Days of Rage: The U.S. Supreme Court and President Obama Leave the Undocumented and Their Allies No Choice but to Escalate Civil Disobedience
Today in America, one in four Latino voters knows someone in deportation proceedings.
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court don't care.
What else can be concluded from their questions and comments during oral arguments over Senate Bill 1070, Arizona's notorious stab at ethnic cleansing?
And Latinos shouldn't expect any succor from our deporter in chief, President Barack Obama. Recently, Obama told a Univision reporter that he hoped to tackle comprehensive immigration reform in the first year of his second term. Obama made that exact promise in 2008 for the first year of his first term. It didn't happen.
Instead, four years of Obama has meant 1.5 million individuals deported, more than were sent home by his Republican predecessor in eight years.
In other words, it is time for a ride in the souped-up DeLorean back to the 1950s. Instead of blacks relegated to second-class status, it will be browns.
If the Supreme Court rules as many predict and upholds 1070, anyone who even resembles a Latino in states adopting similar statutes better get used to the third degree.
The president has the power to halt all deportations by executive fiat. A recent letter to Obama signed by 90 immigration-law professors detailed how he could legally do this on behalf of students who would benefit from proposed DREAM Act legislation.
But our prevaricating POTUS will not issue any such executive order. He doesn't need to, politically.
Meanwhile, the president's rival, Mitt Romney, has signed off on "self-deportation," the equivalent to 1070's stated intent of "attrition through enforcement."
Generous with the lip service Obama may be, but he doesn't have to care. With Romney the alternative, Latinos have no choice but to vote for the president.
Indeed, Obama's immigration polices look like a fulfillment of Operation Endgame, a notorious (and supposedly defunct) plan hatched post-9/11 by ICE's Office of Detention and Removal, setting as its "golden measure of success" the removal of "all removable aliens" by 2012.
We're off by a few years, but the goal remains the same. Another term for Obama means four more years of massive deportations and all the family disruption, human tragedy, and unjust incarceration that accompanies them.
So if the Supreme Court heads in the direction it seems to be heading later this month, the question for immigrants and their advocates and allies becomes, how do we make the political establishment care?
The answer? By making it pay through disruption, rebellion, and resistance.
That combination of anger and action was building to a crescendo throughout 2010. But U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton's injunction against the most offensive parts of 1070 on July 28 of that year hit the pause button.
On July 29, because groups inside and outside Arizona had mobilized and organized for the day that 1070 was scheduled to go into effect, massive civil disobedience created public chaos. Scores were arrested and jailed for taking over streets, disobeying police orders, and locking their arms together in PVC pipe, a move known as the "sleeping dragon."
Leading up to that day had been numerous acts of protest and demonstration: marches, rallies, students chaining themselves to the Arizona Capitol building, as well as acts of defiance organized by smaller groups.
Perhaps the boldest action was taken by six activists who occupied the U.S. Border Patrol's offices at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. In a sleeping dragon, with U-shaped bicycle locks joining their necks, the activists refused to move, leaving the Border Patrol helpless to respond.
For pro-immigrant activist Alex Soto, a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation and member of the hip-hop duo Shining Soul, the action was a means of striking back at an enemy that effectively occupies O'odham land, where Border Patrol vehicles are as common as cactus.
"They're already escalating," Soto says of the increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. "I understand the necessity [of working for change by registering more Latino voters, for instance]. On the other hand, anger is not bad..."
SB 1070 is just one way immigrants are criminalized, Soto says.
The Border Patrol he rails against operates in 100-mile swaths of what the American Civil Liberties Union refers to as "constitution-free zones," extending out from the border.
Within these zones, it sets up checkpoints, operates unmanned drones, and patrols public transportation, all the time subjecting nonwhites to heightened scrutiny.
Then there's ICE, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (as is the Border Patrol).
ICE administers the government's Orwellian Secure Communities program, which operates in jails nationwide and is supposed to check the immigration statuses of all those booked.
But Latinos are run through at higher rates than non-Latinos. So far, 3,600 American citizens have been wrongly arrested through the program.
ICE has begun to phase out its 287(g) program, which cross-deputizes local law enforcement as federal immigration agents. None other than Joe Arpaio — the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who became famous nationwide for making inmates wear pink underwear and who is notoriously anti-illegal immigration — once maintained the largest 287(g) force in the nation.
