Sunday, March 29, 2009

Breaking down the Mexican Drug War

It is interesting to see how quickly the debate about border security has become dominated by the issue of violence and drugs. I thought i was just hearing more about it because i became interested in the parallels between the drug war and the war on migrants, turning to narco news for information, which also resulted in me getting google news alerts on the merida initiative or plan mexico. I have several articles bookmarked, waiting for me to read so i can better understand the implications of the plan mexico and other responses to the violence and the drug trade.

The drug cartel violence has been in the news in the US more lately because Hillary Clinton went down to Mexico to talk about it, and Obama recently decided to send more agents down to the border. I believe that some people are mainly afraid of the violence touching US citizens. I believe there are other stronger political motivations for getting involved.

What i have made of it so far is that the violence has increased because the drug war in Columbia caused cartels to form or grow in mexico to transport the same cocaine, along with marijuana and other drugs. The political corruption in Mexico is well known. In fact, most people figure that in the war on drugs, it's just that one cartel has been favored over the others, leading to more access to resources and impunity and therefore more war over turf. Of course the mexican government would rather control the cartels, and several within the government probably want there to be no cartels. However, since illicit drugs are the number one source of revenue in Mexico, it's no wonder that so many people, from poor youths to police officers, to the president, and from what i hear even people in the US DEA, are involved in it.

An important part of this is Los Zetas, "former Mexican soldiers from an elite US-trained Special Forces team who deserted to work in the more lucrative drug trade". They were trained as death squads, and in torture at the School of Americas. "While Los Zetas started out as the Gulf cartel’s private army, they appear to be diversifying their operations. The DEA reported this year that it believes Los Zetas are attempting to break free from the Gulf cartel to form their own cartel... Los Zetas have entered the immigration industry in southern Mexico with relative ease and little resistance from other more established Mexican cartels." This and more information can be found at "Wall of Violence" on Mexico's Southern Border by Kristin Bricker. See also: US created monsters: Zetas and Kaibiles death squads by Brenda Norrell.

Despite knowing that Los Zetas were trained by the US and now are involved in the violence of the drug war that the US is so concerned about, the government wants to provide more resources and training to the mexican army. This also despite the common knowledge of the corruption. Of course, this isn't so unusual since we know that Osama bin Laden and others were also trained by the US.

The bad decisions made under the guise of a war against drugs also fits the pattern of the previous failed attempts in the war against drugs in Columbia. Efforts have not been made to deal with the demand for drugs (legalization, decriminalization and/or treatment). I believe that everyone mainly wants drug cartels under control. Whether or not they really want to stop the drug trade is another story. In fact, there is much evidence that the US government, or at least certain individuals are directly involved in the drug trade.

What I am primarily concerned about is what the training, resources, and whatever else is going to the mexican army will mean for indigenous and rebellious communities in mexico. There are already too many examples of disappearings, murder, torture, imprisonment, and other abuses as it is. Zapatista communities have been invaded by soldiers claiming to be looking for marijuana plants, despite the communities having a policy against drugs and alcohol. See another case: Video: Plan Mexico threatens peaceful Mexican communities. See also EZLN Criticizes the Drug War.

I think it was John Ross's book Zapatistas: Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006 in which he described foreign investor's concern that the Mexican government get the Zapatistas under control after the uprising in 1994. US investors have a lot of stake in being able to exploit mexican people and resources. Something that could not continue if they were able to break free. It is likely not a coincidence that the huge uprising in Oaxaca occurred recently and now the US government is getting involved militarily to help maintain the stability of the the country. On a side note, i find it interesting that so many anti-immigrant folks would argue that migrants should go back to mexico to fight for a better country. I hope that if it came down to it, those people would protest any effort the US government makes to help the mexican government stop a rebellion. I don't see that happening.

The Merida Initiative will also benefit the military industrial complex by putting money into buying US-made aircraft and other technology, as Kristin Bricker describes in US Releases $90 million in Plan Mexico Military Hardware and Training.

This drug war is, in a way, already affecting people in the US. Sheriff Arpaio is giving as his primary reason for pulling over every brown-skinned driver, the fact that some undocumented immigrants are falling victim to those involved in drug and human trafficking in maricopa county. This is resulting in the undocumented immigrants who get caught up in the sweeps lingering in jail, detention centers, or being deported, in addition to getting abused, in some cases, by officers (although aside from broken arms, i'd call the whole operation abuse).

In addition, youth of color in the US may be further targeted in the drug war. According to Kristin BrickerGangs: New Target in the War on Drugs? "Since the US is the world's biggest drug market and Mexican drug trafficking organizations' primary source of weapons, US officials can't blame Latin America for all of its drug woes. So they're turning to gangs. The US government recently released three major drug-related reports: the National Drug Threat Assessment, the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, and the National Gang Threat Assessment. In all reports, gangs figure prominently in drug trafficking. The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report is broken down by country, and gangs feature prominently in almost every country report."

So the question is, what can be done? Although i never thought of myself as someone who would put effort into the legalization of drugs, this seems like a reasonable way to stop the drug cartels. In fact, i'm seeing more discussions about drug legalization in mainstream media and apparently El Paso's city council are talking about it as well. We know that the economic situation, as well as the natural corruptness of those in power are the main problem. People in the US need to bring to light was is really going on here, stop the Merida Initiative, and all militarization on the border, and in our communities. We need long term strategies fighting neo-liberal projects, capitalism, and the state in Mexico and the US.

