Released 02 February 2006  By Lee Siu Hin - National Immigrant Solidarity Network
The Upcoming Battle for Immigrant Rights
A War on the Home Front That Will Affect Millions of People
By: Lee Siu Hin
January 25, 2006
For the past two years, the United States has been quietly pursuing its largest anti-immigrant campaign in 50 years.
With the U.S. losing the war in Iraq, President Bush, right wing Republicans and even many Democrats are once again using immigrants as scapegoats (along with promising more money for domestic programs, tax cuts for the rich, faith-based initiatives to attack abortion rights and the rights of LGBT people) in order to secure conservative/right-wing votes for the November 2006 midterm elections.
Attacking recent immigrants is historically nothing new. Since the Chinese Exclusion Act of the1890's, different immigrant groups have been targeted when they begin arriving in this country: Irish, Jews, eastern Europeans, Japanese, Filipinos have all been the target of attack at various points in U.S. history. This time the forces of racism are once again spinning rhetoric to blame immigrants (especially the Latino immigrants) for causing all the world's problems--arguing that they could be potential terrorists who wish to harm our country and 'welfare queens' who plan to steal money from our social programs--a potent scare tactic which exploits the fear and anger of the poor and working-class communities, who are the victims of corporate downsizing and the government's budget cuts because of the war in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, the right-wing anti-immigrant forces have been using the Minutemen campaign to exaggerate the so-called "crisis" of undocumented immigrants after September 11.
What happened in 2005 was a chain of events, each one carefully crafted to build to a climax of mindless xenophobia. From the first appearance of the Minutemen in the beginning of the year to the passing of the Sensenbrenner-King Bill right before the year's end, this was a well coordinated plan serving the agenda of the right-wing, racist anti-immigrant forces, and most immigrant, community and social justice activists were caught-off guard.
When Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the anti-immigrant vigilante group calling itself "The Minutemen," announced their plan to go to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona to stop Mexican migrants from entering the U.S., it immediately upset the immigrant community and sparked the creation of a national movement against the racist group.
For the next few months, several dozens of Minutemen-sponsored actions across the country--mainly protests or surveillance actions designed to harass day laborers--were met with much larger groups of counter-protesters, sometimes 20 and even 30 times larger than the Minutemen's numbers.
While most cities don't welcome the Minutemen, some gave them a green light and even a police escort to support their racist activities.
Two examples: the Southern California cities of Garden Grove and Baldwin Park, both east of Los Angeles. It's no accident that the Minutemen never dare to protest in big cities with large immigrant populations like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco--all bastions of strong progressive politics at the community and City Hall levels. Instead they tend to choose smaller suburbs and rural areas where much stronger anti-immigrant, conservative politics dominate the political discourse from the community level to the City government.
Garden Grove and Baldwin Park were some of the cities of major Minutemen actions that drew national attention during the summer of 2005. The mainstream corporate media took great pains to avoid mentioning that their police department was on the side of the Minutemen, attacking and arresting the counter-protesters.
On May 25, during the counter-protest against the Minutemen meeting featuring its founder Jim Gilchrist in Garden Grove, community activist Theresa Dang was hit by a van driven by Minutemen supporter Hal Netkin. He was detained by police but released and never charged; instead the police targeted the counter-protesters, arresting several youths during the protest.
After the car incident, Dang went to the Orange County District Attorney's office to complain about the incident (Garden Grove is a city in Orange County, CA). Soon after her action, in the early morning hours of June 16 the Garden Grove PD raided Dang's house with a search warrant, charging her with two counts of bogus felony charges falsely accusing Dang of stealing a police flashlight during the May 25 counter-protest.
The case went to a jury trial in late November and she was found not guilty of the bogus charges. Nonetheless, the Garden Grove PD never apologized for their abuse of power, and the corporate media has been almost completely silent about the case.
Why do Republicans Love the Racist Minutemen?
Most people agree that the Minutemen's attempt to use anti-immigrant xenophobia to build their national movement has been a complete failure. However, the left also has overlooked and underestimated the political forces behind the Minutemen.
Since the beginning, the Minutemen's Jim Gilchrist has been praised by some right-wing Republicans as a political celebrity. Many observers agree that the Minutemen's protests basically serve as publicity stunts to achieve their bigger agenda.
Not surprisingly, with their new-found fame from the Minutemen Project, Jim Gilchrist and his associates have been invited to speak in cities across the country. With support from right-wing groups Gilchrist ran for U.S. House of Representative in the November 2005 elections for the Orange County, CA's 48th Congressional district (a Republican strong-hold) as the candidate of the American Independent Party (AIP), a racist party founded in 1968 by then Presidential candidate and former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Gilchrist lost the election, but received almost 25% of the vote, and declared he will run again in the 2006 election.
According to the news report, Gilchrist's campaign has been supported by right-wing Republican Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Tancredo has been a well-known anti-immigrant advocate and works closely with anti-immigrant advocacy groups such as the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA.
Furthermore, Tancredo is a strong political ally of House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.), who promoted the most odious House bill in decades attacking immigrants, the so-called "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005."
