A flood of bigotry about the border

July 17, 2014

Mario Cardenas looks at the ugly reaction to the surge of migrant youth detentions--all the way up to the twisted debate in Washington, D.C.

ON GOOGLE Earth, the town of Murrieta, Calif., looks like an orderly array of identical houses nestled among intricate patterns of lawns, sidewalks and driveways. The mayor of Murrieta, Alan Long, says he's a family man who thinks "strong family values directly and indirectly contribute to a healthy community," according to the town website.

From above, Murrietta--located about an hour's drive north of San Diego and to the east of the Camp Pendleton Marine base--seems healthy and peaceful. But near Interstate 15, inside a desolate compound, lies the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Murrieta Station--which, on July 1, was the target for anti-immigrant bigots protesting the presence of deportees who were being transported from Texas.

The Border Patrol facility is a monument to the sickness of a system that scapegoats and criminalizes the most vulnerable people in society, for the "crime" of seeking a better life for themselves and their family.

But there was a sickness outside Murrieta Station on July 1, and it's one that's spreading, too. The anti-immigrant forces that mobilized to protest have succeeded in defining the mainstream political discussion on immigration--so that the debate in Washington, D.C., thousands of miles from Murrieta, takes place on the basis of an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on more border militarization and deportations, with little or no concern for justice or human rights.

Anti-immigrant bigots protest detainees in Murrieta, Calif.
Anti-immigrant bigots protest detainees in Murrieta, Calif.

The detainees transported to Murrieta had attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande region of Southeast Texas. Most were migrants who had traveled for months from Central American countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

And most were children. They thus became a visible face for a trend that emerged into the headlines in the past month--a dramatic increase of unaccompanied children detained by immigration authorities, totaling 57,000 since last October.

To the anti-immigrant protesters, the detainees, no matter what their age, were criminals who should be deported as soon as possible. One of the demonstrators held a sign reading: "Send them back with birth control."

A counter-protest of pro-immigrant supporters also came to show their solidarity with the victims of a system that forces them to make a terrible choice: continue living with violence and poverty, cut off from family members who have already fled--or face the deadly risks of going to the U.S. The popular Mexican-American singer Lupillo Rivera was among those immigrant supporters--he was spit on in the face by a racist protester.

MURRIETA ISN'T unique. The U.S. is filled with suburban Congressional districts that are safe havens for a rising right-wing radicalism that hides behind the mask of concern about homeland security and the economic well-being of native-born citizens.

Beneath this veneer lies a viciously racist political current, well organized and well funded, that continues to exert a rightward influence on mainstream politics--as the current obsession gripping Washington about the "crisis at the border" proves.

The backdrop to the latest Washington feuding over immigration is the collapse of another attempt to pass immigration "reform," supposedly a priority for both parties after the 2012 election.

The same dynamic as before continued to predominate: Most congressional Democrats and a few Republicans supported legislation that is heavily weighted toward more border militarization and deportations, with the distant hope of a twisted "path to citizenship" for a minority of the undocumented. But even this proposal, rejected by much of the immigrant rights movement, went too far for Republicans, who want only militarization and criminalization.

The discussion about who's responsible for stopping immigration "reform" this time has been overshadowed since the media began to focus on the surge in detentions of unaccompanied minors, mainly from Central America. As Justin Akers Chacón wrote at SocialistWorker.org:

The children and youth coming to the U.S., chiefly from Central America in the current wave, are victims of faceless economic, political and military policies engineered and implemented by the U.S. government, either unilaterally, or working through ruling elites in the region. These young migrants are journeying north to be reunited with their families or in a desperate search for work and security. It is a further indictment of the U.S. government's inhuman immigration policy that these innocent victims are treated as criminals and undesirables.

But you'd never know any of that to judge from the cat-and-mouse game between Congress and the White House.

FOR ITS part, the Obama White House called on Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the crisis. Administration officials insist much of the money will be used to care for the children in detention, now and in the future, and Barack Obama criticized Republicans opposed to the proposal for their callous attitude toward the migrants.

But make no mistake: The emergency legislation is designed to speed up the deportation of children and adults alike, from extra funds for the Border Patrol to the appointment of more immigration judges to speed up proceedings against detainees. This is more of the same from a president who promised, as a presidential candidate, to seek justice for immigrants, but has carried out more deportations than any of his predecessors.

