By Teresa Gutierrez, Workers World, July 16, 2007
David Ritcheson was an 18-year-old Chicano. He was not an immigrant, documented or undocumented. He was born in Texas and lived in Galveston.
But he is nonetheless another casualty of the racist and violent anti-immigrant backlash sweeping the country.
David is dead. And even though he took his own life, his executors are the Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredos of the U.S., who along with the Bush administration have waged a vicious national campaign on immigration policy that has resulted in some of the most vile, racist attacks against immigrants of color.
Under the guise of securing the borders and protecting U.S. jobs, the media, the government and the right wing have over the last few years carried out an aggressive debate on immigration policy. The debate and proposed legislation in Congress have resulted in one of the most vicious anti-immigrant climates in U.S. history.
It is not the first time such a climate has been fostered. Any time the capitalist class no longer needs cheap labor or when that labor needs to be further controlled for easy exploitation, the vile and racist anti-immigrant monster rears its ugly head.
David Ritcheson was the product of this climate.
Last year, white skinheads beat and raped this youth in Texas after he tried to kiss a young white woman at a party. He was raped with a patio umbrella pole and suffered severe internal damage. He survived the attack only to commit suicide on July 3, one year later.
At the time of his attack, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that hate crimes against Latin@s were on the rise. The report declared that aggressors were using the immigration debate as an excuse to incite violence. The number of hate groups, they reported, had risen by 30 percent since 2000.
Latino immigrants of course are not the only targets. Racial and religious profiling of Muslim, South Asian, Caribbean and African immigrants also rose. Whole neighborhoods in the Pakistani communities of Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, were devastated by this insidious witch hunt.
Legislation stalls, policies carry on
On list serves of the many dedicated and hard-working activists who are committed to defending immigrant workers, there is a common thread—a growing sense of frustration and desperation.
On the one hand, the hope that many had of legislation that would legalize and decriminalize workers has for now been smashed, despite the many protests and activities demanding legalization.
On the other hand, immigration policy, despite the stalemate in Congress, is being implemented every single day around the country. Federal, state and local policies are carried out every minute adding to the climate of desperation while Congress sits on its hands.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 1,100 immigration bills had been submitted by lawmakers this past May. That was more than double from last year. The number is expected to grow.
Adding to the sense of desperation is how much the anti-immigrant debate is being handled through the far-right in this country. It is terrorist organizations like the Minutemen who get access to the air waves, not the pro-immigrant activists.
The number of right-wing groups has exploded according to the Center for New Community. Anti-immigrant groups grew by 600 percent in the last two years. In 2005, there were fewer than 40. Today there are more than 250.
Legislation proposals that are being taken up, according to the Washington Post (June 25, 2007) “limit immigrants’ ability to obtain jobs, find housing, get driver’s licenses, and receive government services.” They give states the right to authorize law enforcement agencies to ask immigrants about legal status.
There are also attempts such as that by Home Depot to stop local legislation that accommodates day laborers who often gather at these stores to obtain work. The Georgia-based company asked Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, to help curtail a practice where various city councils around the country are forcing Home Depot to build facilities for day laborers.
On July 2, the governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, signed into law House Bill 2779, the employer sanctions bill, which states that business licenses could be suspended or revoked for hiring undocumented workers.
According to Fox News, Gov. Napolitano stated that “I signed the legislation out of the realization that the flow of illegal immigration is due to the constant demand of some employers for cheap, undocumented labor.”
Immigration rights activists are organizing against Napolitano’s bill.
Paul Teitelbaum, an immigrant rights activist in Arizona, told Workers World, “HB 2779 also emboldens the Minutemen and other racist militias that roam Southern Arizona. It sets a precedent for other states to take ‘the immigration debate’ into their own hands. The solution is to mobilize a fight back, denounce the law and show solidarity with immigrants.”
He continues, “We can expect this law to result in an increase of workplace abuse and racial profiling. This bill was signed as temperatures reached 110+ degrees and a record number of bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert. The fact that a Democratic governor signed this bill has added to the feeling of betrayal by the Democratic Party that is growing among some of Tucson’s Latin@s.”
Implemented immigration policy today has a wide punitive character. There is an unprecedented rise of detention centers being built to detain and imprison more and more immigrants. These detention centers are mainly owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, a public company that receives at least $2.8 million each month from ICE.
The North American Congress on Latin America obtained affidavits from some of the detainees and insufficient medical care, depression and guard abuses were documented.
A detention center in Raymondville, Texas, one of the largest in the country, houses 2,000 immigrants who are inhumanely locked up for 22 hours a day and costs $65 million. They not only house adults. They incarcerate children as well, and orange uniforms are issued, exactly like those in prisons around the country. It is a sign that today more and more incarceration or the military are the only options for the working class, while the rich, who are the real criminals, are free to do anything they want.
