La Rayuela de Javier

By Javier Rodriguez-Isabel Rodriguez-Antonio Rodriguez 5 September 2011       

Friends and, may I say, comrades: do not disparage what your efforts have achieved. Do not be surprised that gains we achieve are always less than we demand. Do not forget that we are up against the institutional might of a superpower”. Tom Hayden, progressive California legislator and anti war activist, tried in 1969 as part of the Chicago 8.

The victories of the immigrant rights social movement have been plenty and when looked upon in the present political context, particularly the electoral scene, they offer a view that the tide has turned, that the counter offensive is on and that the promised land of immigration reform is close by if the leadership ups the ante. Here is a partial picture of the intense struggle of last two and a half years and several of the key organizational and political accomplishments and victories:

After the debacle of divisions of the movement for the May 1st 2009 national marches, the Obama administration placed immigration reform on the back burner and it was then that Reform Immigration for America-RIFA entered the scene. With close to 700 organizations in its initial portfolio, the organizational move was a major accomplishment which brought forth the movement’s entry into the social networks. With a multimillion dollar budget, a national office in D.C. was established with a staff primarily from the Center for Community Change. On several occasions the organization engaged the nation with mega conference calls, spectacularly connecting more than 60,000 activists nationally, in a matter of months, to converse with Cong. Luis Gutierrez and his 2010 Immigration bill, sponsored by 100 congressional democrats, amongst other pressing points. With RIFA and other rising network venues, for the first time the movement surpassed the conservative activist block on emails, faxes and texts to Congress and the White House on the issue of immigration. Moreover, it convened a people’s immigrant rights national mobilization in D.C. on March 21, 2010 which drew an estimated crowd of 200,000 people. The flowing program staged at the mall, with three giant screens held a captive audience for several hours and had an unprecedented video speech by President Obama. Reaching deep into the history of this struggle, the closest comparative event that we can think of was the massive May 1984 Immigrant Rights March in Los Angeles which featured then democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. That historical mobilization was by then the largest  of its kind and strategically placed immigration reform on the top of the national agenda. Jackson, garnering 20% of the primary vote and actually winning several state primaries, with the sweeping strength of his campaign, essentially legitimized the fight of the immigrant class, which was then like now, seen as part of the Latino political reality. In fact, Jesse the candidate spent the night at the home of Carmen Lima, president of the large grass roots Coalition for Visas and Rights for the Undocumented, who resided in the Aliso Village Housing Projects of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Days after the grand barrio presidential event, her home was raided by ICE agents who missed snatching Carmen in their net. (Please see attached photo of May 1984 March in LA)

Back to the march in the beltway. Moreover it was from that Washington D.C. podium that the national call for the successful 2010  May 1st National Marches was made. And lastly RIFA coordinated several unprecedented meetings with the administration at the White House, though the politically moderate coalition excluded the traditional progressive wing, the one who led the makings of the Immigrant Spring of 2006 including the massive 1.7 million March 25th street demonstration LA and the May the 1st Great American Boycott which shut down over twenty industries and hundreds of thousands businesses nationally.

Then, the extreme anti immigrant forces, coordinated by the extensive FAIR network and its founder John Tanton, centering its political capital on developing and proposing anti immigrant legislation through Republican controlled State Legislatures, set their campaign in motion. Their shotgun strategy was coordinated nationally to about 30 states and it was obviously an attempt to stop the momentum on immigration reform. The move was similar to this year’s Republican legislation to turn back long established public workers rights to collective bargaining in Wisconsin. They opened up with a spectacular bang. They selected one of the most reactionary states of the Union and Arizona reared its ugly head. With Sen. Russell Pearce, a neo-fascist sympathizer leading the charge, SB 1070 was approved and then signed by a similarly ugly governor. The political attack had the fetid scent of ethnic cleansing. It was also an affront to Latinos and immigrants and their vast social movement. But of course behind it all, the national hidden agenda was really about Republicans taking back Congress and defeating President Obama in 2012. The response nationally was immense with petitions and municipal resolutions, boycotts and massive demonstrations of solidarity, particularly the May 1st march in Los Angeles, which garnered an estimated 250,000 people. For a month, the people of Arizona surrounded the capitol building in Phoenix and staged vigils and continuous media events until May 29 when 100,000 Arizona Latinos and delegations from all over the country  marched in a blistering sun. Although by far Los Angeles was the largest out of state delegation, inexplicably the LA leaders were excluded from the Phoenix program in front of the capitol building.

In the legal front, immediately several civil rights organizations, including MALDEF, and ACLU filed lawsuits. The Justice Department then entered the picture and not long after the District Federal Court ruled against the state of Arizona nullifying the most damaging clauses. The victory was a welcomed relief for the people of Arizona and for the nation.

