Saturday, January 3, 2009

Immigrant Groups Raise Voices for Immigrant Rights

(Sixth in a Border Lines Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

The labor-sponsored Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides of 2003 and the CCIR-sponsored New American Freedom Summer of 2004 contributed to a mounting conviction among immigrant-rights organizations that they were the vanguard of rising workers and civil rights movements in America.

With generous foundation backing from such foundations as Atlantic Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, and other liberal foundations committed to empowering the country’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors, the immigrant-rights movement has over the past thirty years, and especially over the past six years, become the chosen instrument to lead the popular and congressional campaign for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).

 Even after the total defeat of this campaign in mid-2007, when the Senate declined to move a compromise CIR bill forward to a vote, the same constellation of groups that have been the public voice for liberal immigration policy for the past few decades is being funded by these foundations to carry the CIR campaign into the Obama administration with their same immigrant-rights messaging and the focus on the same constituencies. 

There is no doubt that the country benefits from having a strong immigrant-rights movement with DC institutes and grassroots networks spread across the country given the escalating scale of immigrant human rights abuses. But the history of failure in creating public and congressional support for liberal immigration reform should raise questions about the near sacrosanct strategy of transforming the immigrant-rights movement into an immigration reform movement.

Labor, Catholic Church, Democratic Party -- Major Players

At the turn of the 21st century, immigrants represented the fastest growing segment of U.S. society, and major institutions and interests were eager to attract the million-plus immigrants who entered the U.S. each year into their fold. Labor, the Catholic Church, and the Democratic Party together with the Spanish-language media and corporations eager to attract mainly Latino consumers hovered around the booming immigrant advantage seeking advantage and mutual benefit.

In this mix were also left political groups that regarded the new mostly working class population with foreign roots as a new constituency that could revitalize the American left given their proclivity for popular organizing and their internationalist consciousness.

At a time when immigrants were experiencing a mounting anti-immigrant backlash, they also found themselves welcomed into America by a constellation of high-powered U.S. institutions that declared solidarity with their plight as a vulnerable population but at the same time a great potential for strengthening such core American institutions as organized labor, the Catholic Church, and the Democratic Party.

Labor, particularly unions that represented restaurant and other service workers, were reviving their memberships with immigrant workers, while the Catholic Church regarded immigrants, particularly Latinos, as likely new congregants, and the Democratic Party had a compelling interest in incorporating as many new immigrants into the voting rolls because they tended to vote Democratic.

The self-interest in the outreach efforts and policy pronouncement of these powerful institutions can’t be denied, but neither should the heartfelt bonds of solidarity and empathy be underestimated as motivating forces in this new convergence between immigrants and their institutional supporters.

All three institutional actors that contributed to the reemergence of the immigrant-rights movement in the 2002-2007 period had their own special interests – as well as humanitarian and political principles -- in seeing a CIR proposal move Similarly, leftist organizations regarded the burgeoning immigrant-rights movement and in particular their mass mobilizations as a catalyst for a united front campaign that could bring progressives of all stripes together to advance common agendas.

Certainly the mounting immigrant crackdown and the rising anti-immigrant backlash constituted the political context for immigrant mobilization during the Bush administration. But many of the prominent political features of this new organizing were hardly new. The demands for worker rights, an internationalist view of the immigration issue, the rights messaging, and even the sense that immigrant struggles constituted the cusp of a new political movement were echoes of 20th century movements.

Origins of Immigrant Rights Organizing

Tracing the immigrant-rights movement can take you back to the Palmer Raids of the 1920s or the key role that immigrants played in organizing many of the nation’s labor unions. But perhaps relevant and instructive to understanding the foundation of today’s immigrant-rights movement were the splits that developed in the Latino movements and organizations in the late 1960s.

Some close observers and activists in the immigrant-rights movement trace often trace the origins of the civil rights and worker themes of immigrant organizing to the emergence of the Chicano movement in the late 1960s, in particular to its leftist flank. Groups like El Congreso broke with more conservative Latino organization like LULAC in insisting that illegal immigrants were part of a larger rights movement that included both Mexican-Americans and Mexicans.

Bert Corona, the co-founder in 1968 of the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo-Hermandad General de Trabajadores and Congreso member, popularized the political principle that just as there should be unity among all workers – citizen and noncitizens – there should be unity among all Spanish-speaking people in the United States, no matter their citizenship status.