Further reading:

US Police Train Mexican Police to Torture

Estado Fallido en México: Una justificación para la militarización (babel fish translation)

Why Plan Mexico will Crash and Burn

Video: Plan Mexico threatens peaceful Mexican communities

Monday, March 23, 2009

Russell Pearce is an A-Hole

I was just listening to the senate judiciary committee (AZ) hearing regarding the warrants the mcso hasn't served. This is streaming on the web. Man, i can understand why these senators think they deserve higher salaries. That shit is boring. But i still don't think they should get higher salaries. Overall, i didn't find listening to it at all useful.

I was able to hear Russell Pearce spew some trash from his mouth. One particularly interesting quote that i was able to type right after i heard it was a portion of a sentence, "The sheriff’s the only one doing preventive law enforcement..." referring to Arpaio.

Preventive law enforcement, huh? Doesn't that imply that a crime has not yet been committed?

Check out some of his bills in the senate:

(this text is from an email he put out. excuse his poor spelling and grammar- he's just a government official)

Trespass: I have a bill to make it a state crime to enter or remain in Arizona in violation of federal law. A 2nd violation is a felony and a if one brings drugs or weapons into the country it is a class 2 felony with mandatory prison time.

SB1160 vehicle title; registration; legal presence (requested by law enforcement)
This bill would put the same requirements on titling or registering a vehicle of legal presence as required to get a driver’s license. Will have a tremendous affect on illegal’s driving around illegally. According to law enforcement a large percentage of hit and runs and serious and fatal accidents are involving illegal aliens.

SB1172 schools; data; non citizen students
This is needed to really know how many illegal aliens and non citizens are in our school. It does not prevent them from attending, but the debate continues on how many are really in our K-12 system at a cost of $9700 per student. The taxpayer has an inherent right to know who they are paying for.

SB1173 public housing; legal presence
Requires proof of citizenship to get public housing.

SB1175 illegal aliens; enforcement; trespassing. (remove handcuffs from law enforcement - Supported by Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Sheriff Joe, County Attorney Thomas, Border Patrol 2544, law enforcement, Republican Party, and others)

SB1177 unauthorized aliens; employment; application; transporting (a good fix to the day labor problem)
This bill makes it a misdemeanor to solicit employment and makes it a state crime to employ them and requires anyone transporting them for purposes of work to have their vehicle impounded for a mandatory 30 days.

SB1243 justification; defensive display of firearm
This is a simple bill supported by the NRA and Citizens for Self Defense. It allows citizens to display a weapon in self defense without being charged with a crime.

SB1334 workers' compensation; unauthorized aliens
No workers compensation for illegal aliens. An employer who illegally employees them must be totally responsible for any injuries. This is needed because of a silly Arizona Supreme Court ruling.

SB1335 unauthorized aliens; licensing ( an enhancement to the Employer Sanctions bill)
This strengthens our Employer Sanctions bill (by the way we just won for the 5th time in court) This puts more teeth in requiring businesses to sign up for E-Verify and gives the County Attorney's civil subpoena authority to look at personal files of a business if the info that gives reasonable cause to believe they have illegal aliens employed (we will get a ton of resistance to leadership to not give this bill a hearing)

SB1337 driver license violations (a law enforcement request and just puts it back to how it use to be)
Makes not having a driver’s license a misdemeanor so they can arrest them. Today they cannot because it is a civil penalty. If they are lying, no ID, speak no English and they know they are a gang member or an illegal alien they must let them go. If you have a driver’s license and just don't have it on you it will not affect you.

SB1242 weapons; peace officers; posse; reserves (a fix on Reserve Officers that was left out accidentally)
Gives the Sheriff's more control over their voluntary Posses, Reserves when it comes to allowing them to carry Concealed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kidnapping and Violence against Undocumented Immigrants

Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the U.S.. Why are those of us in the area barely hearing about it? Because it's happening to undocumented immigrants and drug dealers, not to those considered "us" by the media and the authorities. Can you imagine what things would be like if mexicans were kidnapping white people here in phoenix? It would be quite a different attitude coming from the media and government officials. Of course they're worried that the drug-related violence, which is much worse in Mexico, will touch "us" soon enough, which is partly why they are throwing money into the drug war in Mexico. Notice the statement below about not one involving a "truly innocent victim" in the article called Human smuggling makes Phoenix kidnapping capital of U.S.
In the past year, there were 359 kidnappings in Phoenix, and not one was legitimate involving a truly innocent victim, said Mark Spencer, head of the union which represents more than 2,500 Phoenix police officers. He said all the kidnappings were connected to illegal immigration and the numbers may represent just the tip of the iceberg.

"The investigators up at the violent crimes bureau are estimating that this 359 represents just one-third of the reported kidnappings that take place in Phoenix," Spencer said.

Also view Napolitano's recent statements on putting more agents on the border.
"Every American has a stake in this," Janet Napolitano said in a phone interview with USA Today. "Violence on the border easily seeps into our communities. It also creates a fear in border communities that the rule of law doesn't apply anymore, and that's just unacceptable." (Source).

The kidnapping and associated violence are part and parcel of the underground economies which have resulted from the criminalization of drugs and unauthorized movement into the U.S.. Yet the police, such as sheriff Arpaio, use the kidnapping and violence as pretext to further terrorize undocumented immigrants. The police and homeland security are doing almost exactly what the kidnappers are doing: holding people against their will and profiting from it.

What do i mean they're profiting from it? Well, i intend to go into more detail in the future, but we can say for sure that someone is directly profiting from detaining immigrants. How about the "GEO Group, the nation's second largest prison company, [who] saw its earnings jump 29% over 2007," and other companies as detailed in How the Jailing of Migrants Drives Prison Profits.

