Thursday, December 15, 2011

Federal Goverment Prefers Their Way Better Than Arpaio's

The federal government has finally decided it doesn't exactly like how Arpaio has been enforcing immigration, huh?  Admittedly I can't help but get a little kick out of the blow to Arpaio's ego (and career?) but at the same time, I really can't stand the idea that people would be celebrating the federal government for finally putting their foot down against maltreatment of migrants.  Why?

I broke it down almost three years ago in my blog post, Federal Government will not be Maricopa County's Savior, one of the main points being that the federal government is just as bad if not worse in handling the immigration issue.  I think of Arpaio as an extremist clown- he is a spectacle that pushes the limits of what the public will accept.  He makes nearly everyone else who is pro-immigration enforcement (aside from Pearce who was right there with him) look responsible and reasonable.  So the federal government militarizes the border, holds thousands of migrants in detention centers and/or deports them, still conducts huge raids (Obama's raids surpassed previous ones, i.e. here and here), etc,. but they get to decide, to the delight of many, that Arpaio just went to far because he's been using his federal authority to discriminate

"The Department of Homeland Security is troubled by the Department of Justice's findings of discriminatory policing practices within the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office," Napolitano said in a statement. "Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust. DHS will not be a party to such practices. Accordingly, and effective immediately, DHS is terminating MCSO's 287(g) jail model agreement and is restricting the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office access to the Secure Communities program." (Source).

Apparently the federal government knows how not to erode the public trust. For similar reasons I have a problem with people focusing on the "innocent" victims of racial profiling and such.  Sure, go after the real criminals, we won't question that concept, just as long as all the people caught up in the deportation/detention system are the ones you say you're going after- because blatant maliciousness and hypocrisy erode the public trust, the status quo doesn't.

Yes, I'd like to see Arpaio gone, just as I liked seeing Russell Pearce gone (it'd be better if he was goner) but the illusion of victory distracts from what's really happening.  As I've mentioned numerous times, the Phoenix PD continues to deport more people than MCSO, but they do it without all the media hubbub, and therefore without comment from Stephen Lemons and migrant rights groups.  Arpaio is the face that can be pasted to a piñata, but he's not the only one we should be hitting with the metaphorical (or not) stick.

Some of what I wrote in early 2009 is pretty out-dated, but the following concluding paragraphs are more timeless.

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. If we demand and they give, they are still the heroes although we still have some sense of having played a part.

Related, the government is not a just one. We cannot expect a government that has been built on racism and continues to practice it in various ways (much higher rates of incarceration of people of color than whites, lack of indigenous rights, wars, just to name some examples) to be a force against white supremacy. The operator of immigration detention centers (or the ones who outsource private detention facilities), the performer of raids, is not the one whose going to save us from the similar actions of the Sheriff. He is doing their work for them. He's just doing it in an extra "look how demeaning i can be to these people" way. If the federal government does anything about it, it will only be to legitimize and continue its own actions and those of other jurisdictions.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Law Enforcement Doesn't Stop Sexual Assault: On the MCSO Controversy

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

While it's embarrassing for the MCSO that former investigators' claims led to media attention such as MCSO priorities blamed for sex-crimes snafu, I cringe when thinking about how this will be framed, as usual, that regular police departments who are not led by extremist clowns like Arpaio, do a fine job at dealing with sex-crimes.  Interestingly, the articles I read barely mention Arpaio's focus on immigration, whereas independent media like Sheriff Arpaio ignored rape cases for years does.  It is clear that solving sexual assault cases took a back seat to the politically-motivated anti-immigrant campaign of attrition.  Yet this is not to insinuate that law enforcement is meant to prevent or even solve crime for the most part- particularly when it happens to especially-marginalized people.

Let's contrast this recent MCSO controversy with the situation that is rarely talked about: Immigrant Detainees: The New Sex Abuse Crisis.
There is abundant evidence that rape is a systemic problem in our immigration detention facilities—for women, for men, and, as the Women’s Refugee Commission has documented, for children. In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report based on over fifty known incidents and allegations of sexual abuse of immigration detainees. The American Civil Liberties Union has discovered 185 government reports of such allegations since 2007, and a senior ACLU staff attorney says this is only “the tip of the iceberg.”
For crossing a man-made line in the sand in an unauthorized way, people are made particularly vulnerable to abuses inside and outside the prison system.  Sometimes the coyotes assault those they're helping to smuggle across the border.  Men have dressed as ICE agents to assault women.  Real ICE agents, police, and detention officers get away with abuses of this sort all the time.  Whether this behavior is excused or ignored because of racism or because the survivor is "illegal", it is made easier and more commonplace because of the criminalization of people.

