The Racist War on Immigrants

Emma Lazarus’ memorable words on Lady Liberty’s pedestal once had meaning as a new nation grew.  No longer in a country hostile to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the homeless and many others not making the grade in a white supremacist Judeo-Christian state worshiping wealth and privilege.  No welcome sign is out for the unwanted poor and desperate.  At best, they’re ignored to subsist on their own.  At worst, they’re scorned and abused, exploited and discarded like trash or labeled “terrorists” in a post-9/11 world of mass witch-hunt roundups aimed at Muslims because of their faith or country of origin and Latinos coming north to survive the fallout from NAFTA’s destructive effects on their lives.


Immigrants of color, the wrong faith or from the wrong parts of the world are never greeted warmly in “America the Beautiful” that’s only for the privileged and no one else.  They’re not wanted except to harvest our crops or do the hard, low-pay, no-benefit labor few others will do.  The ground rules to come were set straight away in our original Nationalization Act of 1790 establishing the first path to citizenship.  It wasn’t friendly to the wrong types as permanent status was limited to foreign-born “free white persons” of “good moral character,” meaning people like most of us – our culture, countries of origin, religion and skin color. 


Left out were indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, native Americans being exterminated, and later Asians and Latinos whose “appearance” wasn’t as acceptable as the whiteness of English-speaking European Christian settlers and the mix of others from Western European countries like Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.  The law scarcely changed for 162 years until the 1870 15th amendment loosened it enough to include blacks by 1875, no longer slaves but hardly free and in 1940 gave Latin Americans the same right.  After the war in 1945 it extended it further to Filipinos and Asian Indians.  Original native Americans, whose land this was for thousands of years, only were enfranchised and given the right of citizenship in their own land when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 after most of them were exterminated in a genocidal process still ongoing, never mentioned in the mainstream, and for which no redress was ever made or likely will be.


The 1952 Immigration and Nationality (McCarran-Walter) Act (INA) only grudgingly did what no law before it allowed.  For the first time it made individuals of all races eligible for citizenship but imposed strict quotas for those from the Eastern Hemisphere with different standards for caucasians from the West.  But nothing is ever simple and straightforward in “America the Beautiful.” In the early Cold War atmosphere of Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts, anyone accused of leftist sympathies could be targeted, and any alien so-tagged could be deported, and like today no evidence was needed. 


From the INA to the present, immigration laws kept changing for better or worse, but one thing was constant.  White Christian Western Europeans are welcomed.  Others, especially people of color or the wrong religion, get in grudgingly in lesser numbers and receive unequal or harsh treatment when they arrive.  The 1996 Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)proved it showing Democrat presidents can be as mean and nasty as Republicans, especially with help from a Republican-controlled Congress.


The 1996 acts were ugly and repressive ignoring the rights of due process and judicial fairness.  They allowed Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents to detain legal immigrants without bond, deport them without discretionary relief, restrict their access to counsel, bar them from appealing to the courts, and can be applied for even minor offenses little more than youthful indiscretions.  These laws under a Democrat president “feel(ing) our pain” showed no more compassion or equity than later ones under George Bush in force today.  They allow no second chances and deny targeted legal immigrants their day in court.  Their harshness tears apart families unjustly made to suffer by a nation hardening its stance to the wrong kinds of immigrants.  They’re sent an unwelcome message now much worse in the age of George Bush with his permanent wars on the world and homeland “terrorists” meaning anyone called that on his say alone.


It started post-9/11 with the 2001 USA Patriot Act even harsher in its updated Patriot Act II version.  Enacted to combat “terrorism,” it’s done on the border with more guards to spot, detain, arrest and incarcerate Latinos entering the country for a way to survive.  For being undocumented and on the pretext of being suspected “terrorists,” they may be indefinitely detained or deported the way it works under any despotic national security police state.  It’s even worse for Muslims, 5000 of whom were rounded up and held early on with only three of them ever being charged with an offense.  And it got far worse for them after that still ongoing.


Today, federal immigration courts can hold secret hearings for anyone here illegally or charged with a law violation, no matter how minor.  Those convicted can then be incarcerated or deported to their country of origin often to face arrest and torture.  It’s now open season on anyone targeted with legal protection no longer shielding innocent victims Justice Department (DOJ) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) go after. They includes poor and desperate mostly undocumented Latinos from Mexico and Central America coming el norte because NAFTA, CAFTA and other neoliberal unfair trade agreements called “free” destroyed their ability to earn a living at home leaving them no other choice but come north or perish.


It shouldn’t be that way, and promises were made early on that “free trade” lifted all boats with higher wages and more jobs.  Instead millions of jobs were lost while real wages fell under the effects of a globalized market system crafted for investor elites to profit at the expense of ordinary working people paying the price.  They’ve been devastated since by a sustained massive wealth transfer to the top of the economic pyramid that in the US alone has been a generational process of well over $1 trillion annually to corporations and the richest 1%. 


