Monday, April 21, 2008

Letter from Oaxaca: No Place to Go but North

By Robert Joe Stout

No End in Sight

The replacement kindergarten teacher in suburban Oaxaca, Mexico, shouted ¡A la chingada los profesores guevones!" as she rattled the locked gates of the school that had employed her for the previous four months. "Go to hell, you gutless teachers!" As the insults shouted back and forth between parents and teachers grew more hostile, she climbed atop a fence and beckoned the school principal and other replacement teachers to follow her.
"We're not going to suspend classes!" she shouted to one of two groups of angry parents. "Hoist the children over the fence!"
Some parents responded instinctively. Others surged forward to stop them. As adults lashed out at each other, children trembled, cried, and clung to skirts and pant legs. The hostilities on this day, in January 2007, lasted almost an hour, with both sides threatening each others' lives, homes, and children.

Similar confrontations between unionized teachers and replacements hired by the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) continue to the present throughout Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca-the aftermath of the bitter and violently repressed teachers' strike of June 2006. Angered by the refusal of Ulises Ruiz, Oaxaca's PRI governor, to negotiate a higher base salary, protesting teachers reacted with a six-month takeover of the city of Oaxaca's central business district. They occupied two spacious plazas, the Zócalo and the Alameda, and spilled into nearly 50 surrounding city blocks. They erected tents and lean-tos and improvised kitchens, portable bathrooms, and first-aid stations.
Complete with children, dogs, guitars, simmering bean pots, and pickup soccer games, the summerlong campout resembled an extended neighborhood picnic. By day, protesters would converge to chat with tourists and central-city residents and sing new lyrics for songs they'd composed; at night, they'd return home to outlying districts. Businesses closed, tourists canceled hotel reservations, and vehicles were diverted from the area.

When Ruiz set an early June deadline for the teachers' return to classes, the teachers blockaded highways and Oaxaca's international airport. Two days after the deadline passed, they rallied 150,000 supporters to parade through the city demanding not only approval of the higher salary, but the release of the more than 40 political prisoners detained by the government since Ruiz came into power in 2004.

And then, one week later, some 3,000 heavily armed municipal and state police stormed the teachers' encampment. Skirting building tops, a helicopter blanketed the area with tear gas as cops on foot surged through the teachers' temporary shelters. "They clubbed everybody they came across-women, children," a retired federal official named Navarro told me. (His daughter was one of the striking teachers.) "There were gunshots. People were screaming. Nobody could see anything."
The defiant teachers and their supporters reunited and retook their demolished campsites. Outnumbered and weakly led, the police withdrew. "We could have shot and killed hundreds, but we had no orders," a member of Oaxaca's municipal force confided to me later. "We never thought the fools would try to return."
"That day was the parting of waters for Oaxaca," veteran newspaper correspondent Pedro Matías told the visiting Rights Action Emergency Human Rights delegation (of which I was a member). "There was only going forward, no going back."

Oaxaca's ex-governors are among the wealthiest landholders in the state. Meanwhile, more than 45 percent of its 3.5 million residents are indigena, 76 percent of them earning less than 70 pesos a day-slightly more than six U.S. dollars.

For more than a century, Oaxaca has been known as one of Mexico's most corrupt states. A privileged minority holds power, and there is little trickle down of the money these people manipulate; not surprisingly, Oaxaca's ex-governors are among the wealthiest landholders in the state. Meanwhile, more than 45 percent of its 3.5 million residents are indigena, 76 percent of them earning less than 70 pesos a day-slightly more than six U.S. dollars.
Most rural families subsist on money sent to them from relatives working in the United States. "At first only the men went, and they returned every winter. Then they started staying longer," rural teacher Thelma Leger explained to me. "Now the women are migrating too. Often a girl of 12, 13, or 14 is left to take care of the younger children. Instead of going to school, they work. It is very, very sad."

The expectation is so great that young people will seek work in the United States, according to another teacher, Malena Sorhouet, that parents of some of her indigena students asked that she teach them English instead of Spanish. Miguel Vázquez, the cofounder of Oaxaca's Services for an Alternative Education, confirmed that every year since 1990 approximately 150,000 Oaxacans have migrated, most of them to the United States, some to other parts of Mexico. Over a 15-year period more than one million have stayed in the United States, others returned after one, two, or more years.

Ruiz and his predecessors in office have voiced dismay about Oaxaca's massive outmigration, meanwhile quietly defunding government social programs. Instead Oaxaca has invested in marinas and aircraft, and the governor and select PRI party members take state-funded trips abroad. Of the more than $1 billion a year Oaxacans receive from those working in the United States (of whom many lack legal documentation) 95 percent goes for food, housing, clothing, and the medical care that the state no longer subsidizes.
Governor Ruiz earns more than the president or prime minister of any European country; the state over which he presides is practically bankrupt.

To impede excursions by vigilante escuadrones de la muerte (death squads), the teachers and the APPO supporters selected one station to keep as the voice of the APPO and barricaded the streets surrounding it.

