Ever since September 11th, a nationalist, anti-immigrant mood has intensified in the United States. While this sentiment seemed at first to be aimed mostly at Arabs, South Asians and Muslims, it is now clear that all but white immigrants are targets. Meanwhile reactionary legislation from Washington, such as the REAL ID Act, affirms and bolsters this sentiment. Luckily some Latino civil rights organizations have a friend in the White House â€“ Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It is time for these organizations to call in a huge favor.
At my alma mater, the University of Texas, and at least one other university in that state, a group called the Young Conservatives of Texas, called for â€œcapture an illegal immigrant daysâ€ earlier this year. The concept was really more of a game than an actual hunt for immigrants, but the message was clear and the attempt to stage such an event in Austin failed when hundreds of protesters confronted the Young Conservatives.
Then there are the so-called â€œMinutemen,â€ who have been harassing immigrants in Arizona because they believe the U.S. Government, which is spending millions of tax dollars to patrol the border, is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration. Their analysis doesnâ€™t go much further than this and unfortunately the media has done little to expose their real motives. They are treated not as racists but as concerned patriots, even though there is mounting evidence that illegal immigration poses no threat to those of us already here, and may even add considerably to our economy, our productivity and our public dollars.
This anti-immigrant movement is being matched and emboldened in Washington. The post-9/11 war on Arabs and South Asians by the Bush Administration and politicians on Capitol Hill is fusing with good old fashioned anti-Latino immigrant bashing in the form of the REAL ID Act.
The anti-immigrant REAL ID Act would allow a Secretary of Homeland Security to build as many fences or walls along the border as she or he desired â€“ and that doesnâ€™t mean the Canadian border. The law would make it harder for asylum-seekers, including women escaping their male batterers, to prove their case. It would make it harder for immigrants to get drivers licenses and insurance â€“ critical for living and working in the United States. Finally, it would give bail bondsmen vast powers to arrest immigrants with few safeguards â€“ just a tiny reform away from deputizing the Minutemen.
This federal legislation is simply the legitimate peak of a pyramid whose base includes all the bigots hunting human beings like animals along an invisible line in Arizona or pretending to chase immigrants on college campuses in Texas. Sadly the 1st Latino Attorney General seems content with this political direction.
Alberto Gonzales, vigorously supported by two major Latino civil rights organizations â€“ the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) â€“ was confirmed with a vote in the Senate that was closer than expected. With all the support LULAC and NCLR gave this upwardly mobile Latino, best known for his laissez-faire attitude on torture, it is clearly time to call in a favor. Both organizations are publicly opposing the Real ID Act, correctly stating in a February press release that the legislation â€œwill have a profound, negative impact on Latinos and other immigrant communities.â€ They ought to demand Mr. Gonzalez publicly oppose the legislation as well.
Weeks after the joint press release, joined by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO), Mr. Gonzales spoke to the Hoover Institution to explain his â€œvision for the United States Department of Justice.â€ In this speech he defended the Patriot Act, defended an end to the filibuster for judicial nominees in the Senate, and implied support for the REAL ID Act by arguing that there were too many opportunities for appeals in the immigration system.
It appears Mr. Gonzales would rather do the bidding of his bosses in the White House than raise even a minor objection to a sweeping law strongly opposed by two key organizations that have defended him at every turn. It is unlikely Gonzales will do the right thing and speak out against REAL ID, but LULAC and NCLR have an obligation to do the right thing and not just cozy up to power but, particularly in times like this, to make demands of it.
Villarreal is the Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. He can be reached at [email protected]