Standing up to immigration police

September 21, 2009

WASHINGTON--Activists and members of the immigrant community gathered on the National Mall on September 12 to demand that the Obama administration abolish the 287(g) program, which deputizes local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.

The rally and concert was followed by a march to the White House, where demonstrators held a vigil and picket. At its height, about 400 protesters marched, calling for an end to raids and the racial profiling that programs like 287(g) have authorized in municipalities across the country.

The rally and march were organized by the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), with the support of groups like the United Tenants and Workers, CASA de Maryland and DC Jobs with Justice, among others. Activists and day laborer leaders from as far as California and New York were in Washington D.C. for the weekend attending a conference put on by NDLON.

One organizer with a day laborers' network in San Bernadino, Calif., spoke about police raids against day laborers at a Home Depot there. "Local police have quotas as part of 287(g) to conduct anti-immigrant raids...There have been 30 raids in the past six months in Southern California," she said.

NDLON executive director Pablo Alvarado said that programs like 287(g) contradict the ideas of tolerance and sympathy for immigrants that Obama expressed during his campaign. "The 287(g) program has created a reign of terror in our communities," Alvarado said.

Raids against immigrant communities have continued on Obama's watch, even as many had hoped that the new administration would push for humane immigration reform. Instead, the administration has expanded the Bush-era 287(g) program that continues to terrorize immigrant families. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called for tougher enforcement and deportation of "criminal aliens."

Most notoriously, the 287(g) program has been implemented in Phoenix by racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has used brutal and systematic racial profiling in raids and traffic stops against Latinos throughout Maricopa County. Arpaio has become the symbol of precisely what is so noxious about 287(g) and the immigration system as a whole.

Several protesters at the rally held signs against Arpaio, who is currently being investigated by the Justice Department for civil rights abuses--thanks to the work of activists who marched last spring demanding justice for his victims.

During this week's march, immigrants and other activists made a ruckus as they marched across Constitution Avenue chanting "¡Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" (Obama listen, we are in the struggle), among other chants.

The immigrant rights action coincided with a weekend of "tea party" rallies held by right-wing bigots mobilized by Glenn Beck and Fox News. Immigrant rights organizers for the NDLON action worked as security on the periphery of the rally, holding yellow security tape around the entire rally site, presumably to protect protesters from any right-wing hostility.

Fortunately, the racists left protesters alone for the most part, and only a handful of them watched the rally on the other side of the yellow tape--with one holding a sign of a picture of Obama next to a picture of Lenin.

Likewise, during the march, red, white and blue-clad bigots on the sidewalk stood and watched in bewilderment or hurled a few racist taunts that were drowned out by the loud chants--"Aquí estamos y no nos vamos." (We are here and we're not leaving).

Immigrant rights protesters proceeded in rows of two that stretched the nighttime march over several blocks as it neared Lafayette Park in front of the White House. There, protesters held a candlelight vigil accompanied by words from Alvarado and several religious leaders, including Rev. Whit Hutchinson of the New Sanctuary Movement.

As a result of the 287(g) program, Alvarado said,

We've seen racial profiling practices that we haven't seen in a generation, perhaps since Jim Crow. Obama ran on an agenda of inclusion...He wants equality. He said that we have to promote understanding. Well, guess what--the 287g program is not promoting that kind of understanding. It's promoting division. It's giving ammunition to all those anti-immigrant organizations, to all those groups with strong white supremacist ties.

Day laborers all over the country have experienced it...the men and women who every day defy the odds to find a day of work--they've seen what hatred looks like.

"Obama promised immigration reform, and we are tired of waiting," another organizer said. "We are here to demand no more raids and stop dividing our families."

Beside the stage stood a homeless family within the crowd--a mother and father with three small children. The father held a sign that read, "Obama says take the time to be a dad. Then stop allowing two countries to separate our loving family!"

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