After the attack by police in June 2006, there was an immediate rally of support for the strikers. A member of a group that became known as the women's coordinating committee, or COMO (Coordinadora de Mujeres de Oaxaca), described an explosive growth of support: "One day there was nothing; the next day there was this huge organization." Starting as a legal protest, the opposition soon grew into a massive resistance movement. Within two weeks, representatives of more than 300 civic organizations throughout the state formed the People's Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO). Participants included indigena federations, radical student and youth groups that espoused revolutionary overthrow, human rights organizations, and many Catholic priests. Demonstrating unity and sin gularity of purpose, the APPO staged more marches that jammed Oaxaca's streets with hundreds of thousands of participants. Per haps a million marchers overflowed into the Zócalo and surrounding areas during the fourth of these marches, near the end of June.

Driven out of the city that was supposed to be his center of operations, Governor Ruiz did not set foot in the Centro Historico for more than five months. He functioned from his limousine, hotels, and, not infrequently, a state-owned helicopter, while his administrator, José Franco, ran the day-to-day operations. The police started wearing civilian clothes and driving through the city in unmarked vehicles, said Sara Mendez, the director of the Red Oaxaqueña de Derechos Humanos. Government-paid sicarios (hired gunmen) validated arbitrary arrests by charging the APPO leaders and sympathizers with carrying concealed weapons or trying to sell drugs. Through Channel 9, which they controlled, and radio stations, Ruiz's government aired counter-APPO propaganda. The broadcasts so angered women who had just participated in a March of the Cacerolas (cooking pans) that they commandeered taxis and buses and invaded the Channel 9 studios.
"We asked for half an hour of air time to explain what APPO was about," one of the participants told me. "They said ‘no’; we insisted ‘yes’ and wound up taking over the station." For nearly a month, the channel broadcast the APPO news and various documentaries acquired from a local university. Those programs ended when heavily armed paramilitaries destroyed the station's antenna and transmitter.

“‘What are we going to do?’ those of us involved with Channel 9 asked each other," recalled one activist, Lela Seri teno. "It was the dead of night, but we got on our cell phones and talked to each other. Somebody suggested taking over a radio station. Somebody else suggested taking over all of them. In cars, in cabs, we careened through the city; there must have been hundreds of us. By five that morning we'd taken over all 12 of the city's radio stations!"

To impede excursions by vigilante escuadrones de la muerte (death squads), the teachers and the APPO supporters selected one station to keep as the voice of the APPO and barricaded the streets surrounding it.

Photographs taken in the city of Oaxaca during August 2006 show burned-out buses and trucks positioned across intersections, mounds of burning tires, huge stones topped with tires, canastas filled with rocks and other debris stacked on top of each other, private cars parked across roadways, sheets of corrugated sheet metal propped against oil barrels, bonfires heaped with old lumber, and barbed wire strung from lampposts. Almost all the blocked intersections were manned by the APPO supporters, most of them women. And though these measures prevented nightly depredations, they didn't eliminate attacks by paramilitaries.
"Sicarios paid by PRI could do things the police legally couldn't do—grab people without cause, beat them, torture them," Mendez said with a wince. "The only authority they had was the money they were getting, but who was going to stop them? The government? The government was paying them!"

Snipers hiding in the Hospital Santa Maria shot and killed José Jiménez during an APPO sponsored march in August. The husband of an activist teacher, Jiminez had taken part in a number of anti-Ruiz protests. Although hundreds of march participants saw Jiménez fall and autopsies showed that he'd been hit by bullets of two different calibers fired from two different directions, Oaxaca's attorney general reported that he'd died during a drunken fight he had instigated.

Two months later armed off-duty municipal police attacked a barricade in Santa Lucia del Camino, a suburb of Oaxaca, and shot and killed An American photographer Bradley Will. International news of his killing triggered a violent response by Mexico's federal government. Outgoing President Vicente Fox sent 4,000 soldiers and federal preventive police (PFP), along with dozens of armored vehicles and helicopters to Oaxaca. Two days after their arrival, the solders and PFP launched an allout assault, destroying the barricades and occupying the center of the city.

Paramilitary associates swept through the streets surrounding Oaxaca's Zócalo. "It was like killing pigs in a slaughterhouse"

By mid-November most of the downtown hotels had shut their doors. Area restaurants laid off 9,000 workers. Schools throughout Oaxaca closed; those that remained open hired teachers who lacked both credentials and skill. Meanwhile, experienced teachers hustled jobs as repairmen, street vendors, and musicians. Throughout the state, graffiti labeled Ruiz "assassin," "Fascist," "thief." Arrests of Popular Assembly leaders and night-rider harassment and intimidation of others failed to deter continuing protests and denunciations.

