As Slingshot goes to press, the US is experiencing the largest civil rights uprising in a generation as hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans and their supporters rise up to demand fair treatment for immigrants and to oppose H.R. 4437 — The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. The law calls for construction of a 700-mile long wall along the US/Mexico border and would make illegal immigrants — and anyone who offers them support — felons. This would criminalize huge numbers of legal as well as “illegal” Latin Americans.
The massive, heartfelt marches — the size of which caught even their organizers by surprise — and the explosion of high school walk-outs and spontaneous protests across the land are not just about a single proposed law. The explosion of protest represents the awakening of a sleeping giant. Census figures show that there are more than 41 million Latin Americans in the US — yet this population has yet to see political power and respect equal to its numbers. These protests are not business as usual. A new spirit of liberation is in the air.
One participant at the Los Angeles march remarked, “The vibe in the air and the overall energy was infectious as you saw everyone from church goers to gang bangers all fighting to keep this oppressive bill from passing.” Dramatic reports from high school walk-outs in dozens of cities tell of arrests and heavy-handed police tactics underlining the enthusiasm, militancy and wide support behind this struggle.
While superficially the protests target H.R. 4437, the passion behind them is fueled by the grinding daily injustice that is US immigration policy. It is estimated that there are more than 12 million “illegal” immigrants in the United States. They make up 1 in 20 US workers. American employers depend on cheap labor provided by these workers who live in poverty and in constant fear of la migra (immigration police.) The US economy is built on a two-tiered foundation of inequality with “illegal” workers unable to organize to demand decent conditions.
Defeating H.R. 4437 won’t address this systematic injustice. While xenophobic Republican members of the House of Representatives push H.R. 4437 and the idea of refusing citizenship to children born in the US of “illegal” immigrant parents, Bush and business interests are pushing “guest worker” programs which would maintain a two-tier system designed to permit business to exploit immigrants for cheap labor. If all “illegal” immigrants could somehow be arrested and deported, the US economy would come to a screeching halt. Business owners know this and want to ensure their access to cheap labor — cut off from full civil rights. Although there are sharp divisions splitting both major parties over immigration policy, all mainstream politicians — Democrats and Republicans — want to ensure immigrants maintain their inferior and oppressed status.
The uprising in the streets demands respect and full participation for immigrants. Ultimately, this cannot be achieved within the mainstream US political system. Governments seek to divide people based on national and racial lines to facilitate exploitation by private employers. The immigration situation — in the US and around the world — is a perfect example. By creating artificial divisions between people — legal vs. illegal, native vs. immigrant, Mexican vs. US — corporations can play divide and conquer. While Latin Americans struggle for just treatment in the US, similar struggles are going on in Europe, Asia and the Middle East involving immigrants from Africa, Turkey, Pakistan and many other poor areas.
Regular people need to unite against their common enemy — the tiny number of rulers who control the global economy. Borders and nations are fake lines drawn on maps imposed by the rulers for their own benefit. How ironic is it that Latin Americans — descents of the original occupants of this land — are considered “immigrants” while European Americans are considered “native born?”
On May 1, activists are calling for a national general strike and boycott by immigrants: “Un dia sin immigrante” (A day without an immigrant.) They are calling for “No Work, No School, No Sales, and No Buying” as well as marches “around symbols of economic trade in your areas (stock exchanges, anti-immigrant corporations, etc.)” There will undoubtedly be many more school walk-outs and actions leading up to May 1. No human being is illegal. Only when all people are free can there be freedom for any one of us.
For information, contact Bay Area Coalition to Fight the Minutemen stoptheminutemen@ lists.riseup.net or Depoten a la Migra: firstname.lastname@example.org