The government is very afraid of the power and violence of the mexican drug cartels, though both profit from the criminalization of people and drugs. The Merida Initiative, also called "Plan Mexico" fits into the continuation of this profit-making, but adds a bit more control over the drug cartels.

"...according to human rights advocates, the plan prioritizes companies over people, lining the pockets of American defense contractors while putting both political dissidents and ordinary Mexican civilians at risk. Government documents leaked to the nonprofit Center for International Policy provide an idea of what the specifics of the plan will look like: more than half the funds would pay for technology and personnel to bolster the Mexican military's counternarcotics operations. The initiative would ignore the US's own involvement in the transport and sale of drugs" (Source).

I have only known of plan mexico for a couple months. Many people, despite criticizing the mexican government for corruption and human rights abuses, as well as criticizing the U.S. government for their unfair attitude towards immigrants, somehow have faith in this plan.

Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he believes Congress will assess the program this spring.

"One of the things that we might be looking at is getting them more hardware such as helicopters," he said. "And there's a need for more training to help them stop the weapons that are smuggled south."

There is talk of Obama sending the national guard to the border, which Napolitano did in 2006.

I intend to discuss the drug war further in the future.

Note: There are some who say that the numbers regarding kidnappings in phoenix are inflated. I intend to look into this further.

Recent Immigrant Arrests, Cops break woman's arm

There was a raid by the marcopa county sheriff's office (MCSO) monday morning, according to Illegal Immigrants Arrested At Painting Company.
The sheriff's office started investigating after several calls came in from former employees of the Cochran Painting Company located on West Frier Drive in Glendale. The calls claimed that U.S. citizens who worked there were recently fired while the illegal immigrants were not, the sheriff's office said.

The eight were arrested on charges of felony identity theft and forgery charges.

I also received an email which described arrests of day laborers by the phoenix police department this past monday during the day. These arrests took place near the Macehualli work center. It is thought that they were stopped for trespassing.

There were also arrests made by the department of public safety (DPS) last thursday as reported by the arizona republic.

On a related note, the MCSO broke the arm of a woman who had been arrested and was suspected of being undocumented. The officers were trying to get her to put her fingerprint on a document. From the feathered bastard's blog:
Garcia-Martinez, who cannot read or speak English, believed the paperwork was a voluntary removal form to send her back to Mexico, and so refused to cooperate. She relented after six MCSO guards broke her arm, and left her in a room for several hours. When eight MCSO returned later that night and told her to give up her fingerprint or else, she allowed them to put her finger on the documents.

"She gave her fingerprint only after being in a cell for hours after being beaten up," observed Garcia-Martinez's new lawyer Danny Ortega. "This document did not require a fingerprint."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Let's not just focus on racial profiling

A consistent example of arpaio's abuses has been the racial profiling. And there's no doubt in my mind that this has occurred. I could be wrong, but it seems that racial profiling in this case, implies that people are being pulled over because they are perceived as being mexican, and that when people are pulled over who are not criminals, or not "illegal", then that is when it is wrong. In essence, it is okay that police harassment and arrests occur against the people who don't matter (undocumented immigrants), but it is a problem, a civil rights violation, when it happens to the people who do matter (citizens). If i'm not mistaken as well, "civil rights" refers to citizens, although this may just be a matter of semantics.

I know that most people involved in working towards arpaio's political demise are concerned about the well-being of undocumented immigrants. I fear, however, that if this fight is on the government's terms, then the focus will shift or has shifted to the negative effect the war on undocumented people will have on those who are supposed to be protected. What is happening to undocumented immigrants is unacceptable no matter who is doing it. Let's keep this in mind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Arpaio is being Investigated

The big news locally is that Maricopa County sheriff arpaio is being investigated by Dept. of Justice. It is being considered a big achievement, and in some ways it is. But the huge march a couple weeks back was calling to stop arpaio and stop 287(g). An investigation is one thing, but let us wait for the results before we get too excited. I discussed many of my thoughts in Federal Government Will Not be Maricopa County's Savior.
One problem with appealing to the government is that to do so would require not being a threat. But any real just solution to the “immigration problem”, inevitably involving the dismantling of NAFTA and other neoliberal projects, as well as a serious change in social/political structure, is and always will be a threat to the government.

Another problem is that the government has an interest in appearing to be able and willing to deliver justice. But overall it is not in its interest to truly liberate the people from injustice and in fact its existence is actually antithetical to such an action. It would like to have people ask instead of demand changes, however, and would like us to think of it as a benevolent force in such cases when it’s actually worth the time to make reforms that benefit the people. Therefore, if we ask and they give, they are the heroes.

When i was informed of this investigation, i immediately thought of the ways that arpaio had been enforcing the state laws and that there may be more on their way. I had also thought of AZ senator Pearce's bills especially when Arpaio commented that if the 287(g) agreement got to restrictive (the rules are apparently being adjusted to prevent abuse) he might drop out of it.

Happily, i read this blog post that my partner emailed me that addressed the limitations of the investigation of arpaio.
At the forefront of this effort is Sheriff Arpaio and the county’s prosecutor, Andrew Thomas. They have found ways to charge immigrants that use the services of a smuggler with conspiring to their own smuggling. They have used a state law created to go after employers that hire undocumented labor against the workers.

Different courts have upheld their use of these laws. And Arpaio himself has vowed to continue to use them if the feds take away from him the power to enforce immigration laws under an agreement known as 287(g).

There’s also a bill in the works that would charge undocumented immigrants with “trespassing” into the state's land.