As an anti-Ruiz march was breaking up in late November, the federal police and their paramilitary associates swept through the streets surrounding Oaxaca's Zócalo. "It was like killing pigs in a slaughterhouse," a 60year-old engineer told me several days after at least three people were killed and many more injured. He said he piled furniture against his front door to prevent the marauding police from entering his home. "I tried to get as many people who were trying to flee into my house as I could. Most of them were bloody and blinded from the tear gas and weeping and cursing."
Neither the PFP nor their local cohorts made any effort to identify those they had apprehended or to ascertain whether those arrested had committed any wrongdoing. They detained nearly 200 Oaxacans, most of whom had no connection with the APPO, and the PFP flew 141 of them to federal prisons in other Mexican states.
"The situation has been normalized," Ruiz announced the day after the armed assault as work crews with power hoses scrubbed blood off the cobblestone streets surrounding the historic former Convent of Santo Domingo. Apparently the governor had instigated the PFP assault-with the blessing of many of the business owners-to prepare the center of the city for the December tourist season. Very few tourists came, however. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other European countries warned would-be tourists to avoid Oaxaca, and museums, restaurants, and tourist agencies stayed closed. Even churches and the cathedral were virtually abandoned.

"Here there is no justice," said journalist Pedro Matías, who wiped at his eyes and sighed as he gazed past bougainvillea at clouds puffed above the mountains that encircle the city. "Here there is only pain. And hope that somehow things will change."

State authorities ordered the arrest of hundreds of persons involved with or sympathetic to the popular movement and accused human rights workers and Catholic priests of inciting citizens to revolt. The arrests continue to this day, and vigilante police in civilian clothes routinely sequester and physically manhandle the APPO leaders.

"The biggest danger is that the government follows a doctrine that no changes should be prompted by popular movements, only by political parties," Father Manuel Arias, the spokesman for Oaxaca's Catholic presbytery, told me. "They are criminalizing any attempts at changes. Every group that supports these movements becomes, by definition, criminal."
Despite the federal government's attempts to dismiss the repression in Oaxaca as a local matter and Ruiz's pronouncement that "Oaxaca is safe for tourists," news of the brutal incidents has worked its way into international awareness. The International Civil Commission for Human Rights Observation released a highly condemnatory account in March of last year after spending nearly two months interviewing government officials and victims. The directors of both Red Cross International and Amnesty International have taken their concerns about flagrant human rights violations in Oaxaca directly to Mexico's president Felipe Calderón, but neither he nor any cabinet or congressional officials have acted upon their accusations.

Forced underground after the repressions of late November 2006, the APPO nevertheless continued to meet and hold demonstrations. The November 25 Committee, primarily funded by Oaxaca artist Francisco Toledo, has paid bail and legal services to obtain the release of a number of "prisoners of conscience," and the women of CoMO have defied state authorities and scheduled public forums on violence against women and formed advocacy groups to demand the release of those still incarcerated. Teachers throughout the state continue to battle—sometimes physically-to regain jobs from which they were displaced by scabs hired by the PRI party.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has aligned itself with the state government, exerting pressure on individual priests to limit support and encouragement to the APPO. The Archbishop of Oaxaca, José Luis Chávez, forced the renunciation of Leoncio Hernández from his position as parish priest of the town of Santiago Apoala just before last Christmas because he had been seen at the APPO marches and demonstrations. Father Hernandez was one of several who responded to the APPO requests for blessings and benedictions. Father Arias also reported being pressured by church officials to limit his support of those involved in "anti-government" processes.
As a U.S. citizen, I am frequently asked why my country has done nothing to help the people of Oaxaca. Indeed why is the United States ill-treating and deporting poor workers who are only trying to keep their families from starving?

"We are poor, and your country supports our president and all the criminals who work for him. So we don't count," a teacher who spent seven months in Mexican federal prisons told me.
Despite the repressions, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca continues to meet, march, and demand that Governor Ruiz be deposed. In the meantime, thousands of small businesses have folded, tourism is the lowest it has been in 40 years, and entire communities-men, women, and children-risk their lives to cross the border into the United States, where already an estimated one million Oaxacans live and work.
"Here there is no justice," said journalist Pedro Matías, who wiped at his eyes and sighed as he gazed past bougainvillea at clouds puffed above the mountains that encircle the city. "Here there is only pain. And hope that somehow things will change."

Robert Joe Stout has written about Mexico for America, Commonweal, and Notre Dame Magazine. He was a member of two Rights Action Emergency Human Rights delegations in Oaxaca and witnessed many of the events he describes in this article. His most recent book is Why Immigrants Come to America: Braceros, Indocumentados and the Migra.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Who Has the Best Chance at Enacting Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Before I launch my analysis, let me note that I am a life-long Democrat and I have never voted for a Republican candidate in my life. As well, you should know that I strongly support Barack Obama whom, I believe, will be our next president. That said, purely from a tactical point of view which candidate can change the dynamics of immigration enough to bring about comprehensive immigration reform?

The last comprehensive legislation on immigration, IRCA 1986, became law under a divided government (Democratic House and Republican Senate) and was signed by President Ronald Reagan. The rancor over the 1986 legislation was just as heated and bitter as is the current political climate. What made the difference in 1986 was the fact that Ronald Reagan enjoyed immense popular support and could count on the Congressional Republicans to fall in line. As well, a bipartisan agreement was possible due to the fact that many Democrats favored immigration reform. Finally, neither Democrats nor Republicans had to fear that the issue would be used against them given the bipartisan support on the issue.

