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Immigrants under attack, fighting back

Published May 19, 2005 10:57 PM

“We’ve come a long way.” That phrase has been used many times in conversations about bigotry and racism in the U.S. If the ruling class and the bureaucracy that serves them have their way, immigrants will be taking giant steps backwards. Attacks against immigrants are coming from every angle.

There is the extra-legal Minutemen group in Arizona terrorizing people coming from a Mexico devastated economically by NAFTA to look for a better life here. If anybody has a right to live and work in the Southwestern states, it is the Mexicans from whom those lands were stolen and the Native peoples from this side of the border.

California governor and Nazi-son Arnold Schwarzenegger lent his vile support to these racists in Arizona. “Look, they’ve cut down the crossing of illegal immigrants by a huge percentage. The whole system is set up to really invite people to come in here illegally, and that has to stop,” he said on the “John & Ken Show” on KFI-AM on April 28.

Schwarzenegger had called earlier for “closing the borders in California and all across Mexico and in the United States” because he thinks “it is just unfair to have all those people coming across, have the borders open the way it is, and have this kind of lax situation.”

“It’s gratifying to see that elected officials are responding to the will of the people,” said Chris Simcox, a racist Minute man organizer. The governor has no problem with the Minutemen’s plan to expand their patrols to California. This nexus bet ween the state and extra-legal groups conjures up images of night-riders, among them sheriffs and mayors, terrorizing Black people.

Using the law against immigrants

There are also legal attacks. The Patriot Act has been used to attack immigrants of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin. The rulers hide behind “national security” to imprison, torture and deport immigrants for alleged offenses, starting from simple violations of immigration laws to undisclosed offenses.

Two Muslim 16-year-old high school girls in New York City were arrested this March and held in a Pennsylvania lock up, labeled as potential suicide bombers. One of the girls, from Guinea in Africa, released after six weeks, was wholeheartedly welcomed back by her entire school community. Her father, however, has been put in detention in New Jersey and will be deported.

An agreement was reached to allow the second girl and her family to return to Bangladesh as soon as the arrangements are made. Her family came here as political refugees when the girl was just four years old.

Attached to the latest $82-billion appro priations bill for additional war spending was the “Real ID Act.” The ID act or drivers’ license bill, as it is also called, goes into effect in 2008. It is an anti-immigrant bill that requires uniform standards for state drivers’ licenses.

In effect this will be a national ID card that lists everyone who tries to drive legally in a national data base. States will also be required to save copies of identification documents for 7 to 10 years, along with facial image scans of each license holder. Three years from now a federally approved ID card will be required to open a bank account, travel on an airplane, or take advantage of any government service.

This law will make life miserable for anyone without legal status. Deportations will break up families and create untold hardships. Even before the passing of this bill, a routine traffic stop can and has led to detentions or deportation. People who can’t legally get a driver’s license will drive illegally. Under these conditions a traffic stop for many will mean jail for indefinite periods most likely followed by deportation.

Immigrants’ role in class struggle

These and all other attacks on immigrants are serious threats to millions of people who just want to work and take care of their families.

Many immigrants come here from countries where they were involved in class struggle and understand which side of the class camp they belong to. They are just following the resources that predatory multinational monopolies have extracted from their countries.

The ruling class fears these immigrant workers even as they super-exploit them. The hysteria created about protecting borders and fighting terrorism is scare tactics meant really to slow down the browning of the population and to scapegoat immigrants for the worsening economic conditions here.

That same class consciousness that scares the ruling class encourages labor organizers and communists, who welcome these class-conscious immigrants. All workers here are exploited by the same ruling class, who would pit one against the other with their classic divide-and-conquer tactics.

Responses to these attacks on immigrants are also coming from many directions. Even state governments are exploring how to resist the ID changes to avoid their high costs. Some are threatening lawsuits or even to disobey the license rules.

Many immigrant and civil liberties groups are also looking for ways to challenge the new law. They point out that road safety will be reduced by many unlicensed and uninsured motorists. The new ID will be another fertile ground for identity theft, especially since it will have so much of people’s vital statistics included.

People in Texas and California held demonstrations the weekend of May 15 to protest against the Minutemen. The International Action Center has a new campaign, the Committee in Defense of Immigrant and Low-Wage Workers, which will work closely with immigrant workers’ groups. The fightback has begun.

The writer is an immigrant from the Caribbean.