Soon after, the state’s progressive and liberal electoral movement got into high gear and collected more than 18,000 signatures in a petition drive to recall Senator Pearce. The relishing news arrived around the same time that six Wisconsin Republican legislators were also placed on the electoral chopping block for their anti public worker policies.

On a roll, the invincibility of the Arizona Republican right was cracked when remarkably, the state’s Republican controlled legislature defeated a package of five punitive anti immigrant bills that included an attempt to diminish the Fourteen Amendment rights for US born children of the undocumented. The determining factor of the public pressure on the Republicans was big business, whose concern over the economic impact of the people’s boycott on the state had grown considerably. By then, with notable exceptions -Georgia, Indiana, Utah, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas- the great majority of the 30 plus state governments who were considering similar copy cat legislation placed them on hold. Sen. Pearce, Gov. Brewer, the Republican Party  and John Tanton’s  F.A.I.R., the latter the intellectual brains behind this extreme white nationalist xenophobic campaign, suffered a stunning defeat.

Another example, in Texas, the extreme anti immigrant bill SB9,  promoted by the fundamentalist Republican Governor Rick Perry, was firmly defeated in the legislature. As in Arizona, again the determining factor was the organized opposition rallying public pressure, including big business strong arming conservative politicians.

Also in the south, the Federal Court again stepped in and ruled the most damaging parts of SB87, the anti immigrant law signed by Georgia’s Republican governor as unconstitutional. The people of the peanut state protested anyway and 25,000 took the streets and strongly placed immigration reform on top of their agenda. The leadership also convened a” One Day without Immigrants” boycott of the economy with several hundred businesses closing and there is no estimated count on the amount of people who missed work. It should be remembered that this is the second general economic boycott in the state. The first was successfully held in April 2006 when an estimated 80,000 stopped work, closed their businesses and refused to shop. The Georgia mobilization, the largest so far since last May 1st  of this year, when Milwaukee brought out a reported 100,000, will add to the momentum that is beginning to galvanize the rest of the country.

Alabama, the once powerful bedrock of racism against African Americans and where Luther King was assassinated recently approved H.B. 56, a new law against immigrants. Again the legal eagles of the social movement have filed for an injunction to block it and  once more the Justice Department followed suit and also challenged the state in federal court. In the complaint and brief filed in the Northern District of Alabama, the department stated that “various provisions of H.B. 56 conflict with federal immigration law and undermine the federal government’s careful balance of immigration enforcement priorities and objectives.” And “A state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws.” On August 31, the Federal District Court ruled in favor of the injunction.

  Additionally the once invincible Secure Communities ICE program has been riddled with bullet holes with the governors of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts issuing executive orders ending the state’s participation. In the same vein,  the Los Angeles City Council called for the city to opt out of Secure Communities, and not long after,  California Congress members Xavier Becerra, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Judy Chu and Councilman Bernard Parks asked Gov. Jerry Brown to suspend California‘s participation in the program.                         Of course behind it all is the nation’s grass roots movement which is organizing the public pressure almost to a boiling point.  An excellent example of this work is the advisory sent from Chicago on 6 Sept 2011:  I

County Votes 10-5 to End Unfunded Mandates from ICE

ICE Immigration “Holds” Cost County Taxpayers $15.7 Million Annually and Threaten Public Safety, a Say Advocates

WHAT: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Commissioners Jesus G. Garcia, John A. Fritchey, Bridget Gainer, Joan Patricia Murphy, Edwin Reyes, Deborah Sims, Larry Sufferedin, Commissioner Collins, Commissioner Butler, and Jeffrey R. Tobolski ratified a groundbreaking ordinance today that ends the unfunded mandate called “immigration detainers”, put forth by the Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and allies from Business, Labor, Faith, and Immigrant organizations are holding a press conference on Wednesday to support the Commissioners. The ordinance was conceived and proposed by Commissioner Garcia. He is also a product of CASA and the immigrant rights movement of Chicago. However in clear response to the pressure, the Department of Homeland Security has made it known the program is mandatory, a point we address further on.