No action will take place on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform before the national election in November 2008. Eristic ragemail has propounded that immigration is not the third rail of politics, as some pundits claim. However, the Republicans continue to view immigration as a wedge issue that they can parlay in a year where few issues favor Republicans. As such, the issue remains hot and, at least in the Congressional races, Democrats will tip-toe on immigration. Not so in the presidential elections.

Clinton has stated that if she were elected President, she would consider within her first 100 days, granting an open path to naturalization for all illegal immigrants

All three putative presidential candidates, Obama, McCain and Clinton, are clearly on record as supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Clinton’s position, is perhaps the strongest of the three candidates. According to her website:

Hillary has consistently called for comprehensive immigration reform that respects our immigrant heritage and honors the rule of law. She believes comprehensive reform must have as essential ingredients a strengthening of our borders, greater cross-cooperation with our neighbors, strict but fair enforcement of our laws, federal assistance to our state and local governments, strict penalties for those who exploit undocumented workers, and a path to earned legal status for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar.

Clinton has stated that if she were elected President, she would consider within her first 100 days, granting an open path to naturalization for all illegal immigrants based on legal limits. Previously, on October 30, 2007, Clinton had committed her support to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer´s plan to give driver´s licenses to illegal immigrants. Also on March 8, 2006, Clinton criticized H.R. 4437, a bill passed by the House of Representatives in December 2005 that would impose harsher penalties for undocumented workers. Clinton will likely not get the Democratic nomination but she owes quite a bit to the Latino vote that gave her wins in big states.

Obama has also constantly voiced the view that there is no way that 12 million illegal immigrants can be sent back

Barack Obama’s position on comprehensive immigration reform is not as strong as Clinton’s and treads a fair deal of enforcement rhetoric. It should be noted that of the three candidates, Barack Obama actually marched in the national pro-immigrant marches of 2006. Obama supported the Bush-backed immigration reform legislation, which would allow increased funding and improve border security technology, improve enforcement of existing laws, and provide a legal path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. Barack voted to authorize construction of the 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. However, Obama has also clearly stated he will not support any bill that does not provide an earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population. He favors a guest worker program. Obama has also constantly voiced the view that there is no way that 12 million illegal immigrants can be sent back, especially the children of illegal immigrants, due to no fault of their own, and one of his top priorities would be to make sure that they be allowed to continue with college education in the U.S. Obama emphatically stated "It´s not going to happen. We´re not going to go round them up … We should give them a pathway to citizenship." In January 2008, Barack Obama also campaigned to grant drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.

During the debate on Bush’s immigration legislation, Obama was less than forceful in his pro-immigrant position.

But I fully appreciate that we cannot create a new guestworker program without making it as close to impossible as we can for illegal workers to find employment. We do not need new guestworkers plus future undocumented immigrants. We need guestworkers instead of undocumented immigrants.

Toward that end, American employers need to take responsibility. Too often illegal immigrants are lured here with a promise of a job, only to receive unconscionably low wages. In the interest of cheap labor, unscrupulous employers look the other way when employees provide fraudulent U.S. citizenship documents. Some actually call and place orders for undocumented workers because they don't want to pay minimum wages to American workers in surrounding communities. These acts hurt both American workers and immigrants whose sole aim is to work hard and get ahead. That is why we need a simple, foolproof, and mandatory mechanism for all employers to check the legal status of new hires. Such a mechanism is in the Judiciary Committee bill.

And before any guestworker is hired, the job must be made available to Americans at a decent wage with benefits. Employers then need to show that there are no Americans to take these jobs. I am not willing to take it on faith that there are jobs that Americans will not take. There has to be a showing. If this guestworker program is to succeed, it must be properly calibrated to make certain that these are jobs that cannot be filled by Americans, or that the guestworkers provide particular skills we can't find in this country.

I know that dealing with the undocumented population is difficult, for practical and political reasons. But we simply cannot claim to have dealt with the problems of illegal immigration if we ignore the illegal resident population or pretend they will leave voluntarily. Some of the proposed ideas in Congress provide a temporary legal status and call for deportation, but fail to answer how the government would deport 11 million people. I don't know how it would be done. I don't know how we would line up all the buses and trains and airplanes and send 11 million people back to their countries of origin. I don't know why it is that we expect they would voluntarily leave after having taken the risk of coming to this country without proper documentation.

Critics, might say that Obama was trying to have it both ways, voicing support for comprehensive immigration reform while sounding tough on enforcement. Where Obama actually stands on CIR remains to be determined. Given the litany of problems to be faced by the next president, it may well be that immigration reform will take a low priority in an Obama administration.