Ironically, it was with this force that Arpaio wreaked terror on Latino communities in Maricopa County through immigrant-hunting sweeps using racial-profiling tactics that, in turn, led to Arpaio's 287(g) contract getting discontinued.
It led also to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice this year, aimed at the sheriff's widespread discriminatory policing.
All this makes it obvious that increased civil disobedience is necessary to get the point across to the Obama administration.
"There needs to be a show of force," says Soto. "Meaning we're not going to let [the government] operate the way [it] wants to operate. Whatever that means, whatever that looks like."
Isabel Garcia of the Tucson human-rights organization Coalición de Derechos Humanos agrees that Latinos and their supporters must ramp up public protests.
"At some point... there will have to be a call for mass disobedience," she notes.
Garcia fears that what she calls the "Tucson model" will become standard throughout the country.
Tucson is 60 miles north of the border, within the Border Patrol's constitution-free zone of operations. When Tucson cops run across someone they believe is undocumented, they call the Border Patrol, and the suspected illegal immigrants are carted away in trucks that look like dog kennels.
"Here [in Tucson] you can be back across that border in an hour, and your family doesn't know anything," says Garcia. "It's really brutal."
If the Supreme Court rules as predicted, Arizona law enforcement will have an "absolute license" to practice racial profiling, she adds.
Pablo Alvarado, director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, says his immigrant-rights coalition will "push back, hard," if the Supreme Court upholds the "papers, please" portion of 1070.
That push-back will take many forms: legally (Alvarado's group already is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against 1070); by supporting anti-1070 legislation, such as California's proposed TRUST Act; through political pressure to create new "sanctuary cities"; and by taking it to the streets.
"We will create a [moral] dilemma for everyone, friends or foes," Alvarado promises of the coming wave of protest.
His organization plans a Freedom Ride-style bus tour through states with 1070-like laws. In the bus will be scores of undocumented families who will present themselves to local and federal authorities in different cities, daring law enforcement to arrest them.
Alvarado said the idea was inspired by students agitating for the DREAM Act nationwide. In Alabama, D.C., Florida, and Arizona, these activists, brought to this country when they were children, have declared themselves "undocumented and unafraid" while participating in acts of civil disobedience.
One of the more daring examples of DREAM Act civil disobedience occurred in March, when 150 student protesters blocked a street in Phoenix. Six undocumented students chose not to move from the center of the street and were arrested, thus risking deportation.
In a YouTube clip released to coincide with her arrest with the others, Daniela Cruz explained how she and fellow DREAMers were fed up with living in a limbo where they cannot legally work or go to college at an in-state tuition rate. America is the only home they've ever known, and they demonstrated that they are through being victims.
"I'm willing to risk everything I have," Cruz told her audience. "I'm willing to risk being deported, because I'm done seeing people be scared."
To the surprise of both her and her jailers, ICE holds on Cruz and her cohorts were mysteriously lifted during their 28-hour stay in Joe Arpaio's Fourth Avenue Jail. They were released on misdemeanor charges.
Cruz and her pals quickly became heroes in the Latino community.
"One day, we'll be reading about them in history books!" declares Arizona State Sen. Steve Gallardo, who is pushing for repeal of 1070. Gallardo predicts increased public protests in the wake of the expected Supreme Court ruling. "I'll be right there with them," he says.
A demonstration by the Phoenix human-rights group Puente, scheduled for June 23, will target Arpaio's infamous Tent City. Hundreds of Unitarian Universalists who will convene in Phoenix during that weekend for a national conference will participate in the protest.
The Unitarians and Puente teamed up in 2010 for a massive show of anti-1070 civil disobedience that rocked Phoenix.
Puente's Carlos Garcia cites the example set by the DREAM Act kids as one to emulate.
"When undocumented people confront the system, it crumbles," he says. "And it becomes clear that they are more afraid of us than we are of them."
Given the status quo — a deadlocked Congress, an indifferent Supreme Court, and a president who's playing politics at the expense of his Latino constituency — what's needed this election year is the type of unrest this country hasn't seen since the 1970s, something on par with the 2011 student protests in Chile, where thousands of students took over Santiago to protest that country's unequal education system.
A refrain from the Shining Soul song "Papers" sums up the situation Latinos find themselves in — once again.
"Click-clack/Where your papers at/We under attack/Fight back/It's war."
Stephen Lemons is a staff writer and columnist for Phoenix New Times.
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