For the past 13 years, NAFTA and the rest of globalized trade provided cover for imperialism on the march for power and profit.  It prospers from economic and shooting wars of conquest with an engineered race to the bottom driven by giant predatory corporations allied with friendly governments in their service at the expense of ordinary working people paying the price.  The result – mass and growing poverty, human misery, and ecological destruction great enough to threaten the ability of the planet to sustain life. 


Blame it on the globalized market system.  It’s the main reason millions around the world are on the move each year as reported by the International Labor Organization.  In 2005, the number reached an estimated 200 million fleeing poverty and conflicts, often leaving families behind, heading for developed countries for jobs and safety unavailable at home. 


The toll South of the Border alone after 10 years of NAFTA was devastating on Mexico‘s poor and getting progressively worse.


– Real wages down 20% and the wealth disparity between rich and poor far greater than in 1994 (NAFTA’s first year).


– Two – three million small farms now gone with Research Director Raul Hinojosa of the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA predicting 10 million small farmers will eventually be forced off the land, many heading north in desperation. 


– Mexico’s banks, railroads, airlines, mines and other industry sold off to foreign investors, mainly US ones with possible plans under the new Calderon government to sell off the country’s crown jewel – Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-owned national oil company up to now kept free from Big Oil predators itching to get their hands on the company and now may have their chance.


– Two million hectares of tropical forest turned over to private developers displacing many thousands of people to make way for “development” and clear-cutting forests.


– Crushed homegrown industries unable to compete against subsidized US giants like behemoth Wal-Mart (Wal-Mex) now the country’s largest private employer and biggest retailer in Latin America.


The Message to Immigrants On Our Southern Border – No Vacancy, or Enter As Indentured Servants with No Rights


Post 9/11, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was passed establishing the repressive Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and in March, 2003 its largest investigative and enforcement arm – the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) charged with protecting the public safety by identifying and targeting “criminal” and “terrorist” threats to the country, most of whom, in fact, are just desperate people whose NAFTA-ruined lives at home force them el norte to survive.


ICE was established to head them off at the border or hunt them down ruthlessly once here.  It’s comprised of four integrated divisions with responsibilities over the nation’s infrastructure, economic security, transportation system and the subject of this essay – policing our southern border with Mexico going after people the color of the earth victims suffering for what we did to them by our made-in-Washington trade and other unfair economic policies.  So the gloves are off, anything goes, and ICE is free to rampage with its large share of DHS’s total budget now up to $43 billion, heading for $46.5 in the president’s submitted FY 2008 budget.


On the Homeland Security web site, ICE openly boasts about what it should be condemned for.  At FY-end 2006 on October 30, it listed what it called “historic results (and) new records for enforcement activity” including:


– Total work site arrests sevenfold greater than in FY 2002.


– Ended the former practice of “catch and release” ICE called “the greatest impediment to border control.”  It substituted the harsher practice of catch and incarcerate or catch and deport – or hound, threaten, catch, brutalize, incarcerate, then deport victimized people who’ll try again to survive.


– Removed a record high number of 186,000 “illegal aliens” and increased its detention bed space by 6300 to a FY-end total of 27,500 with an average daily number of incarcerated or detained immigrants up to 26,000 since July and rising.


– Increased the number of “fugitive operations teams” nationwide from 18 to 50 charged with locating, apprehending and removing “criminal aliens” meaning alien victims called criminals.  Through its Operation Return to Sender, ICE arrested 14,356 aliens and deported 4716 of them from May 26 to September 30, 2006. ICE intends having 75 teams operating by end of FY 2007 to up the numbers considerably which they’ll do.


– Created a national center operating at all ICE detention facilities to deport “criminal aliens” when released from incarceration.  Most will be back.


– Completed a record high number of “arms and strategic technology” investigations by doubling the number of personnel assigned to do them and by implementing new electronic data entry procedures to track immigration “violators” and “fugitives.”


– Claimed it dismantled the large Colombia Cali drug cartel to stem illegal narcotics trafficking while failing to acknowledge other US agencies, most notably CIA, have a long sordid history of drugs trafficking worldwide as an important revenue source with CIA now partnered with Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan (among others around the world) having turned the country into a narco-state, according to a UN report, supplying 92% of the world’s opium used for heroin.


– Conducted financial investigations of human smuggling and other immigration related cases resulting in asset seizures of $42 million or double the amount gotten in FY 2004.


– Through its Operation Community Shield arrested 3700 since February, 2005 including 2290 suspected “gang members.”


– From worksites, arrested 716 workers (and a few employers getting mere wrist slaps) on “criminal” charges and 3667 individuals on “administrative” charges – a sevenfold increase in total arrests from FY 2002.


