Backing Ron Paul weakens the antiwar struggle

February 8, 2008

Justin Akers Chacón, co-author with Mike Davis of No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S-Mexico Border, argues that Ron Paul's champions on the left are making a mistake.

"NO OPEN Borders!" declares a Ron Paul banner, spewing its contempt for immigrants from a Los Angeles freeway overpass onto gridlocked traffic below. Situated in a city founded by Mexican migrants--and with the largest population of Latino and immigrant families in the nation--the sign serves as a backhanded slap at the majority population and a craven appeal to the narrow-minded.

Indistinguishable from the occasional Minutemen-sponsored billboard that decries a "Mexican invasion," the anti-immigrant politics of the Paul campaign align it with Bush's "war on terror" and the reactionary street movements that are fuelling the recent spike in hate crimes against Latinos and immigrants across the country.

More specifically, the Paul campaign gives support and legitimacy to the war on immigrants in the form of raids, detentions, deportations and border militarization, which in turn emboldens the "do-it-yourself" vigilante groups that harm and harass individuals at home and at work. It is telling that the majority of Minuteman-like hate groups across the country have rallied behind the "Ron Paul Revolution."

In a political environment where the far right has set the terms of the immigration debate--and the Democrats have remained conspicuously mute on the issue--it is not extraordinary that Ron Paul is yet another Republican candidate pandering to racism.

What is more surprising is that some on the left are advocating support for his "antiwar" candidacy by ignoring his "secondary" views on immigration.

In ignoring the Paul campaign's attack on immigrants, Paul's left-wing apologists run the risk of further weakening the antiwar movement. They in effect are cutting themselves off from a population disproportionately against the war and one that is paying the highest cost. They will also alienate the broader Latino community, cutting themselves off from a rich tradition of antiwar history.

The first U.S. soldier to die in Iraq was a Latino immigrant from Guatemala by the name of Jose Antonio Gutierrez. U.S. military planners increasingly rely on immigrant soldiers to buttress their depleting reserves of fresh soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At a recent citizenship ceremony held on the front lines in Baghdad, 147 soldiers from 46 different countries took part. In fact, there are 63,000 foreign-born soldiers in the Armed Forces, comprising about 5 percent of all active-duty military members; another 8,000 more non-citizen soldiers will enlist this year.

In proportion to the velocity of failure in Iraq, so, too, have enlistment rates plunged. In anticipation of a protracted and potentially divisive war, George Bush issued an executive order in 2002 that waived the three-year waiting period for naturalization for non-citizens in the military. Now just one day of active-duty service qualifies a non-citizen soldier to apply for citizenship, although there are numerous disqualifications that invalidate about 20 percent of applications.

The Pentagon, for its part, is crowing for the passage of the DREAM Act--a congressional recruitment strategy that would make legalization for the majority of the more than 750,000 undocumented youth in the U.S. contingent upon military service.

It is through this contradiction, closing the "golden door" for legal immigration through domestic crackdowns while simultaneously dangling the carrot of citizenship over the recruiter's doorstep that the trouble-shooters of U.S. empire hope to provide ballast for their flagging efforts abroad.

By rejecting or ignoring the connection between the wars abroad and against immigrants at home (in the form of workplace raids, deportations and the criminalization of culture--which are celebrated and encouraged by the "Ron Paul Revolution") support for Ron Paul's campaign will only serve to increase the enlistment rates among desperate immigrant youth.

For every immigrant criminalized, another will be corralled into the military. For every "enemy combatant" caged in Guantánamo, a dozen immigrant workers and their children have been warehoused into a shadowy complex of domestic detention centers.

In part, the paradox between aggressive recruiting in low-income Latino neighborhoods and schools and increased persecution helps explain why Latino military enlistment has increased 18 percent during the years 2001 to 2005.

THE POSSIBILITY of building alliances between immigrant rights and antiwar activists becomes even clearer when we see that Latinos oppose the war in Iraq at higher rates then U.S. society as a whole. A 2007 Pew Hispanic Center Poll showed that 62 percent of Latinos (and 68 percent of Latino immigrants in particular) favored an end to the war, compared to 50 percent of society overall.

Furthermore--without knowing it--those now shrugging off the plight of millions of Latino immigrants in favor of a "left-right alliance against war" are isolating themselves from a rich tradition of antiwar activism, whose lessons could provide much-needed oxygen for a politically asphyxiated antiwar movement.

Helping to initiate in 1969 what would come to be known as the "counter-recruitment" movement, Latino activists and community members took a stand against the shameless recruiting of barrio youth during the Vietnam War. Numbering about 100, they formed a picket line in front of the downtown Los Angeles Induction Center.

One speaker--giving a speech that could be easily adapted to fit the current state of affairs--declared, "I accuse the government of the United States of America of genocide against the Mexican people...Specifically, I accuse the draft, the entire social, political and economic system...of creating a funnel that shoots Mexican youth into Vietnam to be killed, and to kill innocent men, women and children."

The event touched off a year of intensive organizing in the barrios of Los Angeles (referred to as the Chicano Moratorium) that culminated in a massive 30,000-strong antiwar protest in East LA in 1970. The protest--although violently attacked and dispersed by the rabidly anti-Mexican LAPD--forcefully informed the American ruling class that the war was lost in the barrios across the southwest.

Like so many traditions of working-class resistance, the story of the East LA antiwar movement that helped bend back the U.S. war machine has since been lost to the new generations coming of age after 9/11.

In the current debate taking place over immigration, migrant and immigrant workers have been reduced to abstract objects. The millions-strong immigrant rights marches of 2006 and 2007 have demonstrated that the architects of the "war on terror"--the same group waging war on immigrants--can and should be challenged.

Antiwar activists who choose the anti-immigrant politics of Ron Paul over solidarity with the immigrant rights movement have missed this crucial connection and are charting a course in reverse.

Further Reading

From the archives