Police or ICE officials sometimes make themselves out to be saviors of people held against their will, such as in drop-house busts in cases where migrants are held for ransom, only to turn around and hold the migrants in their own cages, where many of the same abuses occur.  The question that arises while people are calling out Arpaio for de-prioritizing sexual assault cases is, whose bodily integrity matters?  Are we considering the cases of those who get picked up for overstaying their visa?  Do they even have the choice to report the crimes perpetrated against them?
Terrified of deportation and separation from their families, immigrants in detention are often extremely reluctant to file grievances against facilities run by the very people who can expel them from the country; and there is little question that deportation is sometimes used as retribution against immigration detainees who complain, and sometimes as a way of forestalling investigations into abuses. And it’s clear that facilities holding people who do not feel able to complain are particularly fertile grounds for abuse, as are institutions that can easily deport witnesses against them. 
What comes to mind is the situation with criminalization of sex-workers, especially where it overlaps with immigration.  While sex-trafficking does occur, laws that are written to supposedly curb sex-trafficking actually make things worse for sex-workers.

As Nandita Sharma said in an interview,
Anti-trafficking legislation is used to target so-called “illegal migration.” Instead of placing the blame for migrants’ vulnerability on the restrictive immigration policies of national states that force people into a condition of illegality, it blames those who are actually facilitating their movement across borders... Anti-trafficking legislation criminalizes people who facilitate migrants’ entry into national states. I think this is the underlying agenda behind anti-trafficking legislation. It offers ideological cover to target both the migrants themselves and the people who facilitate their movement. In this way, anti-trafficking legislation strengthens border policing...
Let me give you two examples of how anti-trafficking legislation actually increases the vulnerability and exploitation that many women migrants face. First, anti-trafficking legislation targets people who are helping women cross borders. This raises the cost of moving across borders and, as a result, women have to go further into debt in order to do so. Second, by imposing these enormous penalties – which, in Canada, can include a life-sentence and in the United States can include a death sentence – those facilitating movement make migrants use routes that are less safe. People are being forced to cross borders in very vulnerable places like deserts and mountains, places where hundreds of migrant bodies are found dead every year. Anti-trafficking legislation is thus making migration less safe for women.
Jessica Yee was also interviewed:
Women around the world, especially racialized women, shoulder the burden of labour that doesn’t get acknowledged or reported. Forced labour and exploitation are reported even less. When we’re talking about “trafficking,” people assume we’re talking only about sex work, and only about cross-border trafficking. We need to remind ourselves that sexual slavery and the forcing of sexual acts are not the only kinds of exploitation, even though they seem particularly salacious compared to other forms of forced labour. We also need to understand that “trafficking” takes place within nation states, and against Indigenous people.
Many people uncritically accept the conflation of trafficking and sex work. The same people who think it is taboo to talk about sex are the first to suggest that this is the number one issue of forced labour, but it’s not. And people who are actually being trafficked and moved against their will receive no attention because the state is so focused on raiding massage parlours and arresting women who are sex workers. This neglect occurs in the name of righteousness and “saving” women, yet it is merely the further colonization of women’s bodies, women’s spaces, and women’s choices.
(Listen to the radio show here).

This is all to familiar to those of us who had been following the situation of the migrants in Maricopa County who were charged with conspiracy in human smuggling cases.  Even though the law wasn't meant to go after migrants themselves, hundreds of migrants were charged with conspiracy by MCSO over the last few years.  While many who didn't take a guilty plea were not convicted, MCSO was still able to get them caught up in the legal system because they could take them in under reasonable suspicion.  And even though the authors of the bill said they didn't intend for the law to be used that way, it was clearly an effort to cut down on migration, while likely increasing the risks of those involved in a similar way as the sex-trafficking laws discussed above.  This is also similar to the ways in which the Employer Sanctions Law should really be called the Employee Sanctions Law because many more employees have been arrested under the guise of going after employers, few of whom have seen any consequences (Another workplace raid targets workers not bosses).

