Thursday, May 03, 2007

Statement of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights On May 1, 2007 - International Workers Day

Statement of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

On May 1, 2007 - International Workers Day

Fair & Just Legalization with Equality, Justice & Liberty

For all immigrant and native-born workers, families and communities

Stop the Raids and Deportations

End Migrant Deaths at the Border

Uphold Our Human, Civil, Labor and Economic Rights

Millions of working class people, lead by immigrant workers, families and communities, are filling the streets of the United States and the world on May 1, International Workers Day, celebrated in almost every country of the industrialized world.

Today, in addition to demanding living wages and an eight-hour day, immigrant workers, along with their partners and allies, are demanding for an end to all immigration raids, detentions and deportations. Immigration raids and deportations shatter families, traumatize communities and result in gross violations of our labor, civil and human rights.

Since the historic May 1, 2006, millions of voices more today are again calling fair and just legalization that protects everyone's civil, social and labor rights with liberty, equality and justice.

The May 1 marches in the U.S. continue in the fine tradition of International Workers' Day, which began in the United States after years of workers' demanding and organizing for an eight-hour workday, living wages and other improvements for the working class. The original movement was also led by immigrant workers and culminated in a nationwide strike on May 1, 1886, where Chicago was at the epicenter of the demand for an eight-hour day. On May 4, 1886, at a rally held in the Haymarket Square in Chicago to protest a police attack on strikers, police surrounded the workers' protest. A bomb exploded, killing one police and wounding others. Then, police opened fire against the peaceful assembly and killed many workers. The repression did not stop. The police went on the offensive and went into Chicago working class neighborhoods, breaking into homes, arresting and hurting more leaders, attempting to intimidate and break the movement's will to win.

Today, the immigrant rights movement stands together with all workers, their families and communities, calling for legalization that does not violate labor rights, that does not divide and destroy families and communities, and helps end the exploitation of all workers.

Legalization and Workers' Rights

One-hundred and twenty-one years later, immigrant workers are again at the forefront demanding just wages, health, education, social services, housing, safety, democracy, freedom from fear, for peace, an end to racial, ethnic, nationality and religious discrimination, and a new relationship between citizens and non-citizens, immigrants and non-immigrants, foreign-born and native-born workers.

Millions of voices today are demanding an end to the immigration raids, economic exploitation and other human rights abuses and violations perpetrated against millions of documented and undocumented workers. This includes:

  • Foreign- and native-born workers and people of color, who call for end to all discrimination and exploitation in the workplace and demand living wages and safe working conditions;
  • Indigenous peoples who have been forced into migration because they have lost their lands and had their communities shattered by "free" trade;
  • Day laborers, domestic workers, farm-workers, janitors, truck-drivers, street vendors, local community-owned stores, day care workers, nannies, youth, students and others who are subjected to violence and harassment for seeking employment and education;
  • LGBTQ people whose families are kept apart and harassed and oppressed because of their sexual orientation and gender identities;
  • The unemployed; those jailed and imprisoned;
  • The hundreds of thousands of families broken apart by deportations and the disappearance of their loved ones at the border; and the thousands of migrant dead recovered and thousands more disappeared at the border and in the interior as a result of exploitation and oppression.

All permitted by the U.S. government, whose unjust immigration laws, policies, practices and services and enforcement are the root cause and fuel the anti-immigrant climate, police and hate violence, making immigrants even more vulnerable to violations and abuse.

Immigration laws and proposals have become the pretext and cover for some of the worst anti-worker laws and attacks, where other workers, immigrants, are being scapegoated for the ills impacting U.S. workers, especially workers of color. Immigrants, especially the undocumented and immigrants of color, are blamed for the impoverishment and exploitation of people of color, for the lack of economic opportunities for African Americans, and for the deterioration of schools, services and the violence and conflicts that pervade working class communities.

While the official laws, policies and practices of the U.S. government that promote and defend privatization and cutbacks, including elimination, of education, health and social services, the bloated and growing war and military budget, corporate tax breaks and subsidies, tax exemptions and tax-free rides for the rich and filthy rich, are all left of the hook, blameless.

At the same time, immigration services and enforcement are further cemented to the politics and policies of national security and the "war on terrorism." The pending proposals in Congress continue offering more militarization of border and immigration control, qualitatively increasing the number of interior and border immigration police, building more prison bed space exclusively for immigrants and bracero-style guest worker programs and meager legalization that includes stiff fines with a maze of rules and obstacles that will make it nearly impossible for anyone, except for a small fraction, to qualify.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the interior immigration police, under the Department of Homeland Security) is carrying our brutal raids, trampling the due process rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens, traumatizing families and shattering communities, workplaces and neighborhoods. Thousands are being deported from interior cities and the border, suffering whole scale violation of their rights.

The ICE raids are calculated political attacks meant to terrorize and intimidate immigrants, especially the undocumented, from asserting their rights. The Department of Homeland Security promotes more enforcement and guest worker programs as the solution, never mind the immense backlog and demand for family reunification.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, official national security policies and border control strategies force migrants to risk their lives if they cross unauthorized. Hundreds of thousands are deported with little or no regard for their rights. Since this "prevention through deterrence" strategy was extended to the entire border beginning in 1994, some 5,000 migrant dead have been recovered; countless more are missing or disappeared in the desert and mountainous regions of Arizona,where over half of all the migrant deaths occur. Border Patrol violence and violations of the rights of migrants, communities, Indigenous peoples and workers at the border are rampant.

What We Want: Fair and Just Immigration Reform

Fair and just immigration reform means:

  • Genuine legalization and opportunities to adjust status for all undocumented immigrants, including youth and farm workers;
  • Preservation, restoration and expansion of due process rights and access to the courts;
  • No indefinite detention or expansion of mandatory detention
  • No expansion of guest worker programs
  • No more wasted resources allocated to further militarize our borders is the root cause of the crisis of human rights and lives in the border regions
  • An end to employer sanctions and electronic worker verification systems
  • The strengthening and enforcement of labor law protections for all workers, native and foreign born
  • No use of city, state, federal police and other government agencies in the enforcement of immigration laws;
  • No more criminalization of immigrants, or their service providers
  • Expansion of legal immigration opportunities, support for family reunification and immediate processing of the backlog of pending visa applications
  • Elimination of harsh obstacles to immigrating, including the HIV ban, "3 and 10 year bars," and high income requirements for immigrant sponsors.

On May Day 2007, workers on the streets and in the workplace are dreaming a different type of citizenship, one that promotes dignity, justice, liberty and protects our human, civil, and labor rights. Any legalization program must strengthen and protect our rights, ensuring that all foreign- and native-born workers and families can live, work, worship, study and play in healthy and stable community.

Network News On-Line!

Network News On-Line!

Network News is back! Long overdue, this on-line installment of Network News provides a snapshot of views and voices looking backward and forward after the unprecedented immigrant community-led mass mobilizations of 2006.

We conducted a series of interviews immigrant rights movement leaders and groups to get their take on the roots of the 2006 upsurge and mobilizations; what they believe are the key alliances to build and key issues to focus on leading up to the 2008 elections. In all, these interviews represent an opening and much needed and longer discussion of the biggest challenge facing the immigrant rights movement: The deadly mixture of a rightwing anti-immigrant/xenophobic political climate and the pact and logjam in Congress over how harsh and punitive immigration reform should be and how to we’re going to overcome them.

Other articles include a report by Alexis Mazón from the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos on a recent tour of a Palestinian delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border, commentary and analysis by Maricela García, NNIRR board member and director of Latinos United in Chicago, on the significance of Elvira Arellano’s resistance to deportation as part of new and emerging civil disobedience action for immigrant rights.

