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Organizer Renee Saucedo explains...
"They want to scapegoat immigrants"

July 8, 2005 | Pages 4 and 5

THE ANTI-IMMIGRANT bigots of the Minuteman Project grabbed headlines earlier this year when they organized vigilantes to come to Arizona to "patrol the border." But this is only the best-known front in the attack on immigrants taking place across the country. One flash point is California--where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed the Minuteman Project.

RENEE SAUCEDO is a lawyer and organizer in the struggle for immigrant rights. Formerly the executive director of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights and chair San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission, she is currently community empowerment coordinator at La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco. Last year, Renee ran as a Green Party candidate for the city's board of supervisors, placing second in her district.

Here, she talks to Socialist Worker's TODD CHRETIEN about the struggle for immigrant rights today.

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CAN YOU describe the latest round of attacks on immigrant rights?

WHERE DO I start? You have things happening at every level--federal, state and local.

At the federal level, the Real ID Act is moving us closer to a national ID card, and it recently passed Congress very quickly, with very little debate. It requires undocumented workers to have a special mark on their driver's licenses, which would jeopardize their safety and make them vulnerable to being deported.

It does not allow people with those marked licenses to enter federal buildings or to be able to travel. It also says that information gathered by local DMVs must be provided to the federal government and become part of a national database--meaning that almost anyone could access your personal information.

The Real ID Act will make is almost impossible for people to win asylum cases and allows the government to deport legal immigrants if they support organizations that the government deems "terrorist"--even if that support was legal at the time they gave it. Finally, it gives the government a lot more freedom to militarize the border by extending fences and walls along the border.

The other proposal making the rounds in Congress that we're extremely concerned about--because we organize undocumented workers, day laborers and domestic workers primarily--is a Social Security law that would embed a person's immigration status as part of the Social Security card, with a computerized magnetic strip. This not only impacts immigrant communities, but everyone's personal, private information will be available to employers every time they scan an employee's Social Security Card.

Finally, there is a legalization proposal at the federal level. While this is not necessarily an "attack," we don't agree with some immigrant rights groups that are praising this proposal as a big victory. It does have some good parts to it, especially for people who are already living and working in the country, because they will be able to get legal status if they don't have it.

But it also has a guest worker component, and we believe that guest worker programs will hurt both immigrant and native-born workers. Added to this, the Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, are so weak, that they are supporting the part of the legislation that increases the militarization of the border.

COULD YOU explain why it is so important for undocumented workers to be able to get driver's licenses?

IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES, regardless of their legal status, need to have the right to drive their kids to school or take a sick relative to the doctor or be able to drive to work. The reality is that people are driving because they have to, in order to feed their families, whether they have licenses or not. So denying people the right to get a license just means that they don't have to pass the state driver's test, they can't get insurance. It makes it unsafe, not only for immigrant communities, but for everyone.

Besides, morally, people should have the right to something as basic as being able to drive and to have an ID. Without identification, you can't open a bank account. If a cop stops you, you can be taken into custody for no reason. We had a situation where a group of day laborers were sent by their employer to move some furniture into a federal building, and they were detained because they didn't have ID.

And let me state the obvious--there's no correlation between so-called terrorism and whether or not immigrants can get a driver's license. It's just part of this anti-terrorism paranoia. There is absolutely no connection between the two, although George Bush and Dianne Feinstein would like us to think there is. People should be very vigilant of attacks on civil liberties under the guise of national security, because if immigrants are denied driver's licenses today, then other groups of people are going to lose their rights in the future.

CAN YOU compare the political climate in the 1990s--when California's Republican Gov. Pete Wilson pushed through the anti-immigrant ballot measure Proposition 187, and Bill Clinton implemented Operation Gatekeeper to militarize the border--and the post-September 11 period? Is there a sharp escalation of the attack, or just more of the same?

WHAT WE see today is a continuation of what we've seen for the past couple decades. Under Clinton, we saw Operation Gatekeeper and welfare "reform," which impacted immigrant communities, as well as poor people of color.

In my mind, there hasn't been too much of a shift depending on whether the Democrats or Republicans were in power. The main thing is that the justification is different. Pre-9/11, it was "we can't afford immigrants, and they're taking over the country culturally." Now, not only are they welfare cheats, but they're terrorists, too.

YOU LED a group of activists down to Arizona earlier this year to confront the Minutemen anti-immigrant militia when it threatened to "police" the border. What should we do about the increased presence of these anti-immigrant bigots?

I THINK that we should do everything we can to mobilize our communities and our allies, and to expose them for who they are, and what they're trying to do. This is simply a PR tactic to further criminalize immigrant communities and militarize the U.S.-Mexico border. They want to scapegoat immigrants for systematic social, economic and political problems that are not caused by immigrants. I think that we should aggressively be out there confronting them and denouncing them and exposing who is funding them.

Now, there are different groups that are going to use different strategies. The lawyers' groups are going to try to file lawsuits and send out legal monitors to watch the Minutemen. There's a legislative strategy that aims to at least educate state officials about the danger the militias pose, and why vigilanteism shouldn't be tolerated.

Then there's the organizing strategy--where we think it's important for immigrant communities themselves to be able to voice their opinion and show their power around fighting the Minutemen.

YOU'VE DONE a lot of work locally, especially organizing the San Francisco Day Laborers Program. Can you talk about the initiatives being taken in defense of immigrants rights?

MY PERSONAL opinion is that the key organizations that people should do solidarity work with are those groups that are grounded in immigrant workers--like Mujeres Unidas y Activas, the Day Laborers Program, People Organizing to Win Employment Rights, and the Chinese Progressive Association. That is, groups that are organizing immigrant power, where the immigrants themselves are making the decisions about political strategy.

So for instance, the local campaign to fight for driver's licenses is entirely composed of undocumented workers--people who have the most gain. Building up immigrant power by developing immigrant workers themselves takes the longest and is the hardest method, but it will have the most impact in the long run.

To get involved in the struggle, or for more information, you can e-mail Renee Saucedo at: [email protected].

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