  The Morton Memo on Prosecutorial Discretion and the protection and suspended status of deportation for 300,000 immigrants. In an obvious concession to the popular demand for the president to apply administrative recourse to suspend deportations, on June 17, 2011, ICE Director Morton released two significant but not detailed policy memos encouraging prosecutorial discretion. The order was based on a 19-factor analysis in favor of low-priority immigration violators. These are immigrants whose personal circumstances, immigration history and foreseeable path to legal status cause them to rank low on the enforcement-priorities list and should be given deferred action. Deferred action, in turn, makes them eligible for a work permit. Initially the move was only lauded by the nonpartisan Immigration Policy Center and AILA, the American Immigration Lawyers Bar Association as smart policy moves. The broad social movement and more activist sectors essentially disdained the president’s executive move as not enough. They were partially wrong. As the days and the hot summer intensified the atmosphere, the grass roots organizations and Cong. Luis Gutierrez continued their drive against deportations and the separation of families focusing on the record levels established by the Obama Administration and on the infamous Secure Communities ICE Program. During the second week of August, the Department of Homeland Security released the position that the ICE program was mandatory therefore all previous agreements with states and police agencies were cancelled. The provocation infuriated immigrant rights leaders and many in the media. Strong condemning protests and online petitions ensued against Obama and ICE and lord behold on August 18, DHS Director Janet Napolitano staged a national press conference outlining the details and categories that suspended the deportation proceedings of 300,000 cases in process, allowing them also a work permit. Logically, thousands of immigrants in detention centers hailed the new policy. They could see the light of their freedom coming. The smart move deflated the fury and the organizations and Gutierrez began to salute their victory, encouraging its bases to thank the administration. The RIFA or FIRM leadership went as far as convening a massive telephone conference with Gutierrez on the agenda, to discuss the meaning of the new policy. Predictably however, comprehensive immigration reform received zero attention. Additionally since then, the congressman is now fully supporting the president‘s reelection. Also since, around the country, a dozen or so immigrants have received the suspended status. *See the list of detailed and description of these categories at the end of this article.

The downfall of reactionary CNN commentator Lou Dobbs was another major accomplishment. Essentially this was also part of the immigrant rights movement entry into the country’s virtual space political battle fields of the social networks. Three immigrant advocates, one of them, took on the media giant CNN and its major star Lou Dobbs, who made it a cowardly career attacking undocumented immigrants, Mexico, the fast growing Latino minority, its allies and any favorable legislative or administrative immigration policy changes. A dynamic, tenacious and articulate journalist
with millions of followers, of course on the wrong side of history, he was a declared ally of the xenophobic conservative right and made the peaceful and noble term “amnesty” his battle cry. The drive to unseat CNN’s major megaphone gained momentum and his ratings plummeted. The executives at the helm of the global media empire caved in and he was forced to resign. It was a sensational hearts and minds victory for Latinos, for immigrants and for all people of goodwill. For Dobbs, CNN and the globalized capitalist media that control the world’s airwaves, it was a resounding strategically programmatic defeat.

On July 19, 2011 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of the Mayor’s Office on New Americans to Support Chicago’s Immigrant Communities and Enhance Their Contributions to Chicago’s Economic, Civic and Cultural Life. The office will help immigrants access city services and start new businesses and will pursue the long-term goal of making Chicago the world’s most immigrant-friendly city. Through a press release the Mayor stated “Chicago’s vitality has been built on the strength of immigrant populations that have come to enjoy new freedoms and access new opportunities”. To advance its mission, the Office of New Americans will forge partnerships with community organizations, educational institutions and the private sector. Folks, it’s got teeth.

And then there is the youth wing of the struggle and its focus on the passage of the Dream Act legislation which if approved will legalize the status of undocumented youth in college or bound to the country’s armed forces. On a federal level and always by democrats, the Dream Act has been introduced and defeated for over ten years. It is presently in the process of travelling through Congressional hearings and committees, though with Republicans in control of the lower house, the bill is almost certain to go down in defeat unless a radical shift takes place. By this we mean, the public pressure, as exemplified recently in the Arizona and Texas legislatures, has to be large enough to break the back of the Republican right. On a state level, California was the latest to approve its own  Dream Act I legislation which legalizes private financial assistance to this sector which for years has had access to public universities at regular state fees. The second part, which  will provide access to public financial assistance has now been approved by both state houses  now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. Both bills were introduced by the persistent gadfly Latino legislator Gilbert “Gil” Cedillo. We firmly believe that the federal Dream Act Bill is supported by a large national majority of Americans who repeat President Obama’s words “it makes sense”.

Like flowers in the spring, the struggle has inspired a bold rebellious undocumented youth all over that has finally come forth openly telling the country “yes I am undocumented”. It is a genuine national grass roots movement, primarily college and university students, which  mobilizes on its own behalf, staging protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience, lobbying and  the long  march of the four undocumented university students that last year took them from Florida to the nation’s capitol, ending and addressing the massive rally on March 21st 2010 at the Washington Mall. Weeks later the four made a surprised visit to Arizona and courageously, full of love, entered the headquarters of the hated Sheriff Arpaio, met with him, presented their views and astonishingly embraced him,  lo abrazaron, on national and worldwide news. They publicly broke the chains of  travel restriction. The national battle cry of this wing of our movement is captured with a young bronze female poster child, defiantly holding a placard, with the words in bold ”Undocumented Unafraid”. With the long years of family clandestine existence, they are a natural outgrowth, a product of the people. As teens they saw and probably marched and boycotted with their parents by the millions in hundreds of cities in 2006 and 07. In Los Angeles it can be speculated that many of the dreamers were part of the estimated sixty thousand students that walked out of their high schools on March 24 and 27, 2006 and the more than 200,000 students that boycotted their schools on May 1st of the same year in defense of their people (a matter of record, on that day 30% of the student body of LA School Unified System, which numbers close to 900,000, were reported absent).