‘Our movement needs a vision and goals that address broader social and political change’

‘Our movement needs a vision and goals that address broader social and political change’

Interview with Monami Maulik of DRUM by Arnoldo García

Monami Maulk: For years DRUM has understood that undocumented workers, in the U.S. and globally, are major forces for social change. 2006 was a culmination and realization of the power and ability of the immigrant community, chipping away at the legitimacy of U.S. government practices. Internally, there has been a huge shift in racial composition of the country; immigration is impacting race and class. There is a serious global erosion of U.S. standing in Third World, in immigrants’ home countries and in the Middle East.

Particularly, coming from South Asian and Muslim communities, 2006 became a turning point. Our communities realized: what more could the government do to them, breaking through the political fears and daily fears of working seven days a week to survive in this climate.

What are the key alliances to build in the next period?

Building inter-generational alliances and leadership, especially of immigrant youth we were either brought here or born to migrant parents. There is not enough attention paid to this and not enough credit given to the youth upsurge. High school students were outraged at Sensenbrenner, organizing the walk-outs and working with their families.

We missed the board on building alliances with African American communities. There was a big opportunity, not building in a tokenistic way, and build longstanding relations in the wake of tensions with immigrant communities. Work is needed to build dialogues and strategic alliances. While is useful to see the immigrant community upsurges as a new civil rights movement; this assumes that old civil rights movement is over or finished. We need to hone an inclusive vision and strategy with African American movements, which is also suffering setbacks of gains made thirty years ago.

We need to also change our messaging too. When we hear marchers chanting, “We are not criminals,” this makes some of our community members cringe and sends the message that “we’re one step above” African Americans, because we’re not criminals or one step above because we’re not terrorists. Muslim and South Asian immigrant community members react with serious distrust marching hand-in hand with Latino immigrants when we hear these chants; makes us feel that they believe Muslims are terrorists and makes our communities less prone to working with Latinos. This reflects that there is not a sense in Latino community about what’s happening in the Muslim world. Makes people in South Asian and Muslim communities less likely to want to connect to Latino migrants struggles at the border.

Key issues in next two-year period, 2007-2008?

We need to set policy goals that are accountable to building a movement and not the other way around. Our movement should have a vision and goals that address broader social and political change, while building strategic alliances to achieve them. So if the strategy in the next two years becomes only winning a certain type of legislation then we haven’t learned lessons – from civil rights or other movements – that we need to address and solve the root causes facing migrant communities. We need to build serious organizations where none existed before, where people have emerged as active and leaders.

Lastly, building strategic alliances across nationality, different immigrant communities, to build a movement that’s not solely a Latino immigrant rights movement but an inclusive movement, which demands racial justice and civil rights and incorporates social issues that affect all communities.

We need cross-pollenization among groups doing electoral work and those doing community organizing with larger goals of social justice. We cannot believe that only by changing Congress we can get what we want.

A key issue is shaping our demands to be accountable to what’s possible from our community and not what is possible on whatever elected official is in office. This means not trading off rights and demands is key. While developing the ability to win any decent comprehensive reform bill, some groups have gone off alone to develop legislation on their own, which is piece meal, If we continue to do that in the current climate – because we haven’t yet made an attempt to develop consensus on what communities what, building unity, which is difficult among communities that are already segmented and marginalized – this will lead to more segmentation and going off in different directions.

We need to get down to the hard business of getting to know each other, as central to developing community-based vision and strategies. Communities are not just waiting to march for policies that they have not been consulted with by policy groups.

How do we break the logjam and rollback xenophobia?

Part of the hard work of getting to know each other and the harder work of building deep alliances not just in moments of crisis with those forces, who are outside the immigrant rights movement, is taking on the media messaging against immigrants that the Bush Administration and others are using to frame issues after 9/11. It will have to be a serious and far-reaching campaign to change the public’s mind. This is not just about addressing suburbia or middle America; it means exposing in the eye of the public the root causes of why migrants are forced to be here, their role in the U.S. economy and that upholds the wealth of this society.

At the level of communities, not just migrants, for example Katrina and African Americans, with the deteriorating support for the war in Iraq, we need to radicalize the U.S. public. When society is becoming more radical in this way, it can have impact on Congress and those who are in power. This also means radicalizing people in terms of education but also in the strategies we use.

We have to be ready on a mass scale to do civil disobedience, work strikes and stoppages – exercising power unapologetically, without feeling need to paint ourselves as deserving, good immigrants.

Within our community, there never was faith and hope that there was going to be a serious legalization that would be good for us. We are still wrapped up completely in a phase of defensive battles, resisting the attacks. The long-term depends on what happens abroad, globally the war aboard, and the xenophobia at home; we are faced with the defensive battles and will have to chip away at some of the severity of immigration law enforcement.

One way immigrant rights issues can overcome the climate, where local communities can develop a sense of their power to build the future, is to chip away and demand an end to immigration-police collaboration, and expand local ordinances, get driver’s licenses. Building local victories over the “war on terror” will be key to rolling back the anti-immigrant climate during the next two years.

Monami Maulik is the director of DRUM: Desis Rising Up and Moving, based in Jackson Heights, New York. Arnoldo García is the editor of Network News and heads up NNIRR’s Immigrant Justice and Rights Program.

Reframing the Debate: From creative strategies and alliances to human rights

Reframing the Debate: From creative strategies and alliances to human rights

By Gerald Lenoir

The main catalyst for the 2006 upsurge has been the increased violations of immigrants’ civil liberties and human rights and the threat posed by pending immigration legislation, especially the infamous Sennsenbrenner bill. Successive waves of marches in the winter and spring of last year inspired immigrants and their supporters to step up the pressure.

A major task is reframing the immigrant rights debate. The rightwing has framed the issue as one of “illegal aliens” crossing our “broken borders” and taking jobs from U.S. citizens. Immigration has also become a question of “national security.” This includes reaching the ethnic media on a consistent basis, penetrating the liberal media like NPR regularly, and making inroads with a progressive analysis into the mainstream media, like the New York Times and CNN’s Lou Dobbs Report.

Progressive activists must reframe the public debate on immigration within an international human rights context. The framing and messaging must popularize the role the U.S. plays forcibly displacing migrants from their home countries through bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. In particular, the role of the North American Free Trade Agreement allowing U.S. farmers to undercut the price of basic farm commodities in Mexico, resulting in the displacement of 2.8 million rural families since 1996 must be exposed as a major cause of the stepped up migration to the United States.

Within the immigrant rights movement, a concerted effort to battle the tendency to trade legislative concessions for compromises on “border security” must be waged. The gross violations of the human rights of migrants crossing the border must be highlighted with high level and grassroots border delegations and media exposure.

Allies with the African American community and the labor movement must be carefully cultivated and the momentum gathered in 2006 must continue into 2007. Creative strategies for mass mobilizations must bring immigrant and their supporters out and also have clear messaging and focuses are important.

All of this requires a greater degree of strategic collaboration and coordination within the immigrant and refugee rights movement. We must all be prepared to work collectively to present a united front against the right wing’s regressive immigration reform.

Gerald Lenoir is the coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. BAJI, formed in 2006, works to educate and organize support for the rights of the foreign born among African American and Black immigrant communities, engaging African Americans in a dialogue about the underlying issues of race and economic status that frame U.S. immigration policy.

Organizing Documented Immigrants to Fight for the Rights of the Undocumented

Organizing Documented Immigrants to Fight for the Rights of the Undocumented

By Gordon Mar

My comments focus on the challenges and opportunities to engage documented immigrants in this current juncture of the immigrant rights movement, which has existed in different forms since the creation of this country by brutal force and economic exploitation of immigrant labor including most extremely slaves from Africa.