The trespassing bills have been attempted in the past. I'm not sure if those are among those former governor napolitano vetoed. While i do not believe napolitano was an advocate for undocumented immigrants, she certainly vetoed a lot of crazy laws. The new governor is not as likely to do so.

Having witnessed the gradual build-up in the war against undocumented immigrants, i have to say that it is important to view each attempt at increasing this war as a piece of a larger puzzle. Each law, each change in ability to enforce, each attitude promoted through the media builds up to a larger picture which becomes more and more overwhelming. Which is why stopping arpaio and 287(g) is important, but also paying attention to what pearce is doing, as well as the increasing threat of violence by the drug cartels/kidnappers, which i intend to write much more about.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No Borders or Prison Walls: Beyond Immigrants' Rights to Ending Criminalization of All People of Color

UPDATE: see this video which is expands on some of the content of this article: Private Prisons in a Wider Context: Video

How bad do things have to be for a group of people to be afraid to leave their houses because la migra might pick them up and place their family members in separate detention centers to eventually deport them? Or that people crossing the border not only have to be concerned about the environmental dangers, but also the more recent upsurge of people who kidnap migrants, steal from them, assault them, and hold them for ransom. The police or ICE commit similar atrocities, but masquerading as heroes; “saving” the immigrants from the drop houses. Many citizens believe undocumented immigrants deserve the harm or misfortune inflicted upon them because they are here “illegally”.

Nearly any debate about “illegal” immigration comes down to one thing: the law is the law. They say illegal people have no legitimate claims in “our” country. Despite the many illegal actions that people take everyday without feeling an ounce of guilt (speeding, downloading music), being in the country “illegally” is seen as a crime against the citizens. Despite the fact that many of us see this law, like so many others, as illegitimate and hypocritical based on its historical roots and the context in which it is enforced, as a means to maintain an exploitable class, as enforcement of the color line, and as a tool of government to control people and quash dissent; we seem quite silent about what we think about it.

What is largely missing from the debate on immigration is this perspective on the law. We find it difficult to convince others of these ideas who value and feel protected by the exalted law and order, and so we may not even try. What kinds of changes can we hope for if we are not willing to challenge people on their attitudes about the legitimacy of immigration law, and beyond?

The common attitudes, promoted by special interest groups and the media serve to justify the horrible treatment of undocumented immigrants and allow people to dismiss the actions of law enforcement or vigilantes as warranted. Most people know about the reasons that immigrants have to come here “illegally”, yet many would even say they deserve the worst of the terrorism they face here.

What we need to talk about is the criminalization of people- the politically/racially/economically motivated practice that has led to a vast increase in the prison industrial complex and immigration detention centers in the last several years, as well as the increased collaboration between the police and the federal government. Even though in most cases, undocumented immigrants have only committed a civil offense and not technically a crime, it is just as easily considered a crime. Of course, in addition to this, immigrants are purposefully associated with other crimes, and new laws continue to be created to further criminalize them. The war against “illegal” immigration is just one part of institutional racism, except this is an example that makes it all the more clear that crimes have been made out of the actions of people because of who they are. It is clear that the law has been used purposefully to render people powerless and exploitable.

Because so many people are not willing to touch this, it has to be us. This may only be part of the struggle, but it is necessary to challenge the way criminalization not only affects the people it criminalizes, but everyone who is treated unfairly because of their association with criminals, and everyone else in their attitudes about those people. This criminalization maintains a racism which can easily be denied- because “it’s not about race. It’s about the law.”

The focus on the law is employed so that a person’s opposition to “illegal” immigration seems to just be about the law; not about race. Those of us who are citizens, and especially those of us who are white have a responsibility to fight the racism within our communities (even the communities that we don’t feel are ours). No matter how many solidarity demos or actions against the wall or ICE, if we let the racism within the citizenry fester and increase, we can not hope to succeed. Many white people are ripe for recruitment in fascist groups. For decades, people of color have been advising white folks to organize within their own communities. Although this is a challenge, it must occur. People of color have also informed most of the concepts below, and it is important that white people take their words seriously.

The limits of current strategies

In our fight for immigrants’ rights, freedom of movement, and/or no borders, we have many challenges. The minutemen and associated groups and politicians, while not achieving as much as they had hoped in terms of law enforcement and border security, have in fact influenced many people’s thinking (with the help of well-funded FAIR and other such groups, and of course the media). Newly passed laws or even attempts at passing laws, as well as stepped up enforcement by ICE and the police have shaped people’s view of immigrants as criminals.

Despite a multitude of efforts, the minutemen still seem somewhat sensible in the eyes of many; immigrants still face the dangers of crossing the border; hate crimes, ICE raids, police sweeps, harassment and racial profiling still happen; people’s rights (the few that they have) are still violated; and the detention centers still exist. This is not to say that the organizing that’s done is pointless, but that in conjunction with these activities, we need to challenge the ideas that perpetuate this situation. There have been few efforts to challenge the legitimacy of the law. Many of the efforts attempted have not made a point of relating the racism against recent undocumented immigrants to the current and historical racism against black people and other people of color.

Immigrants’ rights advocates often accuse the anti-immigrant movement of being racist, but nothing gets the opposition to admit that race has anything to do with it (additionally, it is often about personal racism and not systemic racism). Many efforts have been made on the part of the anti-immigrant movement to maintain a non-racist appearance for the sake of appealing to the mainstream, due to racism being so taboo. Examining the comments to any online Arizona-based newspaper article on immigration will provide one with a view of this repetition about the law and a veiled, or not so veiled, hatred for outsiders (specifically Mexicans). The rule of law rhetoric creates a smokescreen over the reality of intertwined racial, economic, and political motivations behind the laws.