Though the fight for the Dream Act is ten years old, today’s youth has massively leaped from the college campuses unto the universe of activism for the fight of their lives: their legalization. They are articulate and passionate and militant in their display of civil disobedience. We believe that the time is ripe for the leadership to convene hundreds of thousands of youth to Washington DC, to publicly pressure congress, particularly the fundamentalist and dogmatic republicans, to approve the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform. With some obvious ties to the moderate wing of this social struggle, however, their political message centers primarily on their issue, not linking the historical and broad legalization effort as well as the economic roots of immigration, the war and other issues. And to clarify, by this we are referring to the opportunities that arise with longer media interviews, public forums, speeches and related presentations. Moreover, the aspirations of reaching “the dream” starkly clashes with the reality of the long brutal nightmare now being lived by the American people and the world over. However like everything else in dialectics, this political and organizational dynamic is also in constant movement and change.

The experience of this 43 year social phenomena, the immigrant rights movement, has its most open and public expression in the everyday grind of defending, organizing and representing the massive immigrant population. Multilevel and multifaceted, it is presently everywhere, in every corner of the country and it has grown parallel  to the growth of the Latino population, which is now 1 of every six Americans and slated to be 1 in 3 by 2040. We find it in the culture, in the neighborhoods, in Labor, in all church denominations, in municipal, state and national government, in the White House, the National Conference of Mayors, in most of the national Latino liberal and progressive organizations,   in women, gay and youth, of course in the college and university sectors, for certain also in the media, even in police departments, in most ethnic communities including the African American community, etc. The roots can be found in the teachings and the radical and visionary years of the founding mentor, El Viejo, Bert Corona. He lived and led during the great depression and the massive expatriations of Mexicans in the thirties, the forties and fifties and operation wetback and the era of the civil rights and anti Viet Nam war movements. In 1968, the height of the Chicano movement, he co-founded the Autonomous Center for Social Action-CASA. In 1973, at the old San Franciscan St. Joseph Catholic Parish of Los Angeles, along with the Committee for the Defense of the Bill of Rights, Rose Churnin, Congressman Ed Roybal, Soledad Alatorre, the Rodriguez Family, UE, the National Committee to Free Los Tres, The Comite de Lucha de Derecho-UNAM, MECHA and many other groups, leaders and activists he co-founded and directed the National Coalition for Fair Immigration Laws and Practices. Both organisms were catalyst in establishing the veins and arteries for today’s broad and historic immigrant rights movement.

Part C is upcoming in the next few days as well as the total translation if we find a volunteer translator.

Javier Rodriguez is a journalist and a media and political strategist. A long time activist, he was the initiator and directed the making of the 1.7 MILLION historical immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006, Isabel Rodriguez is a worker’s compensation attorney and a long time activist Antonio Rodriguez is a civil rights- anti police brutality attorney and also a long time activist, All three are siblings who played a prominent role in organizing the mass street immigration movement of 1984 and 2006.

*What follows is a description of the policy categories outlined by Napolitano for the 300,000 immigrants in process. It was published by one of the nation’s an immigrant rights think tank that we were unable to ID:

  • The person’s length      of presence in the United States, with      particular consideration given to presence while in lawful status.
  • The circumstances of the person’s arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child.
  • The person’s pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States.
  • Whether the person, or the person’s immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military, reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat.
  • The person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest warrants.
  • . The person’s immigration history, including any prior removal, outstanding order of removal, prior denial of status, or evidence of fraud.
  • Whether the person poses a national security or public safety concern.
  • The person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.
  • The person’s ties to the home country and condition in the country.
  • The person’s age, with particular consideration given to minors and the elderly.
  • Whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.
  • Whether the person is the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability, minor, or seriously ill relative.
  • Whether the person or the person’s spouse is pregnant or nursing.
  • Whether the person or the person’s spouse suffers from severe mental or physical illness.
  • Whether the person’s nationality renders removal unlikely.
  • Whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as a relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as an asylum seeker, or a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or other crime.

Whether the person is currently cooperating or has cooperated with federal, state or local law enforcement authorities, such as ICE, the U.S Attorneys or Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, or National Labor Relations Board, among others.”The universe of opportunities to exercise prosecutorial discretion is large. It may be exercised at any stage of the proceedings.”