I work with the Chinese Progressive Association, a membership-based multi-generational community group that empowers working class Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our core strategies are community organizing, leadership development and alliance building. Most of our members and the broader Chinese immigrant community locally are documented immigrants who came here through family based immigration. And because the brunt of the current anti-immigrant attacks are directed specifically at undocumented immigrants, Latinos, Arab and Muslim people, my organization’s constituents are not necessarily in the line of attack of anti-immigrant forces. Therefore, CPA’s organizing work is focused less on federal immigration policy issues and more on other types of broader social justice issues impacting low-income people of color such as labor rights, housing rights and environmental justice and youth leadership development.

In the recent past, though, during other periods of intense anti-immigrant sentiment, documented immigrants and Asians have been in the line of attack of racist and right wing forces. For example, in 1986 the major anti-immigrant Simpson-Mazolli Rodino legislation included provisions attacking the rights of both documented and undocumented immigrants alike. That legislation sought to eliminate the fifth preference family based immigration category, used heavily by Asian immigrants to sponsor their brothers and sisters to reunify with their family members in the U.S.

And, in 1994, the infamous Proposition 187 in California sought to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to public benefits, which they were paying for through taxes. [Editor’s note: the federal courts ruled Prop 187 unconstitutional because immigration control is a federal matter, stopping its implementation.] Two years later, key aspects of Prop 187 were included in the 1996 federal welfare reform law, cutting off most non-citizen legal immigrants from federal safety net programs for the needy. The anti-legal immigrant welfare reform law was passed during the same session of Congress that passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which gave the INS greater powers to deport both legal and undocumented immigrants, among other provisions. Then in 1998, California voters passed proposition 227, to end bilingual education in California’s public schools, impacting both documented and documented children alike.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, CPA and our members were actively involved in these broad fight back campaigns, which brought together documented and undocumented immigrants because of the broad strokes of the attacks.

In this current moment when undocumented immigrants, Latinos and Arab and Muslim people are the ones bearing the brunt of the attacks, what are those of us who work primarily with other types of immigrants or non-immigrants to do? Obviously, it’s critical for all immigrants and people of conscience more generally to stand in firm solidarity with those whose rights are being stepped on and threatened so blatantly right now. But this is not an easy task, even for an organization like CPA that has a history of involvement in immigrant rights work. The propaganda against certain types of immigrants is generally strong and constant in the mainstream corporate media. And issues like these are intentionally used by conservative groups and organizations to drive a wedge between people of color, marginalized groups and progressives, and yes even between documented and undocumented immigrants.

So, building a broad inclusive immigrant movement that has strong alliances with other movements and sectors is a challenging task. This will require sophisticated strategies drawing on wisdom gained from the past struggles our movement has engaged in. As has been mentioned, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) is in the process of developing a multi-year national campaign to take on this challenge. This is certainly an important effort we should all support and participate in.

I would like to close with a plug for one important component of the strategy to turn the tide towards a more humane and just immigration policy. Grassroots education, capacity building and organizing within immigrant communities certainly needs to be one of the foundations for this campaign and movement.

The 2006 mass immigrant rights mobilizations showed a glimpse of the potential power of our movement, but they were spontaneous and generally lacking in strategic direction. Without systematic education and community organizing and the building of strong organizations and functional movement infrastructure, this potential will dissipate and never be realized.

For CPA, systematic political education and leadership training of our members has also created a solid foundation for us to engage them in solidarity work with Latino and undocumented immigrants. CPA mobilized over 50 youth and adult members to participate in the big Spring mobilizations in San Francisco, We were one of the few sizable contingents of non-Latino immigrants.

Gordon Mar is the Co-Director of Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco, California. This article is an edited version of his remarks as part of a plenary panel discussion held during NNIRR’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Training Institute held last November in Oakland.

Demanding and Organizing for Our Rights and Our Communities - Initerview with Hamid Khan

Demanding and Organizing for Our Rights and Our Communities

An interview with Hamid Khan of the South Asian Network by Arnoldo García

What do you believe were the root causes of the 2006 mobilizations?

Hamid Khan: The 2006 mobilizations reflected the ongoing assault on immigrant communities, the overt racism, the enforcement issues and how people were experiencing them, with different communities experiencing them differently, and the fightback.

In the post 9/11 climate, South Asians faced harsh enforcement measures. Citizenship lost its sense of security itself and got diluted. The South Asian community was moving differently – getting a visa and passing through while other communities are crossing the border on foot. With the border fence in San Diego and going across the land, the physical aspects have gotten more difficult. The structural aspects of enforcement have made things more fearful but also communities began organizing themselves at a higher level.

At the level of the Latino community, there was a new sense of political power. There has been an emergence of Latino power, with a Latino mayor in Los Angeles and Latino officials throughout the state. The faces of power are also Latino. We have to also be wary of this, like when the Irish became white for example.

Another cause has been the overt racism and xenophobia, people saw it coming. The Minute Men were one expression of this.

The Sensenbrenner bill shouldn’t be seen as the key reason but a catalyst for the mobilizations, the criminalization piece of making the undocumented a felon, but also hitting the documented community. This also played a key role and with the racism, regardless of status, put us in the opposition. Then, over a period of time, the community came together.

This begs the question of whether the mobilizations and the community upsurge gave us any results, any hope.

While they were a huge success, it was a colossal failure on the part of the organizers themselves. What was the basis of the mobilizations [for the organizers]? It was a plea rather than a demand of “taxpaying, good immigrants” who were asking on the basis of goodness, “forgive us and let us stay.”

This also goes with the indoctrination in the broader social justice movement – of non-violence and civil disobedience – as a result, the demand was very watered down and was a plea for goodwill, instead of demanding our rights. While we can argue that that requires a long-term organizing, demanding our rights would have exposed the dominant culture of xenophobia and white supremacy.

This goes back to the logjam in Congress – being at the mercy of the lawmakers – this is where the failure of the movement lies. The slogan “Today we march…” became a plea instead of a demand for our rights.

What are the key alliances that need to be built?

To build true alliances within our communities, we need to be truthful with them and lay out the problem. The message has to be very clear and then the alliances can be built. The messages have to look at the white supremacy and then build the alliances on this basis.

Unless this is looked at, they will be very superficial alliances, looking more like the foundation world’s version of building collaboratives.

Unless out language is challenged and clear, our alliances will continue to be like they have the last thirty years.

We have a lot of work in our communities; it’s not just about education. It’s about having a deep conversation and the clear messaging we need. Our communities feel betrayed by the lack of this.

We need to continue the momentum and deepen the work for social justice, build trust, realize that we are under siege and that there’s no other way to look at it.

What are some of the key issues we need to address to build on the mobilizations of 2006?

Service is critical to build trust with our community, as a process of political education. We need to expose how racism and xenophobia works, how war and occupation can be exposed through access: why has a clinic shut down? How is money is being pilfered by war and occupation. Then we can have a discussion.

It has to be learned through their lived experiences and day-to-day life. There is tremendous opportunity to build trust through service to expose the deep inequities and injustices.

We can come up with legislative proposals; but they would be for naught if the community does not support us.

Along with the day-to-day existence, what has to be at the top of our work, what good is a green card if you can’t take your child to a health clinic and she will die?

They are the root causes of stress in our communities; we completely overlook the traumas and stress that are caused by the lack of reforms and services.

This has to be incorporated into our daily work, to build trust with communities.

It would be through the lived experiences, the denial of access to services, that you could pull in a family. This is working for us.

We can do all the analyses about Sensenbrenner, which is fine. But when you bring people without ID together, can you access health care without it? What do you mean, this is about a sick child?

What we see, speaking for myself in the immigrant rights movement, as critical as we are, is that we are also getting caught up in the traditional western way of organizing, which is highly compartmentalized. We need to look at organizing in a holistic way.

That’s how it’s worked in anti-colonial struggles all over the world. We have to be looking at the community as a whole, not just looking at it through the workers rights lens.