As usual, the supposed "champions of immigrants" among the Democrats defended the Deporter-in-Chief. In a press conference in Chicago, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin declared, "We don't want any harm to come to these children. We want history to judge America as a country that cares and a country that did its best facing a humanitarian crisis."

But Obama's proposal to speed up deportation proceedings will assure that harm will come to them. Like Obama, Durbin--a co-sponsor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, the last attempt at passing "immigration reform"--is simply pointing the finger at Republicans and saying, "I'm not them."

In Chicago, there are 429 unaccompanied minors in detention, waiting to be processed. Durbin spoke about his concern for these children, but failed to mention that they are incarcerated--and that the bill he co-sponsored would further fund the militarization of the border they had to contend with when the crossed.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago-born Puerto Rican, has been an outspoken supporter of the rights of immigrants, and has even been arrested at protests--but he played the same game as Durbin. He wagged his finger at the behavior of Republicans: "It is hypocrisy, it is immoral, and it ought to stop. Among the children are little girls who are fleeing those who would abuse their bodies...Open your heart."

While this is true about the Republicans, the congressman only seems to speak about hypocrisy and morality when it is convenient for him.

In November of last year, his office broke ties with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, apparently because of clashes over the group's tactics, which include border disobedience, where undocumented youth try to enter the country as a public act of challenging border enforcement. Gutierrez has been vocal in criticizing the Obama administration for its record number of deportations, but he has not spoken out about the regular home raids in Chicago, a supposed "sanctuary city."

WHEN IT comes to Republicans, their message differs only in whether it emphasizes that the detainees should be deported faster--or that they should be stopped from becoming detainees in the first place by massively increasing the militarization of the border.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is putting forward alternative legislation to Obama's proposal. He can claim it's bipartisan because it is co-sponsored by Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, with close ties to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and George W. Bush and a better rating on his voting record from the Chamber of Commerce than the ACLU.

The Cornyn-Cuellar proposal--outrageously called the HUMANE Act, which stands for Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency--would "protect" migrant children by requiring that they be sent before an immigration judge within seven days of being detained and screened; the judge would have 72 hours to determine if the child should be granted relief, based on the conditions they fled from; if not, they would be sent back to their country of origin within days.

This legislation matches the mindset of Arizona Sen. and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who declared: "The best way to stem the flow is for planeloads of these young people to be returning to the country of origin and their families."

Then there are mavericks like Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who proposes that Barack Obama should "send National Guard troops to the border, that he help back up the Border Patrol and get the situation under control." Echoed by the likes of Rick Perry, the suggestion is absurd--given that there are 18,500 Border Patrol agents currently, up from 9,100 a little over a decade ago.

What increased border militarization has done is drive migrants into the most dangerous corridors of the desert, under the control of narcos, in order to avoid detection.

The Republicans might differ on how to capitalize on the border issue, but the result is the same for immigrants--children, women and men--who sit in jail because they dared to seek a better life, despite the hundreds and hundreds of miles of danger and abuse that they would likely face.

This is the simple arithmetic of U.S. politics today: issue + political theater = inaction and the pro-corporate/imperialist/racist/etc. status quo. Everyone plays their role, and some get more of the spotlight than others. An emboldened far right continues to define the issue of immigration in mainstream debate, and the Washington battles are fought out over the details of enforcement.

As socialists, we send a completely different, unapologetic message: We defend migrants' right to seek employment and a new life wherever they wish, and wherever they come from, with equal rights to anyone who lives in this country.

In 2006, the immigrant rights movement's mega-marches and mass strikes protested the Sensenbrenner bill, known as HR 4437, which called for a 700-mile border fence, the arrest and imprisonment of the undocumented by local law enforcement, and an electronic verification system for all workers, among other provisions. We marched and stopped HR 4437. Then we were told to go vote for Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Five and a half years after Obama took office, we have the fence, we have 2 million deportations under Obama alone, and 57,000 children are crammed into detention camps along the border. It's clear that the Democrats threw us to the wolves.

We're told that the only way forward today is to give $3.7 billion to an already bloated industry that catches and cages immigrants like wild animals. What we really need is to use that money and a whole lot more to reverse the international policies, from militarism to the "war on drugs" to free trade treaties, that drive people to flee their homes in desperation--and reverse the twisted priorities of an immigration policy that has led to record numbers of deportations.

To do this requires building a movement against further austerity at home--and for international solidarity with all refugees of globalization, neoliberalism and militarism.

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