In the context of immigration, understanding racism is crucial but complicated. Race is a social construct, so the fact that undocumented immigrants are a diverse group of people does not matter as much in terms of how white supremacy functions. More than anything, the stereotypes about undocumented immigrants inform anti-immigrant rhetoric, policies, and enforcement (exemplified by the emphasis on the U.S./Mexican border rather than that of Canada). People’s concepts about race are complicated, mainly because race is only real in how it affects people. Class also plays a role in this context since foreigners with more wealth are not treated as a burden, and because citizenship is not available to most people, especially the poor. Undocumented immigrants, at least the ones that somewhat fit the stereotypes, are thought of and treated as inferior. It is considered acceptable that they have little access to safety, health, and dignity. A useful definition of white supremacy is from Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez: “White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.” Police in particular are said to enforce the color line by treating non-white people as criminals.

The attitudes people have about undocumented immigrants need to be challenged. Although they may partly be based on feeling threatened (they’re taking over), they are also based on a racism that is “justified” and shaped by the idea that the unwelcome people are criminals. These attitudes often effectively override compassion for the misfortunate. A starting point would be to engage people who are compassionate and identify as anti-racist, but build upon that to figure out how to change other peoples’ minds. An analysis of the purposeful construction of laws to criminalize undocumented immigrants would have two objectives: an end to the attitudes described above, and an end to institutionalized racism. This effort obviously applies to the criminalization of people of color in general in the United States. We cannot fight white supremacy if we do not consider the bigger picture of what has been taking place in this country.

The emphasis on the legality of people should not be confused with legalizing people exactly, but to bring attention to the politically motivated criminalization of people and to change it. Legalizing immigrants (though not very likely to happen in an acceptable way if at all) does not address many of the economic and race issues that currently exist.

Assimilation and therefore whiteness being historically accessible to Mexican-Americans especially, we should consider the ways in which the struggle should avoid the trend of maintaining a hierarchy with black people on the bottom. Martha Escobar, in “No One is Criminal” printed in Abolition Now! addresses efforts at legalization but mostly the rhetoric about immigrants not being criminals. “Thus when we claim that immigrants are not criminals, the fundamental message is that immigrants are not Black, or at least, that immigrants will not be ‘another Black problem.’ Tracing the construction of criminality in relationship to Blackness and how it is re-mapped onto brown bodies through the notion of “illegality” gives witness to the ways that criminality allows a reconfiguration of racial boundaries along Blackness and whiteness. In other words, criminalizing immigrants serves to discipline them into whiteness.” Explaining that immigrants are not criminals (via studies on crime rates, etc.) and complaining about the police or the government not putting the real criminals in jail in some ways is counterproductive.

It is also important to be concerned that most of the immigrants’ rights efforts do not address the fact that we are on stolen ground in the first place. Existing land struggles are not addressed by legalization efforts. We also tend to fail to address the relationship between the war on immigrants and the war on terror. A myopic focus on legalizing immigrants would contribute to the continuing abandonment of the past and current effects of the criminalization of people of color and cannot hope to abolish whiteness.


The attitudes people have are fueled by and feed the criminalization of people. We need to find ways to change people’s attitudes to undermine the racism that exists. A number of things need to be articulated in a way that is accessible to a variety of people. We especially have to be able to explain these concepts to people who don’t feel they have any interest in considering them, much less changing anything. On the other hand, there are many people who would benefit from changes and a new analysis of the function of criminalization would empower them. Either way, those of us who are in this fight need to understand the complex aspects of the immigration/criminalization issues. Below is my attempt to start to construct an analysis specifically regarding the law from which talking points can emerge.

“In order to figure out why people get locked up and under what circumstances, we need to look at what are sometimes called ‘root causes.’ This strategy requires looking at the competing priorities of the systems in which we live and understanding why they work well for some and horribly for others. The systems of race, class, gender, and sexuality, for instance, are commonly understood as privileging some people’s needs and ideals over others. By exploring why and how those systems work for some and not for others, we can begin to develop a better understanding of how to include concrete steps in our work that deal with the negative effects of these systems on the people who are most often put in cages.” –Critical Resistance

Economic Motives

We need to talk about the economic motives behind the criminalization of people and therefore the illegitimacy of the laws involved. Of particular interest are the immigration laws because immigrants are currently a huge target and because, as I mentioned above, it can perhaps be shown more easily that there is intentional politically-motivated criminalization of people. The exploitation of labor is the primary motive. This is accomplished by keeping the laboring class from uniting (divide people by race and by immigration status) and from keeping certain individuals from having the power to organize for a better situation (undocumented workers who organize in their work places are often threatened with deportation). We must also discuss the fact that undocumented workers are largely from regions that have been affected negatively by neo-liberal economic projects. These forces have led to the loss of land and other resources and an intentional lack of employment options which leaves them more exploitable. Of course there is money to also be made in the prisons and detention centers, at least for those run privately. The businesses that have relationships with these facilities (food providers, prison-related products manufacturers, investors, etc.) also profit. Homeland Security has some good deals for border security technology with companies like Halliburton and Boeing that also profit from the war in Iraq. Included also in the war against undocumented people are the funds that go into transporting immigrants by land and air. Criminalizing people of color is a lucrative business, and we are well aware that when profits are the motive, human rights are scarce.

The hope is that revealing the economic motives of certain actions would destabilize the appearance of those actions as legitimate.