Class by itself, while extremely critical, becomes expediently used as an access to power. Organized labor, on top of that, is an alien concept. Trade unions, organized labor, are not a common experience for our communities, which are agricultural-based communities and not lived through the main breadwinner, but as a whole community.

Our thinking has to be changing with the changing demographics, we have to be very direct and demand that your organizing cater to this. They’re not hard communities to reach, they communities that are hardly reached. This thinking has to change has too.

Hamid Khan is the executive director of South Asian Network, based in Artesia, California.

‘We fight for what is reasonable and meaningful.’ - Interview with Isabel Garcia

‘We fight for what is reasonable and meaningful.’

Interview with Isabel Garcia, Coalicion de Derechos Humanos

By Colin Rajah, NNIRR

Movements have highs and lows – moments in history when certain energy and specific events converge and that’s what happened in 2006. Not only did marches stem from the hard work of folks working on human rights for many years, but the marches also reflect the current political conditions. In our efforts to educate our community about the situation – starting with the Minutemen mobilization in 2005 – we warned that this would have widespread ramifications. The Minutemen were received as heroes in DC, which ultimately allowed Sensenbrenner to come out with his bill. That stripped our long, hard work – but also brought out these historic marches this year.

Youth and students were a primary force of the mobilizations. They have always been at the forefront of movements, but this was different because they were not just typical activist students. They were young people who grew up in the harsh realities of the anti-immigrant climate. They were the children of the undocumented, the nieces and nephews of the undocumented, the grandchildren of the undocumented, the neighbors of undocumented. These were children who had grown up fearing la Migra [the immigration police] – seeing their mother’s fears when their father was a little late coming home from work, seeing an uncle being deported, seeing a 17-year-old brother deported for a joint of marijuana.

Youth deserve a lot of credit not only for their numbers but also why they mobilized – they didn’t just use this to get out of school. They got in the struggle because they had to live it. Bottom line is they gave the struggle another depth of experience – transformed themselves and others in our communities.

Key alliances to build

This movement cannot move forward without alliances. We have been trying to build alliances in Tucson for 30 years. First, we need to include labor because this is an economic and worker issue. Everything revolves around this. We need to make sure that labor must look at this issue as a labor issue.

We must also build alliances with African American communities – and not in a superficial or opportunistic thing. Many of us have been building those alliances. My father took me as a kid to a protest in front of a restaurant that didn’t serve African Americans. And we can’t say that they turned their backs against us. We need to make sure we solidify our alliances. We need to be cognizant of the racism in this country against African-Americans – we need to unite in a genuine way and we won’t succeed without building alliances with them.

We need to build with LGBT communities – they also face similar attacks – it’s not even subtle, they want to strip all LGBT of their rights as well.

We have to continue building with the faith-based community. A lot of our communities are faith-based. We have to tap into that – this is a result of long-term struggles.

We must fight alongside our indigenous brothers and sisters – they are treated as “indigenous aliens,” an oxymoron. The indigenous communities are treated as foreigners in their own land – we need to focus in on first Americans.

We need to build alliances with the environmentalist community – they have recognized that it’s not immigrants who are the cause of massive environmental destruction – it’s the militarization by Homeland Security on the border.

We also need to ally with groups and communities working on criminal justice – everything we do has to do with their struggle too. The policies here at the border were imported into the interior enforcement. We also have to ally with the anti-war movement – there’s the privatization of the war in Iraq because of the contracts for border security. Also, the ACLU-types that are interested in privacy issues – that comes from the border, tested out here. We need to make those alliances.

We need to articulate our vision and analyses so that they all adapt immigrant rights as part of their own agenda. Otherwise we will fail to obtain a just migration and border policy.

In making these alliances, we need to focus also on neoliberal policies as part of our educational work – how issues of the migration phenomenon are fueled by U.S. economic policies.

Key issues to focus on in 2007-2008

It is essential that we re-frame the debate so that we don’t fall into the kind of compromising that happens year after year, but especially this past year. If we look at what our “friends” brought on in 2005, it was a totally failed one – the argument that in order to get legalization, we have to allow border militarization. It’s important that we come to grips with that – some of us were more timid than others, we couldn’t denounce them. But this year we need to ask for accountability – the money they spent on extremely negotiated down position and for what? Look at what we got! We got a failed border strategy. And how can they come out against the militarization when they were in favor of criminalization, increasing border patrols etc. Our opposition to militarization, criminalization of immigrants and other enforcement strategies has to be seamless.

We fight for what is reasonable and meaningful. What are the problems brought on by U.S. border control policies? Number one is the deaths of migrants. How can all the deaths be ignored? We are asking for meaningful solutions. We need to show them that their strategy is a failed one. We can’t rely just on sound bites and talking points – we need to do hard work. If we just put money into talking points, we will fail. Funding has to support community organizing so that our communities can raise their own voices and demands. Otherwise, they can’t answer the hard questions – they get stuck because they rely on quick messages. Our job is to go deeper on profound issues and that requires organizing in communities.

We have to insist on a three-part response to migration:
1. We must look at root causes (economic policies etc.)
2. Current and past immigration laws that reflect our realities and how they have encouraged massive undocumented migration so that immigrants can be exploited for cheap labor. We need immigration policies that reflect the situation of the millions of undocumented people who are here. This includes eliminating the backlogs, allowing family unification – among other things. And,
3. We need to meaningful immigration reform. That means we need to stop enforcement now – more border patrols and increasing enforcement will not solve the problem.

How to break through Congress and rollback right-wing, xenophobic movement

Education is critical, especially on issues of race and migration. We cannot go to Congress to just lobby – we can feel good about educating one staff person. The bottom line is we cannot obtain substantial change unless we do widespread education to change the political conditions. It’s unrealistic to think that they will do what we want them to do – their constituents tell them what to do.

We have never seen so much attention on immigration – but now we see people trying to be players. But what we are looking for is to move the base. We can’t get too upset about this because in every movement in history there we’re those who really moved the base communities, and those that came in and took credit at the top.

Nowadays, I am a lot more frontal with the immigration lobbyists – you are part of the reason of why this happened. We need to hold them accountable too.

Colin Rajah directs NNIRR’s international migrant rights program. He interviewed Isabel García, co-chair of the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos, last December. Isabel is also a member of NNIRR’s national board.

Elvira Arellano: Resisting Deportation, The New Frontier of Civil Disobedience.

Elvira Arellano: Resisting Deportation, The New Frontier of Civil Disobedience.

By Maricela García

The act of seeking refugee in a holy place in search of immunity from the law is ancient. Churches have been providing sanctuary to people escaping persecution since medieval times. What is new about Elvira Arellano’s seeking sanctuary last August is that by defying her deportation order she brings the immigrant rights movement to a new level of resistance.

Elvira Arellano’s refusing to turn herself into the Department of Homeland Security in Chicago for deportation is generating heated polemics among anti immigrant and pro immigrant rights groups. The first argued that this was the ultimate mockery to U.S. immigration laws and the latter questioned the effectiveness of the tactic. Despite opposite points of view, there is agreement that what Elvira did is courageous and bold.

Elvira’s stand is forcing our society to look into the eyes of a mother pleading for an opportunity to stay in this country with her U.S. born son. If the show of political power demonstrated by the marches did not move people to understand the urgency of reforming our obsolete immigration laws, the story of a woman who is declaring her right to stay might.

Elvira’s personal story is about the intrinsic relationship between Mexico and the U.S., helping us understand that many of the people who crossed the border without authorization are victims of U.S. economic policies toward the region.

In an interview, Arellano explained why she came to the U.S., “After Mexico signed a free trade agreement with the U.S., many [Mexican] small farmers went bankrupt because they could not compete with the cheap prices of corn and grains that came from the U.S.” She is from a rural area in southwest Mexico, the state of Michoacán, where most people make their livelihood by farming. Up until recently, three out of every five Mexicans in the U.S. were from Michoacán, a region that has supplied several generations of immigrant labor for U.S. agriculture and industrial work since the 1880s.