McCain actively campaigned for Jim Oberweis of Illinois, who is rabidly anti-immigrant and whose positions can accurately be described as radically nativist

Finally, there is John McCain. McCain has been dancing around all sides of this issue. On the one hand, he co-sponsored the Bush legislation, indicating a long-held support for comprehensive immigration reform. On the other, McCain has made statements which play well with the nativist crowd. McCain actively campaigned for Jim Oberweis of Illinois, who is rabidly anti-immigrant and whose positions can accurately be described as radically nativist. After Oberweis lost, McCain seemed to backpedal and suggested that the Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric may not have much traction. Given his history and coming from a border state a more nuanced view on immigration is probably hard-wired in McCain. In other words, given the right opportunity, McCain would instinctually favor immigration reform that includes a path for citizenship for the undocumented workers residing in the United States. The problem is that his party will not countenance such a position.

Would things change if McCain won the presidency? Unlikely. First, it is almost certain that he would have to deal with a Democratic Congress. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives look to have substantial gains in Democratic seats. Given his strong support for the war in Iraq, he would be substantially weaker than Obama or Clinton. As well, he faces a weak economy, the prospect of stagflation and raft of other problems inherited from the Bush administration. Given these dynamics would he stick his neck out on immigration when he has to hold his ground on a raft of unpopular issues? The Democratic Congress is unlikely to push the immigration issue into the foreground. On the other hand, this may be one of the issues that he can till common ground with the Congress. Will, he as Clinton promised, make this a priority in his first hundred days in office? Not a chance.

Conversely, Obama and Clinton would enjoy a Congress controlled by their party. This should give them some room to maneuver on this issue. How might this play out? Well, the largest prizes in the electoral college map are states that have significant Hispanic populations. Will Obama, who is almost certainly the Democratic nominee, feel some obligation to the Latino voters? Certainly, having gotten Bill Richardson’s endorsement, long before other superdelegates pledged, must be worth something. Much will depend on how the Hispanic leadership presses the issue. The Hispanic leadership does not wield the same political power as the Black Caucus. Given the foregoing, our best chance at comprehensive immigration reform remains with Barack Obama and the people he chooses to people his administration. Can he change the nativist dynamics that currently infect the debate? Yes. Will he do so? Maybe.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Weekly Roundup – April 7th – 11th

Firestorm over false accusations

Dallas girl falsely accused Latino students of assaulting her after she posted a sign, “If you love our nation, stop illegal immigration.” One of the best commentaries on this very telling episode comes from the Canadian Free Press website which features a column by Bob Parks from Massachusetts, entitled “The Crime or the Cover Up.”

Immigrant activist groups nationwide are outraged that innocent students could have been rousted, based on the word of a lying, attention-starved, little white girl. Many of those against illegal immigration got caught up in the sensational nature of the story, only to share the eggs on their faces for believing a story they wanted to be true.

CBS’s Katie Couric Tries to Save her Job by Playing Nativist Card

It is widely rumored that CBS Nightly News, celebrity anchor, Katie Couric is on the verge of hitting the pavement due to tanking ratings for the news program. “Lay off Katie Couric! CBS is to blame Network used a celebrity ploy to boost ratings and it completely backfired” by Michael Ventre In a gambit straight from the Lou Dobbs school of journalism, Couric fed up anti-immigrant red meat in a piece entitled, “Illegal Immigrant Births - At Your Expense.” The piece gave no balance and failed to present a counter-point to the clear anti-immigrant slant of the piece.

What CBS News has done is incredibly irresponsible and we need to pressure the hell out of them. I've been told that pro-migrant organizations have started to turn the screws and ask the producers exactly what they were thinking – the producers have given little indication of what they were thinking, if anything at all.


1. Post to the comments at
2. Send the show an email at>
3. Call the network at 212-975-3247

Villaraigosa Finally Speaks out Against Workplace Raids by ICE

LA Mayor, Villaraigosa tells Homeland Security chief that agents should target criminal gang members and not legitimate businesses. The Mayor notes that by targeting legitimate businesses, ICE raids are having a detrimental effect on the economy. Not surprisingly, ICE has indicated that American Apparel Company, which has taken a very public pro-immigrant stance, is in the Fed’s cross-hairs. Nothing like payback for exercising your First Amendment rights, no doubt Chertoff and his ICE thugs would love to make an example of American Apparel for speaking out.

Orwellian SAVE Act Still Live and Threatening Every American’s Civil Liberties

As previously mentioned, the Republican hate machine knows no boundaries when it comes to abridging civil liberties in the name of immigration control. For everyone who still gives a damn about that thing called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights here is a rundown of the worst aspects of the SAVE legislation.

Oppose HR 4088, "The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement

Act of 2007" Bill, known as the SAVE Act. The SAVE Act is a cynical and politically motivated attack on immigrant families and a foolish burden on our fragile economy.

  • It would require approximately six million employers to verify the work status of more than 130 million workers within four years. If passed, the SAVE Act would place a tremendous financial and regulatory burden on businesses and employees at a time when our economy is already fragile. This is a foolish proposal at a time when our economy is already fragile.