Over 230,000 people move through the detention system each year.
Raids & deportations continue
On June 24, the Associated Press reported that during the height of the immigration debate last year, from April through June of 2006, the number of arrests of immigrants more than doubled over the same period in 2005.
Nearly 5,000 immigrants were arrested according to information obtained by the AP after filing a Freedom of Information request.
In 2006, almost 20,000 workers were deported. Agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency raided factories and communities across the country. They often beat down doors of people’s homes in the early morning hours or entered factories with machine guns and face masks.
What is the face of the people experiencing these raids? They are humble immigrant workers on a construction site in Bethlehem Township, Penn., from Brazil, Honduras and Guatemala.
They are Mexicans working strawberry or lettuce fields in California, many without housing or access to toilets in the fields.
It is a five-year-old child from El Salvador named Karla Morales Solís whose family resides in Revere, Mass. Karla is one of the youngest clients her immigration lawyer has ever had, her lawyer, Victor Maldonado told the Boston Globe.
Karla is an example of the thousands of families who are forced apart, as some become legalized and others do not. Karla may be deported and separated from her parents, one who is documented, the other not.
“It’s so unusual that you are suddenly sitting in the defense chair and your client is a 5-year-old peanut,” Maldonado said.
According to the Globe, “Karla came to the United States, several years after her father first made the journey seeking relief from low wages and poor schools in El Salvador. In 2004, Karla’s mother also came north, but there was not enough money to pay for Karla’s passage. Settled in Revere, the family last year hired a ‘coyote’ to bring Karla to them. She was caught with the smuggler near the Texas border and transferred to a detention center for immigrant children in Texas.”
And then there is the case of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant gunned down by a hail of bullets by New York police in 2000.
Adding to the fearful climate is news such as this: The Miami Herald reported on July 8 that there are 630,000 immigrants who are believed to be living in the U.S. and have been issued deportation orders.
These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, wives, husbands, and lovers—workers all—who are living in profound fear as the raids and deportations continue while the hope of obtaining legalization dims.
Laws ignore the real culprit: U.S. imperialism
None of the legislation or any of the mainstream debates addresses the real issues.
The overwhelming majority of immigrants who come to the U.S. do not come because they want to. They come because they have to. They come risking their lives due to U.S. economic and political policies that have devastated their homelands. They come because of U.S. sponsored terror in their homelands, like U.S. policy in Central America in the 1980s and the kidnapping of President Aristide in Haiti in the 1990s.
The largest percentage of immigrants today comes from Mexico. Between 2000 and 2005, Mexico lost 900,000 rural jobs and 700,000 in industry, all because of the U.S. trade agreement NAFTA.
Immigration policy today represents a phenomenon way beyond the themes touched on nightly by fear-monger and racist Lou Dobbs. The productive forces of capitalism today and imperialist economic expansion are often referred to as “globalization.” Around the world, the masses on every single continent of the oppressed world have risen up to demand an end to globalization.
The anti-immigrant hysteria is a worldwide phenomenon that can be seen in all the developed capitalist countries. In France, for example, African or Turkish immigrants are also attacked and beaten.
Why is this an international phenomenon? Because there is a cross border flow of migrant labor that today has reached more than 200 million people around the world. It is a wave of movable labor, the forced migration of a huge portion of humanity that has reached epic proportions.
It is the result of the capitalist system, which is in deep and profound crisis. The ruling class of capitalists cannot stop the resistance of the Iraqi people who are heroically fighting their occupiers. It cannot stop the flow of humanity fighting against desperate conditions around the globe.
It is a crisis where the commodities it offers for sale more and more cannot be bought by the very workers that produce them.
It must count on racism to divide a multinational working class so that their anger and energy can be turned on one another instead of against the capitalist class. It must attempt to stop the “browning” of the U.S., seen as a real threat because of the history of oppression against people of color.
What is the solution to the desperation and frustration gripping immigrant rights activists? To build an independent movement free of both pro-capitalist parties. They have shown time and time again for all of history that they will defend capitalist interests over the rights of the people over and over.
The immigrant rights movement must have confidence that there is power in the people united, and not by counting on the powers that be. Legalization and full rights for immigrant workers will not come from the lobbies in Washington, D.C., but from the streets of this country.
The immigrant rights movement in the U.S. cannot advance without building the necessary connections with other struggles here at home. That means solidarity: with women, Katrina survivors, Delphi workers, with the movements against the war, against racism and sexism and LGBT oppression. As militant labor activists say again and again: immigrant rights are worker rights.
In the seeds of that struggle is the foundation to build a world with no borders, free of exploitation and war.
The writer is a leading organizer of the May 1st Immigrant Rights Coalition in New York.