Her father lost his source of income to support the family and Elvira had to come to the U.S. to work in order to help. Like Elvira, many people have been adversely affected by the dichotomy of U.S. economic policies toward Latin America that open markets and displace workers but close the borders to people. Unless we understand and address the roots of the problem, the immigration debate will continue failing to offer long-term solution to change future immigration flows into the US.

When Elvira says, “I represent the reality and suffering of many families that could be separated by deportations,” she speaks about 6.3 million immigrant families of which at least one parent is undocumented. Almost 5 million children, half of whom were born in the U.S., would be affected if their parents were deported. This poses a moral question for our society.

The way society treats vulnerable groups reveals its soul. The current immigration system is cruel, unfair and immoral. It forces many good people into breaking the law because there are limited legal channels to enter or remain in the U.S. legally. Employers who want to comply with the law find no solution to regularize the immigration status of their workers and unscrupulous ones take advantage of their status to exploit and abuse them.

Many undocumented immigrants live in fear and try to be invisible in society. Others usually speak for them. That is why Elvira’s action is empowering. She overcame her fears to speak truth to power. Her life story illustrates the complexity of unauthorized migration, explaining the causes and consequences that challenges us all to find the solutions.

If Elvira is deported, it will be a blow for immigrants and the immigrant rights movement must be prepared to respond massively. To prevent this possibility, more churches should become and are becoming sanctuaries and immigrant rights advocates must be prepared to engage in higher forms of resistance. It might take many more courageous people like Elvira to effect change in our society.

Elvira should remain in the U.S. to help make our society better. After all, the history of our country has been shaped by courageous individuals who have stood up against injustice. With each of these struggles, the full humanity of more people has been acknowledged and society as a whole has achieved higher levels of existence.

Maricela García is a member of the national board of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and is the executive director of Latinos United, a policy & reserach organization. She served as the director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights from 1998 To 2001.

World Social Forum on the Road from Nairobi to Atlanta: Who Does the WSF Belong to?

World Social Forum on the Road from Nairobi to Atlanta:
Who Does the WSF Belong to?

By Michael Leon Guerrero
February 13, 2007

The 2007 World Social Forum (WSF) was probably the most challenging WSF to date. Many contradictions surfaced and became tensions in Nairobi. There are criticisms that NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and churches dominated the process, and that local Kenyan movements were shut out. Some of the services of the forum were contracted to corporations – cell phone provider Celltel had a big presence as well as resort hotels like the Windsor, who had a beer and food tent located in the prime vending location of Kasarani Stadium, site of the WSF. The Kenyan Security Minister, also known as “the crusher” for his role in repressing anti-government political actions, owns the Windsor. On the third day of the forum, local Kenyans shut down the Windsor’s operation, protesting the high cost of food. They also mobilized actions each of the first two days to demand that the registration fees be waived for Kenyans. Ultimately, the gates were left open.

The Costs of Another World?

The fee structure was established by the International Council (IC) after a report was published by the Resources Commission: World Social Forum Financial Strategy, Report and Recommendations. The report was commissioned by IBASE , the Brazilian think tank and one of the founding organizations of the WSF. The study responded to the chronic deficits of the WSFs since 2005 and puts forward recommendations on how the WSF can be sustainable and less dependent on governments and foundations. One of the findings is that the registration fees are too low. In a breakdown of expenses per delegate, including airfares, lodging, food, shopping, etc. private businesses benefit much more financially than the WSF itself. In fact delegates paid $10 to the WSF out of an average of $1100 total contributed to the local economy. The IC implemented a new fee structure for WSF07, raising registration to as high as $500 per organization and $110 per individual for groups from the north.

The fee for Kenyans was roughly 500 Kenyan shillings – equivalent to one-week’s minimum-wage salary. Local organizers said that they had argued to lower the fee and after the first day everyone was admitted for free, but not in response to the protests. They also asserted that from the beginning there was a sliding scale and contingencies so that no Kenyans would be turned away. The role of corporate sponsors was a sore point and it is still not clear why Celltel and the Windsor were so prominent. One local observer speculated that this might have been a concession in order for the WSF to have access to the stadium facilities.

The fact that logistical issues like this flared into big political debates highlights underlying questions over the character and purpose of the World Social Forum. Who does the WSF belong to? Is it a space for the social movements to coordinate and strategize, an arena for intellectual debate, or is it a broader open space for political expression? The consensus among those involved in the process seems to be that the answer is “all of the above – and more”. Yet the debates in Nairobi raise questions about how broad the space should be.

The Past and Future of the WSF

“...The holistic approach was often just knee-jerk, "oppose all forms of exploitation". At that overall, movement level, there was little if any strategic thinking.

As a result, this year Davos won. Since that first WSF in 2001 China has doubled its wealth and output; India, and Turkey, have grown theirs by more than half. Then, Google had only recently got its initial funding. Today, the argument on climate change is over. For all the glitz and its versions of hot air, these huge changes are (as Simon Zadek's blog shows) being seriously mapped and assessed at Davos. In Nairobi they were addressed only peripherally, if at all.” (Anthony Barnett, openDemocracy)

Engaging in debates on these large questions was one of the original intents of the WSF. In a sense, in 2008 we are going back to the roots of the forum, which was born out of the mobilizations started at the Battle in Seattle in 1999. WSF was organized as the proactive response to define an alternative global vision to neoliberal capitalism. To date, there is no uniting vision for what “Another World” will look like - understanding that this is idealistic to expect from a young global process, and ultimately there may never be one vision. But it’s not clear how the structure of the forum or its agenda will lead to defining alternative visions.

The fourth day of the 2007 WSF was dedicated more to strategy discussions on global actions and campaigns. This ended up being somewhat messy. Originally morning sessions on the spectrum of issues were to lead into five afternoon plenaries where the groups would present their proposals. In this way there would be a convergence of different issue areas, so that groups working on housing could hear the plans of groups working on environment or militarism, etc. Somewhere along the way the agenda was changed so that in the end there were 21 plenaries based on separate issues. The locations of these plenaries were not in the program. People had to find banners hanging from the stadium that gave a list of the locations. At least one plenary – on free trade – did not happen.

In the end, some level of convergence happened at the Social Movements Assembly (SMA) during the last two hours of the forum. Two thousand people crowded into a tent and heard rousing speeches and declarations from the different discussions during the week. It was probably the most productive moment of the forum. SMA organizers have published the proceedings of the activity and a calendar is being developed.

2008: Back to the Streets

In 2008, there will be no WSF. In its place a week of mobilizations and activities will be organized by groups in their local communities under a broad theme that will be defined by a working group of the IC. This will be a refreshing and probably much needed break for the process. The point remains, however, that the agenda of the WSF in 2007 reverted to strategy, not vision. In some ways this is a step forward, since there are concrete initiatives for us to engage, but the WSF is supposed to be the distinct venue for this debate to happen at the global level. It is not clear whether we are closer or further from this happening.