  • The federal database that would be used to enforce the SAVE Act is known to have an unacceptably high error rate – nearly 10 percent! An independent study of the E-Verify/Basic Pilot program found that the ½ of 1 percent of employers that use the program often misuse it, and that the data base would need to be significantly improved before it can be expanded.

  • This is a recipe for a full scale assault on worker protections and anti-discrimination laws. Nothing in this legislation addresses real world concerns that this new mandate would lead to employers firing workers involved in union organizing drives or would have the resources to ensure that they are not discriminating against Latinos or other immigrants applying for employment.

  • It will represent an unprecedented intrusion into the lives of millions of United States workers, regardless of their status. If this law were in place now, the errors in the SSA database alone could result in 2.5 million people a year being misidentified as unauthorized for employment. Workers, including U.S. citizens, will get caught in this faulty system and lose their jobs. The "SAVE Act" contains no assurances that government databases will be accurate and updated, no privacy protections for the vast amounts of personal information to be handled by employers, and no recourse for workers who are wrongfully denied employment.

  • It would make it easier for the government to put religious and humanitarian workers behind bars for so-called "alien smuggling." Humanitarian workers – like nuns, priests, volunteers – would be constantly forced to navigate this confusing legislation, or run the risk of arrest, fines and imprisonment.


Despite a well-documented history of hatred and racism, the media continues to treat the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as a mainstream advocacy group. In this one week, the New York Times, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times all quoted FAIR as if it were merely an immigration advocacy group. These outlets need to identify this group as a hate group, the way they identify the Aryan Nation or stop using them as sources.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Another Nativist Pol Bites the Dust

Republican Nativist, Shelley Sekula Gibbs, lost in her bid to to reclaim Tom DeLay's old Congressional seat. Read the full report at the Dream Act Texas site. ( While Sekula-Gibbs would have made an entertaining character in the general election, this loss shows once again that anti-immigrant cant will not work as a wedge issue to get you elected. How long before the Republicans wake up and realize that the rant and rave they see on Fox News and the so-called cable news shows simply will not carry the day for them. Too bad for everybody concerned, the Republican hate machine continues to stoke nativist hatred without any returns. Check out the Dream Act site for more details.

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Students Protest Border Patrol Recruitment

The Seattle Post Intelligencer is reporting that students at Seattle University organized a protest against the Border Patrol presence at a recruiting fair. According to the article:

The official position of students was that having the Border Patrol on campus could make trouble for students and SU staff who are in the country illegally.

"We feel their presence makes students and workers feel unsafe," said SU student Marianne Mork.

And so they chanted their way across campus with cardboard signs.

Kudos to the students for raising the torch in a hostile political climate. If you support the students' acitons check out the PI site and leave a positive comment.

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(Photos from the Post Intelligencer)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Media Continues to Treat Hate Groups as Respectable Advocacy Groups

Two issues of note. San Francisco, which long ago declared itself a sanctuary city for immigrants, has taken the step of publicizing that undocumented immigrants need not fear the police and that social services will continue to be extended to all regardless of immigrant status. The measure is note-worthy as many local law enforcement agencies have become arms of the Federal immigration enforcement authorities. ICE is actively promoting so-called local law enforcement in the war of attrition against immigrant communities. Many of the media stories on San Francisco's move, had a decidedly derisive tone, as might be expected. The Los Angeles Times played the story fairly straight.,1,7762391.story

The New York Times laid out the facts in detail and then they did something which is absolutely abhorrent. In search for a soundbite they turned to the hate group the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)..

“I guess it’s what you expect from San Francisco,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, which lobbies for stronger immigration enforcement. “But now, not only are they helping people break the law of the federal government, they are advertising it. I don’t know of any other city actually looking for illegal immigrants.”
This is akin to asking a member of the Aryan Nations for a quote on the latest policy initiatives by Barack Obama. Why does the so-called respectable media continue to treat hate groups as respectable advocates? The answer is that in the present climate, where Nativist hate-speech is deemed to be mainstream opinion, such groups are merely reflecting the Republican paradigm: a paradigm of hate.

In case anyone doubts that FAIR and other nativist groups are really hate groups in league with racists, we will again recount that group's move from mainstream advocacy in the 80s to a full out hate group in the last 10 years.

Heidie Beirich exposes the racist strain that informs the "respected" advocates of anti-immigrant hysteria such as the organization Federation for American Immigration Reform ("FAIR") which is often quoted in mainstream media such as the New York Times or National Public Radio. Beirich dissects the tangle of neo-Nazis who populate seemingly mainstream anti-immigrant organizations.

At the center of the Tanton web is the nonprofit Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the most important organization fueling the backlash against immigration. Founded by Tanton in 1979, FAIR has long been marked by anti-Latino and anti-Catholic attitudes. It has mixed this bigotry with a fondness for eugenics, the idea of breeding better humans discredited by its Nazi associations. It has accepted $1.2 million from an infamous, racist eugenics foundation. It has employed officials in key positions who are also members of white supremacist groups. Recently, it has promoted racist conspiracy theories about Mexico's secret designs on the American Southwest and an alternative theory alleging secret plans to merge the United States, Mexico and Canada. Just last February, FAIR President Dan Stein sought "advice" from the leaders of a racist Belgian political party.

