Thursday, May 03, 2007

‘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.

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