Throughout its history the WSF has played a facilitating role in global coordination of international movements:
The key idea is the creation of networks, which the WSF is singularly equipped to construct at a global level. There is now an effective network of feminists. For the first time, at Nairobi, there was instituted a network of labor struggles (defining the concept of "worker" quite broadly). There is now an ongoing network of activist intellectuals. The network of rural/peasant movements has been reinforced. There is a budding network of those defending alternative sexualities (which permitted Kenyan gay and lesbian movements to affirm a public presence that had been difficult before). There is an anti-war network (immediately concerned with Iraq and the Middle East in general). And there are functional networks on specific arenas of struggle - water rights, the struggle against HIV/AIDS, human rights.
The WSF is also spawning manifestos: the so-called Bamako Appeal , which expounds a whole campaign against capitalism; a feminist manifesto, now in its second draft and continuing to evolve; a labor manifesto which is just being born. There will no doubt be other such manifestos as the WSF continues. The fourth day of the meeting was devoted essentially to meetings of these networks, each of which was deciding what kinds of joint actions it could undertake - in its own name, but within the umbrella of the WSF.
What some refer to as the Global Justice and Solidarity Movement (GJSM), has won significant victories against its neoliberal adversaries since the inception of the WSF. The Free Trade Area of the Americas, the extension of NAFTA-like trade policies was declared dead and “buried” in Mar de Plata, Argentina in November, 2005 . The WTO has met stiff resistance in every corner of the globe. Negotiations were disrupted in Cancún in September 2003 and later stalled in Hong Kong in December 2005. Some countries (Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia) have declared that they will never again accept loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This is the result of governments from the Global South taking strong stands against the more powerful northern governments and multi-national corporations. This would not be possible if the south were not emboldened by the exponential growth and militancy of social movements.

The Social Movements Assembly, which was spawned at the first World Social Forum as the space where the international networks coordinate, plays a key role in mobilizing the GJSM. Although the relationship with the WSF is sometimes antagonistic, it is certainly symbiotic. Most meetings of the SMA happen during the WSF proceedings, and many of the same actors play leading roles in both the SMA and the International Council. The SMA was responsible for the largest peoples mobilization ever: the historic anti-war marches on February 15, 2003. Although this did not prevent the U.S. from invading Iraq, it did help to galvanize the anti-war movement in many parts of the world.

The Latin American Alternatives

Some on the International Council credit the WSF with bringing together movements that have helped shape the new political landscape of Latin America. One representative from Cuba said that “the WSF didn’t create anything in Latin America that wasn’t already there - the movements already existed. What the WSF created was a convergence of these movements.” It was no accident that South America, Brazil in particular, would be the birthplace of the WSF.

The site of the first three WSFs in Porto Alegre was significant, highlighting the model of Participatory Budgeting used by the local government and being implemented throughout southern Brazil. Hosting the WSF in Brazil also gave international visibility to Luis Ignacio da Silva (Lula) in his run towards his first term at the Presidency. Lula’s victory was the first in a chain of national electoral victories for the Left in Latin America – Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Despite charges of corruption, Lula won a run-off election handily for a second term, carried by the electoral support of the poor in Brazil. This provides an opportunity for the Latin American Presidents with publicly anti-neoliberal policies to consolidate their economic and political strength in the region.

Much of the debate and dialogue around alternatives now focuses on the actions of the Latin American governments – mainly the new initiatives toward economic integration like ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean). This is founded on a principal of economic cooperation and functions as a system of bartering for resources based on need (Cuba trading agricultural goods for oil to Venezuela, etc.) Agreements are also made between governments and social movements like the Landless Peoples Movement in Brazil. For many, the ALBA represents hope for a new kind of globalization that does not exploit people and the environment.

The underlying point of contention for the new, Leftist governments, however, will be energy policy. Although much of the oil and gas resources are being nationalized, the emphasis is still on fossil fuels development. This will create tensions over environmental concerns, Indigenous sovereignty and, ultimately, sustainability of the government experiments. If economic development and the alleviation of poverty are dependent on oil and gas, how long can it last?

Nevertheless, Latin America leads the way in terms of defining global political alternatives in an era where the U.S. empire is in decline and China and India are emerging as new global economic powers. This has created new challenges for the social movements in Latin America – how do they maintain autonomy from the newly elected governments and keep their elected leaders accountable. For this reason, some of the debates within the Americas Social Forum (ASF) are among the most interesting and strategic.

The Hemispheric Council of the ASF seems to strike an effective balance between the social movement organizations and NGOs. The process is anchored by large Brazilian organizations like the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT) and the MST, as well as international networks like the Convergence of Movements of Peoples of the Americas (COMPA) and the Continental Social Alliance (CSA), which formed in opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Venezuelan participation has increased since the 2006 WSF. The Hemispheric Council is housed out of the Network of Women Transforming the Economy (REMTE) based in Quito, Ecuador (site of the first Americas Social Forum). Other research and policy organizations like IBASE in Brazil and CLACSO in Argentina are also active in the process. Another key group is the Cuban Martin Luther King Center, a faith-based organization in Havana that does capacity building and popular education.

The Hemispheric Council is now setting its sights on Central America. Political movements that survived the brutal repression and military interventions in the region by the U.S. during the ‘80s are gaining strength. This is partly signified by the victory of the Sandinista Party in Nicaragua earlier this year, when Daniel Ortega regained the Presidency. The HC announced that the next Americas Social Forum would be in Guatemala in mid-2008. A firm date has not yet been set. It is likely that the HC sees the ASF in Guatemala as a potentially catalytic event that could strengthen the movement building efforts throughout Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and perhaps the United States.

The Road to Atlanta

The US Social Forum marks the next significant step in the Social Forum process. Like all social forums, the conditions within the U.S. are unique and, some would argue, even more difficult. Unlike Latin America, it is unclear whether we have strong social movements. Union membership is declining to historic lows, movements remain fractured and we are caught in many defensive battles rather than forging a long-term national agenda. The lack of a national progressive response to the disaster of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated our shortcomings and a lack of effective national solidarity.

There have been hopeful signs, however, particularly with the huge immigrant rights mobilizations in 2006, the ouster of the Republican Party from control of the House and Senate and the growing rage against the war and occupation of the Middle East. Yet, there is no proactive agenda. While the immigrants rights movement debates legislation to provide some relief, we offer no vision for long-term economic, military and political change that will protect migrants in the U.S., nor prevent people from being displaced in the Global South. There is universal condemnation of the war, yet no national progressive plan for withdrawal or to change energy and resource policies to end U.S. military interventions.

It was clear from discussions with many people in the World Social Forum in Nairobi, that there is a lot of anticipation around the world for the U.S. Social Forum. Many international allies are anxious to attend, many are eager to know what initiatives emerge.

What can we expect from a USSF?

We need to be clear that during the course of five days we will not provide a roadmap for change in the U.S. While we talk about the USSF as a process, in reality, the USSF, like all social forums, will be a point of convergence for many processes. The trajectories of a variety of organizations and movements will come together in Atlanta. We need some time to reflect, to see each other and develop a snapshot of the progressive forces that will ultimately shape national and international politics in the future. The USSF will be a moment to take stock of where we are and what we have to build a movement. New relationships will be forged, older relationships will be reborn, current partnerships will be strengthened.

Some groups will come in ready to talk strategy. Grassroots Global Justice, for instance, is talking to partners in Latin America, Korea and the U.S. about organizing a response to the key U.S. trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Peru. Others are coming together around military bases. Groups from the Gulf Coast envision the USSF as a springboard towards the Peoples Tribunals and Survivors’ Conference in New Orleans in late August. Of course many others will be there to talk about the war, Indigenous sovereignty, energy, gay and lesbian rights, gender, education, immigrants rights and, without a doubt, the 2008 National Elections.

The National Planning Committee (NPC) has defined 5 core issues and will organize plenary discussions on these topics: 1) Gulf Coast Reconstruction, 2) The War and Militarism, 3) Immigrant Rights, 4) Energy Exploitation and Indigenous Sovereignty, and 5) Workers Rights. During the course of the past 18 months, key moments surfaced in each of these areas that provided significant national challenges or potential movement building moments. The extent to which we responded to, will respond, or build on these moments will be the subject of the plenaries and important dialogues. In addition, the agenda of the self-organized activities will be structured by a different theme each day: Day 1) Consciousness, Day 2) Vision, Day 3) Strategy. The cross-cutting themes will be defined by the NPC as activities are registered.