The criminalization of unauthorized movement, drugs, and sex-work is done allegedly for the sake of minimizing violence, issues of security, and health problems, when in fact it perpetuates these things.
The badges, guns, and official vehicles, this assumption that law enforcement are never/rarely law-breakers, allows violations to occur against people, not to mention the drug smuggling enabled by the authority provided to various agents (Mexican Smugglers Exploit the Corrupt Reputation of U.S. Border Officers).  This is not about the unfortunate bad apples who spoil the barrel- this is a systemic, institutional problem.  And even while Arpaio gets publicly called out for deprioritizing sex-crimes, it is not as though the media doesn't praise the (other) police as well as perpetuate victim-blaming.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

ALEC Resistance Continues with SRP Protest

As a follow-up to my last post, I want to say, that I had not closely seen the banners in the following photo, which clearly show a more radical message. Of course there were others, but I felt that overall it was not an adequate attempt at drawing a bigger picture of people. It's difficult however, as when I found myself explaining ALEC to passersby tonight, since so few people have ever heard of it, it makes sense to just stick to the basics. Anyway, these banners had great messaging.

When I wrote my last piece I also make a distinction between tactics and message. I include the call for shutting down ALEC more as tactics than messaging. Again, many people were down with the "shutdown" message as well as the actual tactics which were as close as could be gotten to that goal, which you can read about here.

Check out this zine also: N30 Shutdown ALEC zine

I was delightfully surprised about the protest planned for the morning of Dec 2nd at the Salt River Project (SRP), which is a local energy company and an ALEC board member, and has collaborated with Peabody Coal (another ALEC member) for resource extraction. I wasn't aware of the issues with SRP specifically and so I imagine very few other people were until this action. This action definitely addressed the broader issue of colonization, which was present at the N30 event, but perhaps a bit drowned out. Although several people involved with Occupy Phoenix showed up, some of whom were down with what was going on while others didn't get it but showed up because they got the message to, this action steered away from the occupy message. It helped to make clear that the opposition to ALEC is not just coming out of occupy, even though the media seems to be portraying the N30 action that way.

Please check out the following independent media: BREAKING NEWS: Indigenous Elders & Supporters Occupy ALEC Member Salt River Project Headquarters
PHOTOS & VIDEO Indigenous Elders & Supporters Occupy ALEC Member Salt River Project Headquarters
and more at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

ALEC Protests: Any more radical than Bush protests?

Considering that ALEC has not been shut down (yet?), I'm concerned that some of the message has been lost in the interest of gaining numbers and exposure. I do think it's important to expose ALEC, and that has been accomplished on a large scale over the last year, with this protest in Scottsdale being the largest and most militant yet.

I've been concerned about ALEC being the new public enemy #1 when in fact they are just a good example of the larger system(s) at work that affect laws to the benefit of the rich and powerful. So we're talking colonization, capitalism, slavery and the continued criminalization of people of color, which included borders and prisons, etc. There certainly are benefits to the exposure of the World Trade Organization (WTO) culminating 12 years ago, but in a sense, it focused on neo-liberalism/globalization at the expense of a focus on capitalism.

While ALEC came to be exposed to us in AZ because of its links to SB1070 and private prisons, I was concerned that the private-ness of prisons would be the focus, rather than the history of criminalization people, primarily people of color, which has also benefited the rich and powerful. But while I don't know a lot about the messages coming out of the liberal/progressive/democrat groups that are also opposing ALEC, it seems that even the private prison connection is not the main focus. And with the occupy rhetoric, ALEC can just be understood as representing the 1%.

Today I asked myself what made these ALEC protests different than the old Bush protests where democrats and anarchists gathered together to oppose a common enemy. Not to say we shouldn't oppose a common enemy, but it is clear to anarchists (for the most part) that democrats can be just as bad if not worse in their slimy deceptive ways. Or they don't have to be deceptive, it's that those who would oppose Obama's higher rates of raids and deportations are more isolated because the left is too afraid or enamored to oppose Obama. It's similar to how Arpaio has been the face of evil anti-immigrant schemes, while the Phoenix PD has made more arrests than MCSO and with hardly a peep from the immigrants' rights movement.

All this is intended as constructive criticism and self-criticism. What is it that we'll wish we had done differently, and is it to late? The indigenous gathering was very encouraging. There will be more media releases that address the wider context. It was great that the "SHUTDOWN ALEC" message did not alienate many people, even if it hasn't resulted in the achievement of that goal. I hope that now that ALEC has been further exposed, we can bring the bigger issues into the forefront. Because if ALEC didn't exist, there would still be prisons, borders, colonization...

It's the never-ending conundrum: say what only anarchists will say at the risk of total isolation, or compromise a bit in hopes that people will slowly be drawn towards being open to what only anarchists will say. I honestly fall somewhere in the middle of these, but sometimes more towards the former.

See also: ALEC protest Wednesday
ALEC in context...
Private Prisons in a Wider Context: Video