By Marc Rome, March 9, 2009
Last night I attended a meeting, organized by the Democrats and local pastors, at St. Anthony’s church in the heart of San Francisco’s Latino community. It featured Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Nancy Pelosi. It was part of Gutierrez’s 17 city “Family Unity” tour that is intended to garner support for “for fair and just immigration reform.”
I was among 6 members of the San Francisco based ad-hoc immigrant rights coalition, May 1st Coalition, who passed out 500 leaflets for our upcoming March 14 meeting to organize May Day this year. Before the meeting, most people politely took the leaflets. After the meeting, as I handed them out, I prefaced it with either “Alto las redadas” and/or “organizar el Primero de Mayo” and folks seemed to snap up the leaflets with more interest. Clearly, they were charged up after the meeting, and we offered them something meaningful to plug into.
The main banner over the archway leading into the church said in Spanish: “We ask Congress and the President for a just immigration reform that permits residency and respects civil, labor and human rights.” Below that was written, “We the workers make and produce the wealth.”
At least 600 people, 99% Latino workers, comprised a standing room only crowd.
The meeting was conducted in both English and Spanish with most of the speakers doing their own translation. Though, some speakers spoke in Spanish only.
A young mixed Anglo/Latino minister kicked off the evening asking God to stop the raids and to keep families together. Ay Dios mio.
The MC, a Latina, explained that the meeting was for the Congress people to hear testimony by citizen children of undocumented immigrants about their fears of their parents being deported, the reality of having their parents deported or having their homes raided by ICE. Several young people between the ages of 9 and 17 gave their testimony about living under the constant terror of ICE. It was heart wrenching.
Several times the MC said “No More Raids!” which invariably was followed by thunderous applause, a response repeated any time anyone said “Stop the Raids!”
Gutierrez was introduced to a standing ovation. He said that this tour was for the 4-5 million citizen children of undocumented workers and that we have to “stop separating mother from children.” I don’t know if he consciously left out fathers from the equation, but it struck me as strange. He went on to say that we (Latin@s) have to make our voice strong enough so that Obama will be forced to hear our plea to protect our families. Several times he said that we have to stop the raids and to make U.S. immigration policy fair and just, but without going into detail.
Pelosi was introduced to a standing ovation and chants of “Si se puede.” She too said “stop the raids” and “we need a comprehensive immigration policy/reform with a path to legalization.”
The only course of action proposed was to sign a petition to Obama urging him to “stop the misguided raids and deportations” and to enact a “comprehensive immigration reform.” This was circulated at the end of the meeting (see attachment). There was no question and answer session.
Upon reflection, this was a scary meeting with the Democrats sounding like they were friends of immigrant workers, that they were allies in stopping the raids, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was like watching them bait a trap. The raids will continue, and are used, as mentioned in James Frickey’s 2007 report on immigrant rights, “to manufacture consent for Congress to pass its guest-worker bill [in this case, a yet to be proposed “comprehensive immigration reform”] and to break the resolve of immigrant workers to resist it. In the long run, the raids enable ICE to test its capacity for mass deportation.” The combination of U.S. bosses seeking profits at any cost, who have already dealt serious blows to organized labor, and the spectre of an economic depression, we can be sure that the raids will continue until Congress has delivered a legislative gift for the bosses: an immigrant labor force that can be super-exploited with virtually no rights and whose fate is tied to the dictates of the boss.
Senator John Kerry recently authored an article entitled, “Toward humane immigration enforcement,” where he employs Orwellian logic and lays out a plan to make raids more “humane.” He says in part, “the raid at Michael Bianco prompted me to introduce the Families First Immigration Enforcement Act. I saw it as a way to stop other communities from experiencing the same kind of soul-wrenching event that had occurred in New Bedford. It included common-sense ideas, such as coordinating with state agencies to provide interpreters and social services and establishing humanitarian exceptions for the sick, elderly, pregnant or nursing mothers and others especially vulnerable to the consequences of detention.
“President Obama,” Kerry continues, “has reaffirmed his commitment to push for immigration reform along the lines of the measure originally proposed by Senators
Ted Kennedy and John McCain with a renewed emphasis on the employer side — rather than the employee side — of workplace enforcement.” Certainly any legislation along those lines could hardly be called “humane.” The Kennedy/McCain bill called for a major increase in the number of ICE agents, a 700-mile border wall and path citizenship that would have required 5-12 years residency in the U.S., passing a criminal background check and paying thousands of dollars in back taxes and fines. And of course employer side workplace enforcement almost invariably targets workers, with the employer getting off relatively lightly, if he is punished at all.
Outside the church, a small anti-immigrant group of about 7 held a banner that read “No Amnesty,” and while these guys were fringe fanatics, as the economy continues to deteriorate, we should be prepared to confront the backward views of nativist workers that are likely to surface. “During times of capitalist contraction,” explains Chacon and Davis in No One is Illegal, “such as recession or depression, or other threats to the stability of profits, admiration for the immigrant gives way to disdain. During these volatile periods, the immigrant is portrayed as a malicious force in society, responsible for a constellation of social ills that threaten the nation.”
In conclusion, it seems that the Democrats are playing their repressive hand with much more sophistication than the previous Republican administration, in no small part because they witnessed the reaction to the ham-fisted Sensenbrenner Bill: 4-6 million immigrant workers out the streets, what the coming American Revolution will look like. Allowing the Democrats to placate immigrant workers with their demagogic calls to “End the Raids!” would be to stand by and watch them be further immobilized. By the same token, we risk alienating our allies and ultimately the immigrant workers that we want to defend if we engage in denunciations of the Democrats. They have put the issue of the raids front and center, and knowing that they won’t be the ones organizing the targeted communities against the raids (rather, they’ll be organizing the raids, “humanely”), we have to energetically work to mobilize the victims and give them confidence that only they have the power stop the government’s campaign of terror.
Here’s an article on the meeting from the Chronicle