(Where Anti-Immigrant Zealots Like Lou Dobbs Get Their 'Facts' -

FAIR, which has consistently been treated as a mainstream advocacy group is rife with eugenitist nuts:

Probably the best-known evidence of FAIR's extremism is its acceptance of funds from a notorious, New York City-based hate group, the Pioneer Fund. In the mid-1980s, when FAIR's budgets were still in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the group reached out to Pioneer Fund, which was established in 1937 to promote the racial stock of the original colonists, finance studies of race and intelligence, and foster policies of "racial betterment." (Pioneer has concentrated on studies meant to show that blacks are less intelligent than whites, but it has also backed nativist groups like ProjectUSA, run by former FAIR board member Craig Nelsen.)

Marginal extremist groups are identified as such in most media, however, such is not the case with FAIR and other anti-immigrant groups. The problem is that such groups hijack the seemingly legitimate fears of otherwise rational citizens for their racist agenda. While a portion of the U.S. population is racist many who have been duped into supporting organizations like FAIR do not realize the contribution to organizations that preach hatred.

Hiring Haters

In late 2006, FAIR hired as its western field representative, a key organizing position, a man named Joseph Turner. Turner was likely attractive to FAIR because he wrote what turned out to be a sort of model anti-illegal immigrant ordinance for the city of San Bernardino, Calif. Based on Turner's work, FAIR wrote a version of the law that is now promoted to many other cities. (The law almost certainly violates the Constitution, but that has not stopped many municipalities' interest.)

Turner made one of his more controversial remarks, amounting to a defense of white separatism. "I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that that does not make them a racist," Turner wrote in 2005. "I can make the argument that someone who proclaims to be a white nationalist isn't necessarily a white supremacist. I don't think that standing up for your 'kind' or 'your race' makes you a bad person." The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed Save Our State as a hate group since it appeared in 2005.

Turner's predecessor in the FAIR organizing post, Rick Oltman, was cut from the same cloth. Oltman has been described as a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) in the publications of that hate group, which is directly descended from the segregationist White Citizens Councils and has described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity."

The New York Times must be held accountable for relying on such suspect sources. Clearly, they cannot quote spokespeople from such hate groups without identifying them as such.


Life after an illegal immigrant is sent home

San Francisco Reaches Out to Immigrants


The Seattle Times published an excellent article on what happens to deportees in Mexico, "Life after an illegal immigrant is sent home," by Lornet Turnbull. Unfortunately, the Seattle Times also quoted the same spokesman from FAIR in response to an opposing soundbite. As we've stated, the media continues to treat racist hate groups as mere advocacy organizations. Either, they should stop using such sources or identify them for what they are: hate groups.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

ICE Using Unconstitutional and Illegal Means in Raids

In what has become a common practice, agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") have again been accused of using unconstitutional and deceitful methods in carrying out raids. The raids are targetting so-called "immigration fugitives" which is an Orwellian method to demonize and target immigrants who fail to appear for their administrative hearings. Contrary to the dark overtones in the use of the term "fugitives," these people have not committed crimes. In fact a great many of them merely overstayed their visas, hardly a criminal offense. Nonetheless, ICE continues to target the most vulnerable in the immigrant communities using offensive tactics. According to Julia Preston, article in the April 4, 2008, New York Times:

Immigration agents systematically entered homes and made arrests without proper warrants during raids to round up immigration fugitives in New Jersey, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

The lawsuit, brought by lawyers at the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School in Newark, will provide a constitutional test of law enforcement methods often used by immigration agents since May 2006 when they began operations across the country to track down and deport immigrants who had been ordered to leave by the courts.

The suit, against officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, on behalf of 10 plaintiffs, including two United States citizens, contends that teams of ICE agents used “deceit or, in some cases, raw force” to gain “unlawful entry.”

These tactics are not confined to a rogue unit in New Jersey, they are operating procedure throughout the country. Nonetheless, the New Jersey lawsuit may set a precedent for challenging ICE's unlawful actions.

The lawsuit claims that agents, sometimes misrepresenting themselves as local police officers hunting for criminals, entered homes where no fugitives being sought were present and detained residents without showing any legal cause. Immigration agents have broad authority to question foreigners about their immigration status, but they may not enter a home without either a warrant or consent.

The ICE raids are part of a wholesale policy of denying civil liberties and civil rights protections to undocumented workers. In essence, the raids are part and parcel of the war of attrition that nativists are pushing against Latinos and other vulnerable communities.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Needs Immigrants? Apparently Some Republicans

The continuing saga of immigration as a Republican wedge issue has claimed another victim and this one is not an undocumented immigrant. As we reported yesterday, the Repubs are targeting a group of freshmen Democratic representatives with the issue of immigration. With ICE actively promoting local enforcement, farmers are finding it hard to find workers for their fields. As reported in today’s New York Times:

“Over the last couple of growing seasons, farmers have been feeling a tremendous amount of stress over the way this issue has been playing out,” said Gary Swann, governmental relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “And if people think all we have to do is raise wages and hire local workers, they are simply mistaken.”