The Reality of Criminalization and Immigration Detention

Many people remain ignorant about the reality of immigration detention. It would be useful to share information about the extent to which detention centers have increased in the past few years, and the fact that many are privately owned (many by corporations that also own private prisons). We should be aware of the plan devised by the Department of Homeland Security called Endgame, which seeks to remove “all removable aliens” by 2011, using new relationships between police and ICE such as 287g. With about 27,500 people in immigration detention on any given day and triple the number of detainees than just nine years ago, many immigrants in private detention, without proper care, legal assistance, and adequate understanding of their rights and recourses, we have an astounding crisis on our hands.

Immigrants are not only ending up in detention centers, but also in jails and prisons. Increasingly, yet another tactic of attrition, in order to discourage them from coming back is to imprison immigrants instead of just sending them back to where they came from. Many immigrants sign guilty pleas for crimes like identity theft, without even understanding that often the authorities have no evidence. Charging them with additional crimes also increases the consequences for coming back.

What are the forces at work? In the context of immigration, there are two manifestations of white supremacy that feed off of each other and are interconnected. One is personal prejudices, attitudes, and resulting discrimination. The second is the racism within the various institutions (such as law enforcement) that play out these previous manifestations in a less visible way. The institutional racism in turn shapes peoples’ attitudes about race. Two forces behind these manifestations of racism are the anti-immigrant movement and the business interests that employ immigrants. Because business interests enjoy the labor provided by penetrable borders, they would seem to oppose those who are interested in border security. In fact, undocumented immigrants have been used as a weapon against organized workers. While those in favor of heightened border security and internal enforcement subscribe to a more blatant racism (keep the outsiders out), the business interests also benefit from the continued and increased anti-immigrant efforts because they can profit from an exploitable, expendable (made so by the war against immigration) labor force allowed by the seemingly unconquerable stream of migration. Although these two forces have different desired means and ends, the results are the same: criminalized migrants.

Examining the history of immigration law reveals its racist history. Of course many will explain it away and insist that we have changed our regretful ways. A possible effective strategy might include showing how the U.S. concept of who belongs (white people) and who doesn’t has been shaped by immigration laws (as well as laws criminalizing Black and Native American people). The ways in which the racism and stereotyping of the Chinese led to and fed off of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 mirrors the anti-Mexican sentiment in a lot of ways today. Many groups and individuals have been excluded or deported because they were seen as political threats to the country. In 1924, the National Origins Quota passed, which was due to WWI-related fears of foreign people. It strictly limited immigration from eastern and southern Europe. Later in 1952, quotas for immigration from Asian countries were severely limited. The national origins quota was abolished during the civil rights era, but is still biased in many ways. Shortly after September 11, 2001, the federal government broke its own laws holding various immigrants from mostly Middle-Eastern countries in custody for too long without deporting them or charging them with any crime.

Prior to the last few decades, only pockets of the population had any concern over “illegal aliens”. During the 80’s and 90’s the wide-ranging anti-immigrant rhetoric was similar to that of today, but was largely unpopular. Due to September 11, 2001 and the recession around that time, just like other times of economic hardship and other turmoil, immigrants became scapegoats. Mexicans especially became targeted because they were coming in at higher rates after the 1994 launch of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Especially in 2003 when the Minuteman Project started, the media and various politicians (both directly or indirectly influenced by business interests and/or nativists) stepped up the anti-immigrant message. The state is primarily responsible for constructing the idea of “illegal aliens”. It is now mostly socially acceptable to hate on immigrants. But the intolerance for undocumented immigrants cannot be separated from the history of American racism.

Race & Criminalization

“Crime is thus one of the masquerades behind which ‘race,’ with all its menacing ideological complexity, mobilizes public fears and creates new ones.
-Angela Davis, Prisons, Repression, and Resistance

We need to connect this reality with an analysis of the system of criminalization of people of color, historically and currently. History shows many examples of the law being used for racist ends, whether it be the blatant racism of the slavery era, or the veiled racism of the reconstruction era when black men were accused of a number of crimes such as vagrancy and subsequently sent to work as punishment. In effect, business interests were able to continue to profit from the labor produced by repression: convict leasing, or “Slavery by Another Name” as it was called by author Douglas A. Blackmon. Although it may be difficult to convince someone that the laws that are currently on the books are racist, certainly we can talk about how the law is easily manipulated to be racist, including the constitution. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” says the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As it gradually became socially unacceptable to kill or enslave people, the moral way to deal with them was to treat them as criminals, such as placing American Indian children in prison-like Indian schools. People who are considered of lesser value and who can be contrived as “other” can easily be used for the benefit of those in power.

Not so long ago, Richard Nixon said, “You have to face the fact that whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to...” In a letter to Dwight Eisenhower, he wrote, “I have found great audience response to this [law and order] theme in all parts of the country, including areas like New Hampshire where there is virtually no race problem and relatively little crime.” With blatant racism being frowned upon, there have been many examples of ways people of color have been especially painted as being more likely to commit crime, even though there are many examples of worse crimes that rich white men commit that are not considered worthy of our attention. Much of people’s racism is manufactured by the idea that people of color tend more often to be criminals. Examining the increase in the prison industrial complex and the drug war can provide us with various insights into specifically politically-motivated measures taken up against people of color.

Institutionalized racism in the form of law and order results in complex effects on people of color. One effect is that people of color disproportionately get caught up in the criminal “justice” system. Although this has happened because of its historical roots, today it “justifies” the treatment of most people of color as criminals. This means that even someone who has not committed a crime can be killed, brutalized, or harassed by the police because of their association with criminals due to their darker skin. Sexual assault or harassment against women of color is allowable in the context in which they are associated with criminality.