– Worked with Department of Justice (DOJ) in document and immigration benefits fraud cases resulting in 235 investigations, 189 arrests and 80 convictions.


– Expanded its partnership with state and local authorities training 40 state and county law enforcement officers as part of the 287(g) program of immigration enforcement with additional partnerships to come.


ICE listed a disturbing array of other FY-end 2006 “achievements” involving enhanced intelligence gathering and analysis; targeting “national security threats;” detecting, tracking and arresting visa violators; “enhancing border security;” targeting transnational gangs, human smugglers and sexual predators; targeting money launderers and others committing financial crimes while granting de facto immunity to large US banks, including major international money center ones, known to launder drug money as one of their major profit centers; and much more.


DHS/ICE Billions for the Border


With a budget increased by 50% over five years ago, DHS/ICE has billions to use guarding our borders from “dangerous” poor people.  Ignored is that those working here pay billions more in federal, state and local taxes for performing services (in jobs others don’t want) than they get back in meager benefits like sub-standard education for their children in inner city or other public schools and inadequate health care when they’re sick.


Still they come from need, not choice in a risky, dangerous journey starting with what it costs for help getting here.  It’s plenty extorted by Coyote smugglers and other predatory intermediaries treating them like pollos (chickens) once on their way north. They get crammed in trucks and cars, travel after dark, and aren’t prepared for the hazards they’ll face including 115 degree or higher summer temperatures crossing an unforgiving desert that end up killing hundreds each year from exposure who when found are just anonymous John Does leaving families behind never knowing what happened or what to do next. 


And handling those risks depends on getting past heavy DHS/ICE border security in place post-9/11.  They’re ready and waiting with video cameras, state of the art motion sensors, infrared goggles, other security electronics and helicopters with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) scopes plus an unforgiving thuggish army of 6000 or more National Guard troops as part of Operation Jumpstart.  They supplement the Border Patrol agent staff of 12,349 heading for 17,819 proposed for FY 2008, double the number it had in FY 2001. 


Add to this army an extremist well-funded volunteer force in place called the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) or “Minutemen” for short.  Their name comes from those “ready in a minute men” dating back to the mid-1600s when volunteers were trained to be first on the scene to defend their communities in case of conflict.  Today’s Minutemen on our southern border are for offense, not defense.  All they defend is white supremacy and racial hatred against poor, desperate people unable to survive at home.  Left no other choice, they come north, but doing it pits them against these ultra-hard right volunteer paramilitary thugs licensed to kill.  They man the southern border by the thousands hunting down and terrorizing anyone caught entering the country without visas. 


They’re supported by other anti-immigrant hate groups and organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR, not to be confused with the noted media watch group using the same acronym standing for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting).  The racist FAIR is lobbying Congress for repressive immigration legislation that will deny Latinos and others coming here basic civil and human rights by stepping up harsh border security, increasing Gestapo-like crackdowns against those already here, and giving predatory corporations the right to exploit the ones allowed in or manage to come anyway. The fate of millions of honest, hard-working immigrant families depends on exposing and stopping the kind of work these groups do and what they stand for.


In spite of them and all the other hazards they face, and word gets back about them, the courageous poor keep coming for a better life to support their families usually left behind desperate for whatever aid their loved ones can send back.  No amount of manpower, security and technology in place can stop them.  Those caught and sent back try again, eventually circumventing the obstacles against them on a near-2000 mile long border, all of which can’t be patrolled. But that takes them into the harshest stretches of desert many each year never leave.  And still they come, risking everything, tens of thousands each year, their numbers growing as NAFTA and neoliberal market-imposed rules leave them no choice – head north or perish. 


Congressional Reform or Deform in 2007


Things could change if trade was fair, not unfair, under made-in-Washington one-way “free trade” rules legalizing unfairness, especially in areas like agriculture so crucial to millions of small farmers in developing countries like Mexico forced off the land unable to compete against heavily subsidized US agribusiness. But carrots aren’t on the legislative docket in Congress, only assorted sticks in the stalled compromise immigration bill providing no relief the way things are progressing so far in both Houses.


So-called “immigration reform” stalled last year after the House passed the repressive HR 4437 Sensenbrenner bill, The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Act of 2005, in December, 2005.  It was a law only racists and hatemongers could love.  It galled, or embarrassed, enough senators to clean it up some and pass S 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act or Hagel-Martinez bill last May.  It was still bad enough to create a permanent underclass of low-paid workers, allow employers the right to exploit them, place restraints on wages and benefits, and create a nightmarish multi-tiered bureaucratic structure for temporary partial legalization leaving out of the mix millions of undocumented workers already here and delaying citizenship for those eligible for almost two decades.