act of 2005.
espite strong protest from immigrant, human
rights, labor, and civil liberty groups, the U.S. House passed HR
4437—in less than 10 days without meaningful debate—on
December 16, along with a $453 billion defense spending bill—that
would funnel $50 billion more to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and
a 5 week extension of the PATRIOT Act. The Senate is scheduled to
debate the bill in early 2006.
The Sensenbrenner-King Bill would automatically make 11 million
or more mainly Mexican undocumented immigrants “felons,”
would fine or jail hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who employ
undocumented workers, and would put millions of other Americans
who help undocumented workers behind bars as “alien smugglers.”
Meanwhile, on December 7, 2005, the City Council of Santa Ana, California
passed a law to become the first U.S. city to deputize their police
to enforce immigration duties. When members of the community (which
has a large Latino/a population) showed up at the Santa Ana City
Council meeting on January 3, 2006 to express their anger, Tezcalipoca,
a Latina activist from Santa Ana, was put in a chokehold and arrested.
She faces criminal charges by several police officers for allegedly
“disrupting” the meeting.
What Next for Activists?
he struggle may be long and hard, but that
doesn’t mean we should give up hope. So far right-wing anti-immigrant
forces have successfully created a “common sense” message
of links: 9/ 11=counterterrorism=anti-immigrants=invade/occupy Iraq/Afghanistan.
They are also calculating that the left will not be able to build
a broad-based coalition to support each other’s struggles.
We should prove them wrong. We should build multi-ethnic community
actions against the final passage of the Senate bill early this
year. Immigrant groups around the country are beginning to build
local coalitions to organize campaigns. In addition, we should not
underestimate the powerful forces behind the current anti-immigrant
movement and the “divide and conquer” tactics they are
using. Minutemen understand they cannot build their movement in
the major U.S. cities, so they have chosen several suburban/rural,
conservative anti-immigrant communities in which to build their
base. It is in places like these that the Minutemen enter candidates
in elections hoping to win seats in local governments.
Activists have a responsibility to point out the links between immigrant
rights, civil liberties, labor rights, the U.S. war in Iraq, sweatshops,
international arms sales, and the WTO, FTAA, NAFTA, and CAFTA; along
with links between multinational corporations and economic exploitation
to racism, homophobia, and poverty at home. If we can do this, then
we can win the struggle.
Siu Hin is a community organizer with the National Immigrant Solidarity
Network (www.ImmigrantSolidarity.org) and ActionLA Coalition (www.Action