Sylvanna Falcón in “’National Security’ and the Violation of Women: Militarized Border Rape at the US-Mexico Border” printed in The Color of Violence examines how this effects immigrant women. “The cases of militarized border rape… can be categorized as a form of “national security rape”… [T]he absence of legal documents positions undocumented women as ‘illegal’ and as having committed a crime... the existence of undocumented women causes national insecurity, and they are so criminalized that their bodily integrity does not matter to the state…”

We can see that “national security” most certainly does not refer to the health, safety, and dignity of the nation’s residents, but instead protects the state.

The media plays a large role in perpetuating ideas about who to feel threatened by, which in turn affects peoples’ attitudes about and behavior towards others and themselves. Although nearly every person of color is in some way touched by the criminal “justice” system, there are efforts made to maintain an image of non-racism, in which the elite allows people of color certain privileges and access to status. This produces the idea of the criminal people of color vs. the non-criminal person of color, thereby maintaining the legitimacy of the criminal “justice” system.

The U.S. prison population is the highest in the world. One out of every 133 U.S. residents is behind bars. “Compared to the estimated numbers of black, white, and Hispanic males in the U.S. resident population, black males (6 times) and Hispanic males (a little more than 2 times) were more likely to be held in custody than white males. At midyear 2007 the estimated incarceration rate of white males was 773 per 100,000… At midyear 2007, the incarceration rate of black women held in custody (prison or jail) was 348 per 100,000 U.S. residents compared to 146 Hispanic women and 95 white women” ( Women have been entering prisons at higher rates than men. Even when women of color are not directly criminalized, they are treated as reproducers of criminals, while prisons function as an attack on their reproductive freedom and their ability to maintain healthy family structures.

We should also look at the ways in which this benefits the government and the social order. Many efforts have been made by the poor and people of color to change or overthrow the government and economic system. Dividing the working class by race has been a wise strategy to weaken the power of the people. In addition, imprisoning dissidents of various sorts under the guise of law enforcement (remember, we don’t have any political prisoners) is also a tactic against successes of various liberation movements, especially the Black and American Indian movements.

We can also see that putting people in prison instead of solving problems such as poverty and drug abuse is the chosen course of action by the state, because the idea is not to resolve these problems in the first place but to appear to do so while at the same time dealing with the issues in the most useful way to those in power. The government obviously has inextricable ties to business, so maintaining a good relationship is a large factor in the law enforcement that takes place. Those in the government also have a lot to gain from an increase in wealth secured through exploitation of a criminal class. And finally, the government has a lot to gain from an image of control, which can be achieved through Homeland Security and law enforcement.

Many examples exist of ways in which crime-fighting is not, in fact, intended to end the activities which are considered crimes. The government has no interest in ending crime unless it is targeted towards the government itself, the rich or their property. One could list a number of crimes committed by people who get away with it everyday, and a number of acts that should be crimes because they hurt people, other beings, and/or the planet, yet they are not crimes because it is not in the interest of the government to control those actions. Crimes against people who are seen as less valuable are not important to enforce unless it benefits the system in another way. Black on black violence, for example is acceptable to the criminal “justice” system and is even encouraged. Crimes committed by government, government agents, businesses, are treated differently, with the perpetrators facing much less harsh punishment than their civilian counter-parts face, if any. Often crimes are enabled by involvement with the government such as the drug trafficking done with government vehicles and physical and sexual abuse by police, border patrol, and prison officials, yet the criminals in these cases are treated as a few bad apples.

Much of the history of illegalization of drugs is linked directly to racism. Marijuana was associated with Mexicans and Black people, opium with the Chinese. The drug war has created many new criminals. More than half of people in federal prison are in for drug offenses. We also see how the use of crack, associated with Black people, is disproportionately punished compared to that of cocaine, more associated with white users. Some interesting parallels exist between the drug war and the war against “illegal” immigration, which deserve further examination elsewhere. A notable parallel lies in the fact that the criminalization of the respective activities has created underground markets and added crooked criminal activity.

The illegalization of certain underground activities (drugs, immigration, prostitution) relegates the participants (willing or unwilling) to having little access to the “justice” system or community support, and in fact makes those without the means to escape, vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Often more money is to be made when access to something (such as free movement) is restricted and desperation is higher. The result is that some are terrorized by others and it is of no concern to the citizens who implore that the laws be enforced. The work of the coyotes has been increasingly carried out by elements of organized crime such as the drug cartels. The violence of the Mexican drug cartels is touching the U.S. more and more. Immigrants get kidnapped and held for ransom, people are sexually assaulted or worse. Communities along the border, especially non-white communities like the O’odham are terrorized by those in the drug trade as well as those “fighting” the drug traffickers. This cannot be viewed in a simplistic fashion. We cannot ignore that the criminalization is what has created these situations.

“It is important to recognize how violence--not only in Ciudad Juarez, but also in Mexico City--is not simply a problem for the state but is in fact endemic to it, a ‘state of exception’ produced by an authoritarian government that has cultivated extreme forms of violence, corruption, and yes, even death, in order to cripple people’s capacity to resist, to smother effective counterdiscourse and over-power the revitalized democratic opposition... We should consider femicide in Ciudad Juarez as part of the scenario of state-sponsored terrorism...”

Regarding Rosa Linda Fregoso’s quote from “The Complexities of ‘Feminicide’ on the Border” (from The Color of Violence), it is impossible to separate the actions (and inactions) of the Mexican government from the influence of the governmental and economic forces based in the United States. The impacts of colonialism and neoliberalism and the resulting poverty, corruption and anti-resistance efforts have profound consequences.