The Passage of the Sensenbrenner-King Bill
Just when activists thought that the immigrant campaign had reached a new low when Congress passed the REAL ID Act, authored by James Sensenbrenner on May 10, another major bombshell was dropped by Sensenbrenner on the immigrant community just before the year's end.
H.R. 4437--the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005" authored by Sensenbrenner and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) was introduced on December 6, 2005.
Despite strong protest from immigrant, human rights, labor and civil liberty groups, the U.S. House passed the bill in less than 10 days without meaningful debate on December 16, along with a $453 billion defense spending bill that will funnel $50 billion more to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the five-week extensions of the PATRIOT Act.
The Sensenbrenner-King Bill would make 11 million or more mainly Mexican undocumented immigrants automatically "felons", and it would fine or jail hundreds of thousands of American employers who employ undocumented workers, and put millions of other Americans who help undocumented workers behind bars as "alien smugglers". It would require the hiring of tens of thousands of prosecutors, judges, and court personnel, and require the building of hundreds more jails. The bill also gives power to local authorities to deputize private citizens to enforce the immigration law (such as police officers and Minutemen).
Unfortunately, while some House Republicans voted against the bill (for both good and bad reasons), many House Democrats decided to vote in favor, ensuring the final passage of the bill. According to immigrant activists, at the outset of the House floor debate on H.R. 4437 last December, despite repeated requests, the immigrant community never received assurances that the Democratic leadership would oppose the vote, because their leadership had decided that this bill was not high enough on the Democratic agenda to corral Democrats into voting against it.
Furthermore, the unexpectedly quick success of passing the Sensenbrenner-King Bill wiped out any hopes of passing moderate pro-immigrant bills that many immigrant organizations had been working on for the past few years.
Almost at the same time, the City Council of Santa Ana, a city in Orange County, CA with a large Latino immigrant population, on December 7, 2005 passed a law becoming the first U.S. city to deputize their police to enforce immigration duties. When the community showed up at the Santa Ana City Council meeting on January 3, 2006 to express their anger, Coyotl Tezcalipoca, a Latino community activist from Santa Ana, was put in a choke-hold and arrested. He faces criminal charges by several police officers for allegedly "disrupting" the meeting, on February 3, the Orange County District Attorney's office (the same office who file charges against Theresa Dang few months ago) had decided to decline to file criminal charges against him.
However, this incident shows that law-enforcement officials are already working hard to squash the community-based movement against the Minutemen and anti-immigrant legislation.
What Should Activists Do Next?
Our struggle will be long and hard, but that doesn't mean we should give up hope. While the House vision of the Sensenbrenner-King Bill has passed, we still can mount a strong opposition against the upcoming Senate version, which will be introduced and debated sometime in February, 2006.
Unity is very important! This is NOT only about immigrant rights--it is also about human rights for everyone. An injury to one is an injury to all!
Why? So far the right-wing anti-immigrant forces have successfully created a "common sense" message of links: September 11= counterterrorism = anti-immigrants = invade/occupy Iraq/Afghanistan = tax cut = faith-based initiatives. They are also calculating that the left will not unify strongly enough to build a broad-based coalition to support each other's struggles.
We should prove them wrong! Now that we have finished the holiday season, we should gear up our fighting spirit and channel it into building multi-ethnic community actions against the final passage of the Senate bill early this year. Immigrant groups around the country are beginning to build local coalitions to organize campaigns against the bill, against the passage of another proposed anti-immigrant bill--the CLEAR Act, and against the renewal of the PATRIOT Act.
In addition, we should not underestimate the powerful forces behind the current anti-immigrant movement, and the "divide and conquer" tactics they are using. Minutemen understand they cannot build their movement in the major U.S. cities, so they tactically choose several suburban/rural right-wing, conservative anti-immigrant communities in which to build their base (i.e. Orange County, CA). These are regions where the anti-war/anti-globalization movements generally don't organize, and it is in places like these that the Minutemen enter candidates in elections hoping to win a seat in the local government.
Therefore, activists and organizers have a particular responsibility to point out the links between Katrina's impact, immigrant rights, civil liberties, labor rights and the U.S. war in Iraq. Understanding the connections between our individual conditions of life and the lives of people everywhere in the world allows us to come together and organize across all borders. We need to make the connections between: wars in Africa, south America, Asia, Iraq, Palestine and Korea, and sweatshops in Asia as well as in Los Angeles and in New York; international arms sales and the WTO, FTAA, NAFTA & CAFTA with AIDS, hunger, our reproductive rights, child labor and child soldiers; multinational corporations and economic exploitation with racism, homophobia and poverty at home--then we can win the struggle.
Lee Siu Hin is a community organizer with the National Immigrant Solidarity Network (NISN) http://www.ImmigrantSolidarity.org and ActionLA Coalition http://www.ActionLA.org. Please visit NISN's Minutemen Watch http://www.MinutemenWatch.net for more of the latest news on counter-Minutemen campaigns.