(Immigration Issues End a Pennsylvania Grower’s Season, By Paul Vitello, The New York Times, April 2, 2008).

“And if people think all we have to do is raise wages and hire local workers, they are simply mistaken.”

Accordingly, Keith Eckel, stalwart Republican and owner of a large tomato farm is foregoing planting this year.

For 35 years, Keith Eckel, 61, one of the largest tomato growers in the Northeast, had the workers and the timing down to a T: seven weeks, 120 men, 125 trailer loads of tomatoes picked, packed and shipped.

This year, however, the new politics of immigration — very much on the mind of many of Pennsylvania’s voters, even if overlooked by the presidential candidates campaigning in this state and around the nation — has put him out of business.

State, local and federal crackdowns on illegal immigration have broken his supply chain of laborers. Most of those were Hispanic men who had come every year for decades, and whose immigration status Mr. Eckel recorded with the documents they provided to him. He kept them all in the file cabinets at his neat farm office — the Migrant Seasonal Farm Worker Protection Act forms, the Labor Department’s I-9 forms, the H-2A agricultural visa privilege forms — though he knew that, for the most part, it was a charade.

“It’s a ludicrous system,” he said the other day, sitting behind his desk in a light brown windbreaker that matched the fallow hillside beyond his office window here, 10 miles north of Scranton. “If the national statistics are correct, 70 percent of the documents in those cabinets are fraudulent.”

For years Mr. Eckel went along. “But in the current political climate,” he said, “I just can’t take the risk of planting two million tomato plants and watching them rot in the field.”

A ludicrous system indeed, but one which encouraged generations of immigrants to come and work in the United States. It should come as no surprise that of the million or so migrant farm workers who work the fields every year, some choose to stay. To nativists it is perfectly acceptable to exploit these workers and then kick them in the teeth. The reality of immigration is far more complex than Lou Dobbs and other nativists would have us believe. A reasonable immigration policy would recognize that having invited generations of immigrants to come and work in the United States we cannot pretend that the consequences were unforeseen. It is only reasonable to treat people that we encouraged to come to this country in a humane manner.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rhetoric versus Reality

Congressional Quarterly reports that the Republican Party is targeting freshman Congressional Democrats on the issue of immigration. ( Many of these Democrats come from rural districts where the electorate tends to be conservative. As previously reported, the Repubs are trying to push pieces of legislation onto the floor of the House of Representatives in order to try to tag vulnerable Democrats as being soft on illegal immigration. The irony is that the CQ article ends by noting that one of the farmers in a targeted district is decrying the fact that he can't find enough workers to harvest his crops. This is consistent with the hypocrisy of the Republican strategy on immigration. On the one hand they want to force debate on the odious SAVE legislation which is all hammer, nothing but enforcement on immigration, but offers nothing in the way of mitigation for the undocumented workers currently in the United States. At the same time the same politicos who want to wage a war of attrition against these very same workers are up in arms to increase the number of agricultural workers allowed into the country to do the dirty work that American workers refuse to take.

Immigration belongs to the jurisdiction of Congress and the Executive Branch

What is equally striking is that so-called local enforcement measures are being pushed by the Immigration and Custom Enforcement ("ICE"). ICE is pushing local officials to become actively involved in immigration enforcement. While nativists applaud these "local efforts" they also decry the fact that the lack of farm workers and the fact that the states have too much power in processing the inflow of immigrant labor. Conservative pundit, Paul Weyrich, states, "That said, all visas should be run through the Federal Government, not through individual states, because immigration belongs to the jurisdiction of Congress and the Executive Branch." "The Farm Worker Shortage, Immigration and a Probable Solution" By Paul Weyrich, (Wednesday, February 13, 2008). This all results from a shortage of farm labor:

The Bush Administration declared that it offered the proposal because Congress failed to pass the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. The proposal would allow the Administration to address a shortage of legal farm workers. The Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that about 75,000 foreign workers participated in the H-2A visa program last year, while somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 undocumented laborers worked illegally on American farms. I suspect the numbers for the latter group are much higher than those DOL cites.

(Weyrich) Indeed, the Department of Labor notes that that the country requires close to a million farm workers a year. The overwhelming number of these workers are undocumented and any real enforcement against these workers would meet with resistance from the agro-industrial producers who are a bedrock of the Republican Party. The rank hypocrisy in these policies should provide some cover for Democrats who want to push back on the immigration issue. As eristic ragemail has previously argued, a principled stand on immigration, one which addresses all facets of the issue and takes a humanitarian approach to undocumented workers living in this country, is not the wedge issue that Republicans like to trumpet. One strategy may well be to hold up H-2A visas in exchange for some reason on that small part of the Republican Party that doesn't make its living on stoking hatred. This country depends greatly on undocumented workers and to treat them like criminals is not only wrong-headed, it is morally repugnant.

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