It is worth noting that the drug war, just like the war against immigrants, is not intended to actually stop the flow. The U.S. government is spending over one billion dollars “helping” the Mexican government deal with the drug cartels through the new Plan Mexico or Merida Initiative. They could instead be decriminalizing drugs or curtailing demand by increasing what has been proven to be effective: treatment. Let us also not ignore the many cases in which government officials (U.S. and Mexican) are directly or indirectly involved in the drug trade.

Law enforcement officials act like they are heroes when they save the captives of human traffickers, or when they rescue perishing immigrants crossing the harsh desert; even though they enforce the laws that produce these conditions in the first place.


Is it not a bigger crime that people are afraid to leave their houses? White supremacy means some lives are more valuable than others and what results is danger, repression, and punishment for those who are not considered white.

What do we do about all of this? Institutional racism and individual white supremacy feed off of each other. We should consider ways to struggle against instituational racism, although many disagree on how. At the very least we can keep white people from joining white supremacist militias, and ideally get those people to act on behalf of immigrants and other people of color.

In our efforts, whatever those look like, we need to understand the issues discussed above and be able to explain them to other people. Art, posters, fliers, press releases, articles, demonstrations, one-on-one debates, etc., need to reach a variety of people so they can gain a better perspective on the whole picture. We need to influence the various movements in favor of ending oppression overall, not just a single group of people, and not in a superficial way.

It is hopeful to see many people mobilized against detention centers. The general feeling tends to be that the people do not deserve to be imprisoned because they haven’t done anything to justify that. Hope resides in people’s realization that the government would imprison innocent people- that the law isn’t legitimate. The relationship between the detention centers and the prison industrial complex as a whole needs to be highlighted so that people can see that the immigration detention centers are not the only unmerited manifestation of imprisonment of people. It is also vital that the people see a common cause in dealing with these issues in a larger context.

As far as dealing with institutional racism, organizations such as Critical Resistance, INCITE!, and copwatch groups have been developing responses to institutional racism in the form of law enforcement and the prison industrial complex. While many immigrants’ rights strategies are myopic, these groups tend to have a more inclusive perspective. The most powerful efforts to bringing justice to undocumented immigrants must involve uniting people who are affected by the criminal “justice” system and coming up with alternatives to dealing with social problems using that system. Supporting the efforts that existing groups like these are doing may be a good place to start.

Solving the “immigration problem” will not mean securing the border, nor the legalization of immigrants, nor will it mean shifting around a few things so we can again easily ignore immigrants and allow them to remain exploited. Radical changes will have to occur- things that are very threatening to the status quo and would therefore likely encounter the criminal “justice” system as well. It is also not okay if somehow immigrants are given justice; there is already a system of oppression against people of color that will not be resolved unless we connect these issues. Small successes are good, but if we do not demand the fullest extent of what needs to change, we cannot have any hope of gaining it. Angela Davis’s quote below can be related to today’s struggle.

“If convict leasing and the accompanying disproportionality with which black people were made to inhabit jails and prisons during the post-Emancipation period had been taken up with the same intensity and seriousness as- and in connection with- the campaign against lynching, then the contemporary radical call for prison abolition might not sound so implausible today.” Angela Davis: From the Prison of Slavery to the Slavery of Prison

Monday, March 2, 2009

Huge Arpaio Protest made possible by various factors

According to the various sources, it seems there were at least 2000 if not maybe even 5000 people at the Protest against Arpaio and 287(g). Although I knew it would be big (100 people made it out to an Arpaio protest with less than one day's notice on 5/12/08), i didn't realize it would be quite this big. What i was most surprised about, was how much it was similar to the big immigrants' rights marches. It was smaller than those mainly because it was organized differently and i imagine that since this was a protest against a police official, so it was more specific, and there was a little bit more risk involved- at least that could be the perception, fortunately not the reality.

I'd be interested to learn how many people were from out of town, as well as how many people came out because they heard Zach de la Rocha would be there (and he was).

While we can be impressed with the turn-out, we mustn't forget all the efforts that led up to this. I personally don't know to what extent the National Day Labor Organizing group was involved, but i know the idea came out of Puente. Puente has been organizing the protests at the Wells Fargo bank branches, specifically the tower that Arpaio rents a floor in for an exorbitant amount of money. For a while, they were out there for about two hours every weekday. They've also brought out the fact that Wells Fargo has ties to the Geo group, formerly or also known as Wackenhut, which runs and profits from some of the immigrant detention centers, particularly in the northwest, where people have been protesting Wells Fargo as well.

Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability has also been essentially protesting Arpaio through different means, primarily at the County Board of Supervisors meetings, since this board decides Arpaio's funding. They have gotten rather large turn-outs for several of their demonstrations.

Last year there were several protests against Arpaio at his book signings and other public engagements. And either he stopped his public engagements or people stopped keeping track of them. Most of these protests are detailed in this blog post. One of the protests includes the May 12 protest at the Italian American Club where about 100 people showed up in less than 24 hours notice.

The New Times' The Bird has been documenting these events as well as the actions of Arpaio, so there is something to be said for his contribution to the local anti-Arpaio sentiment and participation.

Of course Arpaio himself is the reason people have showed up to these protests. His sweeps and especially the parading of immigrant inmates between tent city camps have really inspired anger in the masses. People showed to protest and/or document these incidents as well.

I'm sure there are some things i'm forgetting. But i think it's important to recognize the work that has been done leading up to an event as large as this.

It'll be interesting to see what happens. I discussed in my last post that i don't expect anything positive out of the federal government. Federal Government will not be Maricopa County's Savior.