The purpose of all of this is to create a convergence – to look beyond our own issues and to think about how we build the whole as a movement. If the successes of the Southeast Social Forum and the Border Social Forum were any indication, we are on the right track.

We encourage people to organize activities with other groups that can help with this convergence. We must also bear in mind that this is an international process - that we are taking our place in a dialogue happening throughout the world. In a very real sense our fate is tied to what happens with the global justice and solidarity movement. A message needs to resonate from the USSF that we are not isolated from the international community.

Undoubtedly, many will leave the forum asking themselves and their colleagues ”What did we just do?“ The answers to that may not be totally clear on July 2. But in 10 years we may look back on this moment and realize that at a critical point during a critical time we came together and fought, struggled, argued, laughed, cried, sang and marched. And just maybe that ”aha moment“ will come to many of us, and we will have a glimpse of what a different U.S. will look like in the context of another world.

Michael Leon Guerrero is the Coordinator of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and a member of the USSF National Planning Committee. He also serves as a GGJ representative to the World Social Forum International Council and was a member of the Americas Social Forum Operating Secretariat for the 2006 World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela.

Check the WSF website for links to coverage of the WSF 2007 in Nairobi:

For more info on the US Social Forum, go to:

‘This Wall Must Fall’ - Palestinian Delegation at the US-Mexico Border Calls for Demilitarization

‘This Wall Must Fall’
Palestinian Delegation At the U.S. Mexico Border Joins in Call for Demilitarization of Communities

By Alexis Mazón

Palestinian community leaders of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli Apartheid Wall visited the U.S.-Mexico border March 2-3, 2007 as part of a “Wall-to-Wall Solidarity” delegation organized by NNIRR and the Coalición de Derechos Humanos (DH) with Middle East Justice Now in Tucson. Delegation members from Palestine, Mohammed Khatib and Feriyal Abu Haikal, both live in Occupied West Bank communities that are daily threatened with violent attacks by the Israeli military and the massive expansion of Israel’s 25-foot-tall Apartheid Wall, which cuts through their villages and prevents tens of thousands of Palestinians from reaching their places of work, school, health services, land for farming and family members.

On the first day of their visit, DH organizers took the delegation to Naco and Douglas, Arizona to see the 15-foot border walls, immigrant prisons and extensive presence of U.S. Border Patrol and National Guard troops which are intensifying the human rights crisis in border communities. When the van made its first stop in Naco, Abu Haikal jumped out first and ran to the wall to write, “This Wall Must Fall, here and in Palestine too,” and signed her name in Arabic.

Feriyal Abu Haikal is an educator and 60-year old mother of 11 children who recently retired after 11 years as the headmistress of the Qurtuba School, which serves 100 Palestinian children in grades 1-10. The school has served as a model of non-violent resistance by continuing to function despite almost constant Israeli attacks on students and staff.

Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and has been a principle organizer of Bil’in’s two-year-long creative, non-violent struggle to prevent the construction of the Apartheid Wall on Bil’in’s land and to block the expansion of neighboring illegal Israeli settlements.

Different Borders, Same Walls

The following day, a gathering of over 90 people gathered in Tucson to hear Khatib and Abu Haikal dialogue with DH members about the numerous connections between their respective struggles against the proliferation of walls, soldiers, policing, checkpoints, surveillance, prisons and vigilantism.

Khatib showed slides of Israel’s 600-km-long Apartheid Wall, who began building it in 2002. He pointed out that portions of the wall are electrified and inflict mortal injury upon contact. Every one kilometer of the concrete Wall costs an estimated $5 million to build, for a total of $3 billion. Cost estimates for the expansion of the Wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as stipulated by the “Secure Fence Act” passed by the U.S. Congress in 2006, range between $2 billion and $10 billion. Some of the same private military contractors are involved in the construction of both walls and the militarization of the Middle East region, including Boeing and Elbit Systems, Ltd, an Israeli private security corporation.

The panelists pointed out further parallels. Khatib discussed how the Israeli Army often falsely claims that unarmed Palestinians “threw rocks” before shooting and killing them. The U.S. Border Patrol makes similar claims when carrying out unjustified killings of migrants. While Palestinians face attacks by Israeli settlers, who are protected by the Israeli military, immigrants in the U.S. face attacks by armed white supremacists, who are protected by law enforcement.

“We are both living in communities that are literally under occupation. The growing number of military and border police has brought us nothing but dehumanization and grief,” said Isabel García of DH. “Whether we are Mexican or Palestinian, we see that we share the same vision for a different kind of border.”

Khatib then showed video footage of Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians militants infiltrating demonstrations to provoke violence and thereby justify Israeli military aggression. This especially resonated with the Tucson audience because of the routine presence of undercover police officers at immigrant rights and anti-war protests here and attempts by Tucson police last year to provoke violence at the largest march in Tucson’s history.

Breaking the Silence

Panelist Mohyeddin Abdulaziz, a Palestinian American, co-founder of Middle East Justice Now and president of the Tucson chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the audience that he was floored by his trip to Douglas. “Even though I have lived in Tucson for 25 years, I did not realize the extent to which the walls and policing apparatus had exploded. These grotesque border barriers here and in Palestine may look somewhat different, but the powers erecting them are practically the same.” Participants also concluded that both communities are essentially resisting the same government. Every year, the U.S. sends tens of billions of dollars to the Israeli military and billions to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We are, Israelis and Palestinians, all victims of the Occupation.” Abu Haikal added. García responded that the same holds true in this country where border militarization has made immigrants and citizens victims of human rights violations, both in border communities and in the interior U.S.

The Palestinian delegation to the U.S.-Mexico Border is part of the NNIRR’s “National Community Dialogue on Immigration Control and Border Militarization,” a national campaign with DH to break the national and international silence on militarization and impunity. The National Community Dialogue aims to develop and promote shared solutions to end the escalating humanitarian crisis on the U.S. Mexico border that has claimed more than 5,000 lives since 1994 when the current border control strategy was implemented, inflicting widespread human rights violations on border communities.

Alexis Mazón is a member of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.

Keeping our communities at the center of the demand for justice - Interview iwth Trishala Deb

Keeping our communities at the center of the demand for justice

Interview with Trishala Deb of the Audre Lorde Project

Interviewed for Network News Online by Diana Pei Wu

What are some of the lessons learned from the last year’s mobilizations?

Some of the lessons from last year, and looking forward to the next year, are how important it is for some folks within the broad immigrant rights movement to stand firm on demands for legalization for all people – to lift up options for legalization for all undocumented people and not just a fraction of them

One of the things that I am anxious about is that with the election of the Democratic House and Senate, we actually are going to have a harder time fighting the negative welfare reform compromises that were passed the last spring. What’s going to be passed in Congress is going to be less reactionary, so that it’s harder to explain to our communities why the proposed reform is still not going to be good for the majority of our communities.

Where does the immigrant rights movement intersect and overlap with the LGBTQ rights movement?

A lot of the proposed legislation and the national debate focus on who is likely to be representative of and who are the “good” immigrants – leaving out the people who are the poorest, the undocumented, the trans and LGBT folks, the folks from some of the countries that are geographically not likely to get attention. In our experience in New York, folks from continental Africa and the Caribbean tend to get the shaft on legal options. And in that list are also people who are HIV positive. So we at Audre Lorde Project keep those communities and sub-communities at the center as we build community.

Second, about the family values that we want to put out – and there are many people who will benefit and communities who will benefit from family reunification clauses. It is important that we don’t center our understanding on immigration policy just through family – and instead center on an idea of family and community that includes low-wage workers of all sexual orientations, genders, refugees, migrant folks, LGBT folks. It doesn’t have to be a polarized debate – but another way to remember that it’s just not families in that limited definition.

