Immigrants get the blame

June 8, 2010

IN THE last month, SB 1070 in Arizona has galvanized the immigrant rights movement. As the old saying goes, "Sometimes the boss is the best organizer."

From this year's May Day marches to the recent rally in Phoenix (at least 50,000 strong) and solidarity actions all around the country, this racist law has reactivated the movement and put hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in protest.

This is a high-stakes fight, and we need to keep building the pressure against SB 1070, connecting it to the fight against other anti-immigrant measures.

For instance, San Francisco is one of several cities that called for a boycott of Arizona. Yet there are laws and policies here every bit as vile as SB 1070. San Francisco has been "a city and county of refuge" since 1989. But since 2008, our Democratic mayor has led a charge to gut our sanctuary status--including handing undocumented youth, held in juvenile detention, over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Now, a new attack is on the way. Set to begin on June 8, the city will implement a federal program sickeningly called "Secure Communities." This new police-ICE collaboration program will investigate the immigration status of anyone who is arrested and fingerprinted for any crime, by electronically crosschecking fingerprints against an ICE database.

Digital fingerprint images will be forwarded automatically to state justice departments for criminal background checks and be made available to ICE. This new program will further erode the sanctuary policy, promote racial profiling and tear even more families apart. Even worse, Secure Communities is to be implemented nationally by the end of 2013.

WHAT'S BEHIND the current round of attacks on immigrants?

The economic crisis has got the rich and powerful worried about their profit margins, and the general consensus they've reached is that the rest of us are going to pay for the mess. They've been pretty successful at that so far, and that means the crisis is making life harder for a vast number of workers.

Unemployment is up, our schools are crumbling, many people have lost their homes, and millions of us are still without healthcare. This tends to make people scared, and angry.

By and large, the rich do not want that anger directed back at them, so they are attempting to point it elsewhere. Laws like SB 1070 send a poisonous message: "Immigrants are to blame." And the message is having an impact on the way a lot of people understand the situation.

Lost your job? An immigrant stole it. Is your child's school short on money or teachers? Immigrants are draining resources. Crime rate going up? Immigrants are dangerous. Economy in trouble? The "immigrant invasion" is sucking the life out of the country.

In this context, and with other explanations driven to the margins (for example, that the money that went to Wall Street bailouts should have gone to schools and jobs programs), racism and scapegoating can take hold.

According to recent polls, no less than 60 percent of the U.S. population believes that SB 1070 is a good idea. That means that a pretty sizeable number of working-class people have been led to believe, to some extent at least, that other workers are the source of their problems.

While the right has led the charge on the attack, they've had help from the liberal wing of corporate politics, the Democratic Party.

Barack Obama came into office with a promise to "fix our broken immigration system" in his first 100 days in office. What has he done so far?

Increased deportations to record levels (nearly 390,000 in 2009).

Allowed the Department of Homeland Security to send 800 ICE agents into Arizona for a massive raid--in the midst of the SB 1070 legislative debate!

And the latest "solution": He's sending 1200 National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly in Arizona.

Capitol Hill's proposed alternative to this patchwork approach is any one of numerous "comprehensive immigration reform" bills, often referred to as "CIR."

The CIR bills are not all the same; and some are far more odious than others. Yet they all have things in common--further militarization of the border, fines and other punishments for undocumented immigrants, and where there's a path to legalization at all, it's a long, twisted path that will only be open to a relative handful of the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country.

It all amounts to another refrain in the "immigrants are to blame" tune. While Democrats and Republicans may argue over the details, they agree that going after immigrants is the thing to do.

Laying the responsibility for declining living standards on immigrants is an attempt to pit working-class people against each other, and to re-direct blame for the crisis away from where it belongs--the government itself, the corporate fat cats, and their system of organized theft (otherwise known as capitalism). For the time being at least, opinion on SB 1070 has created a dividing line in society.

It's also the case that differing opinion on CIR has created divisions within the immigrant rights movement. On the other hand, opposition to SB 1070, Secure Communities and the like has helped to unify the movement in the face of an attack.

The task now is to build on that unity to broaden and strengthen our forces, and to develop within that a left wing that can organize for independence from the Democratic Party and that can work to win the movement to bigger demands, such as amnesty.

Stopping SB 1070 or Secure Communities, not to mention winning amnesty, is going to take one hell of a fight. We need to start by saying loud and clear that immigrants are not to blame!
Roger Dyer, San Francisco

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