Third, to lift up that the neoconservative strategies around immigrant workers and in the context of globalization are connected. For instance, the religious strategy of isolating LGBT communities emerges out of this. But the challenge is to include both communities at the same time when the political bloc takes back power for all vulnerable people.

And finally, to recognize there’s not a single community that doesn’t include LGBT members – though how we call ourselves may differ from country to country and language to language.

Is there anything else you want to share about ALP with NNIRR members through Network News Online for this coming year?

We need to do a better job of taking advantage of the mobilizations – building relations with other groups in the city and opening up more spaces where we’re talking about transphobia and homophobia in our communities and how that connects with other issues.

For instance, we’re excited about the workshop we’re helping to design that connects globalization and migration policy with domestic policy and the war on terrorism. Especially in multi community conversations about immigration, where there are people who are present who aren’t immigrants, we need to take seriously the tension between people of color who are and are not immigrants on the immigration debate in the United States.

And to feel out what our members said, that they felt there were contradictions of supporting immigrant workers when there are already a lot of people who are poor and out of work. Instead of dismissing it, we started to talk about globalization – that creates this set of conditions and contradictions that put all workers at risk.

Trishala Deb is the Program Coordinator of the Audre Lorde Project’s Training and Resource Center. Trishala was interviewed in February by Diana Wu, director of NNIRR’s BRIDGE education and leaderdership training program.

Photo Essay 1: African American Human Rights Investigation at U.S.-Mexico Border

By Arnoldo Garcia

Notes from the U.S.-Mexico border April-May 2007: Here you can see how ridiculous, impractical and deadly the strategy of militarizaton, resulting in wall-building and almost head-to-toe placement of Border Patrol agents along the border is.

At the edge of border wall, you can can see how it artificially separates the land, harms wildlife and divides people. Every several hundred yards or so, when washes and gulleys appear, the border wall had slat openings supposedly to allow the water floods from occasional monsoon rains flow through.

The border is open to goods, capital, investments, trade of the varying "free" kind and slats so that wildlife can come and go as they please across the international border -- but not for human migrants. Migrants have to go around the walls, which in most places end in literal wilderness, where humans can barely survive without outdoors training, gear, supplies and water and where Border Patrol all-terrain vehicles can't enter. It is in places like this -- but even more desolate areas further away from urban centers and towns -- where migrant dead are recovered; those who venture into the desert and mountainous wilderness and get lost or die are never found or recovered.

We took several individual and group pictures on the U.S. "side" of the border. This edge of the wall is abut seven miles from the center of Douglas, Arizona, U.S. and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, where it cuts into the communities in both directions, east and west.

Our border wall pictures were taken at the western edge of the wall, which will continue being built until it's over seven-hundred miles long, double and triple walls in some areas. On the left side, you can see the stadium lights that cause electric light pollution, disturbing the natural world and its lives.

As we were driving along the wall, a storm was threatening all around. Wind gusts, barely audible sprinkles could be felt, shook us a bit, mussing our hair, cooling our bodies. Then all of a sudden the storm and her winds dissipated and left altogether. We ran around taking pictures.

Some of us tried to scale the wall. Leilani, the youngest and bravest among us went to the other side and played peek-a-boo, defying the seriousness and intention of the wall. Later, Leilani would explain our romp at the border wall as a whithering blow for freedom.

"There have been so many migrant deaths on our land that our ceremonies used to cleanse the people and the land after wars or violence no longer work," Ofelia Rivas told delegation members of the "Braving Borders, Building Bridges -- A Journey for Human Rights," an African American community investigation into human rights violations at the U.S.-Mexico border organized by the Black Alliance for Just immigration with the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Fifteen representatives from 10 cities and six states participated in this African American visit to the U.S.-Mexico border during April 26-29, 2007.

Ms. Rivas represents Tohono O'odam Voices against the Wall, an Indigenous community effort to reclaim Tohono O'odham sovereignty over their lands that have been bisected by the U.S.-Mexico border and to rollback militarization. She concluded saying, "Whenever we recover a migrant dead, we cleanse our land. But it's no use because other migrants come and die in the same spots or other places and we cannot cleanse the land from the violence." There is so much violence and deaths resulting from the militarizartion of border and immigration control, she explained, that we can't keep up migrant deaths on our lands.

Ofelia Rivas was part of a panel speaking on Indigenous peoples' issues during a meeting between the delegation and representatives of the Pascua Yaqui Nation, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras (Indigenous Alliance without Borders), and the Tohono O'odham Nation. Ms. Rivas concluded by saying that after their ceremonies.

Photo below on right is a double exposure of two members of CDH "scalin"g the wall and a photo of Ron Wilkins, chronicler of Afro-Mexico relations and histories, posing beside the border wall near Douglas-Agua Prieta. All photos for this post by Arnoldo García.

Organized by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in partnership with Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, based in Oakland, CA, the 15-member "Braving Borders" African American delegation hailed from six states and ten cities from across the U.S. The delegation spent four days of intensive meetings, discussions, dialogue and travel April 26-29, 2007 in Tucson, Douglas and Sasave, AZ and in Agua Prieta, Magdalena de Kino, Altar and Sasabe, Sonora in Mexico.

The members of the BAJI human rights border tour learned first-hand the impact of U.S. immigration and national security policies on migrants, communities, Indigenous peoples, workers and people of color on the border.

[Right: Priscilla Hayes, from Community Coalition, viewing the desert where migrants beging their deadly trek.]

Ofelia Rivas heads up O'odham Voices against the Wall, organizing against the rampant militarization and Border Patrol violence on the Tohono O'odham lands that straddle both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. She told us with some sadness and a lot of determination: "What good is it if after we cleanse the land with our ceremonies, migrants crossing will die once again on the same spots?"

[Left: BAJI delegation meeting over a meal with members of the Pascua Yaqui Nation, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras and O'odham Voice against the Wall.]

This is the face of the humanitarian crisis that begins at the U.S.-Mexico border and extends deep into our neighorhoods, workplaces, places of worship, where we study, shop and play.

In Altar, Sonora, three crosses, one each for the U.S. border states of California, Arizona and Texas, with the number of migrant dead recovered in each state, next to the CCAMYN migrant aid shelter.

Over 5,000 migrant dead have been recovered since 1994, when the U.S. government implemented the current border and immigration control strategy that forces migrants to cross through desolate and dangerous desert and mountainous regions of the Arizona-Sonora border. Members of University of Arizona's Binational Migration Institute presented the results of their study of the "funnel effect" of the border and immigration control strategy, called "prevention thrugh deterrence," that has created this deadly humanitarian crisis. Kat Rodriguez, staff of Derechos Humanos Coalition, reminded everyone that when we speak of migrant deaths we are talking about recovered bodies and remains. No one knows how many more have died and disappeared in the desert and mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, where border militarization increasingly pushes migrants further east into more dangerous and isolated parts of the border.

Left: Rev. Kelvin Sauls and other members of the delegation taking their first look at the U.S.-Mexico border wall, getting off the vans to see close up the border wall that slices Douglas, AZ-Agua Prieta, Sonora.

BAJI border tour members visited the wall that literally cuts Douglass, Arizona from its twin city neighbor in Mexico, Agua Prieta, Sonora. The only openings are wide slats in washes that allow rainwater monsoons seep across gulleys and rivulets. Humans must climb over and risk serious injury and almost immediate detection and arrest. Or take the deadly trek into the desert, where the risk of injury and death is even greater. The wall at Douglas/Agua Prieta extends several miles into the desert. As drove alongside the wall we ran into several lime-green and dreaded Border Patrol hummvees driving from the horizon towards and past us, hunting migrants.

Photos below, left: Gerald Lenoir, coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, speaking at meeting with human rights groups in Agua Prieta, Sonora. Right: Most members of the delegation in front of border wall.