“An attack on one Spanish-speaking group was an attack on all," wrote Corona, a member of the Congreso. Recounting the history of the immigrant-rights movement, Mexico specialist Dan LaBotz points to the internationalist, class-based, and civil rights perspective that groups like Congreso and La Hermandad brought to the debate about immigrants among unions and ethnic groups.

Citing activist historian Arnoldo García, LaBotz wrote that these groups focused on the needs of "undocumented Mexican workers and their families" and brought to the struggle the "conjugation of a class base with social justice and liberation aspirations."

The CASA newspaper Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) carried on its masthead the slogan, "We are One because America [meaning the continent] is One." This type of new thinking among Chicano activists contributed to building a new conviction among all Latino organizations and even unions like the United Farmworkers that immigrant-rights issues were less of a threat to established Latino organizations and more of an opportunity to expand their base.

At the same time, though, this type of thinking about crossborder unity and class solidarity injected new tensions within Latino movements that were inclined toward mainstream, moderate, and nonconfrontational strategies.

Immigrant-rights as an organizing strategy received a boost in the early 1980s, largely because of the eventually success in beating back more restrictive immigration legislation, slowing down the pace of deportations, and finding strong allies among Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and struggling for their “rights” to remain in the country because of the devastating role of U.S. foreign policy in the Caribbean Basin region.

In the mid-1990s, as U.S. immigration laws became more restrictive and punitive, an array of immigrant-rights groups and supporting legal networks arose to protect the rights of immigrants facing detention and deportation. Working with such groups as the National Lawyer Guild, ACLU, and the newly created Detention Watch Network, a constellation of immigrant-rights networks across the nation struggled to protect the due process rights of detained immigrants.

Although immigrants benefited from an array of immigrant-rights groups – including such prominent ones as Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Committee, National Capitol Area Immigration Coalition, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles – it was not until the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides of 2003, the establishment of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform CCIR in late 2003 and the closely associated We are America Alliance in 2005 that the immigrant-rights movement emerged as a main player in immigration reform issues.

Typical of this conviction that immigrant organizing was at the forefront of a new wave of progressive, rights-oriented mobilization was an analysis by Carmellia Phillips of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights published by Political Research Associates in 2002.

More than simply responding to anti-immigrant groups and policies, the movement was “bringing immigrant rights into the larger movement for racial justice, labor rights, global economic equality, and human rights,” wrote Phillips.

She summarized a widely believed conviction among immigrant-rights activists when writing that the proper framework for understanding the immigration issue was not law enforcement but rather human rights. “We must work consciously and collaboratively to avoid falling back on arguments that do not support the rights of all immigrants or that divide immigrants based on legal status or national origin,” she wrote.

 Furthermore, “We must work to defend and expand human rights (which include labor, cultural, civil, social, environmental, and economic rights) for everyone, regardless of immigration status, and to recognize racial equality and justice as critical to expanding a progressive immigrant rights movement.”

Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Groups Raise Voices for Immigrant Rights


zeezil said...

The Forgotten Issue: Illegal Immigration and Crime

Two new studies were released in October on the relationship between illegal immigrants and crime in the U.S. The first released October 1, 2008, by the Center for Immigration Studies deals with gang activity, and the second, released October 3, 2008, by the Maricopa County Attorneys Office in Phoenix, Arizona, details the percentage of crimes committed by border violators in the third largest county in the U.S.

"Taking Back the Streets: ICE and Local Law Enforcement Target Immigrant Gangs" is the Center for Immigration Studies report that offers these highlights:

# Transnational immigrant gangs have been spreading rapidly and sprouting in suburban and rural areas where communities are not always equipped to deal with them.

# A very large share of immigrant gang members are illegal aliens and removable aliens. Federal sources estimate that 60 to 90 percent of the members of MS-13, the most notorious immigrant gang, are illegal aliens. In one jurisdiction studied, Northern Virginia, 30 to 40 percent of the gang task force case load were removable aliens.

# MS-13 activity was found in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

# The immigrant gangsters arrested were a significant menace to the public. About 80 percent had committed serious crimes in addition to their immigration violations and 40 percent were violent criminals.

# While immigration law enforcement is a federal responsibility, ICE cannot do the job effectively without assistance from state and local law enforcement, particularly when it comes to immigrant gangs.

# Failure to adequately control the U.S.-Mexico border and to deter illegal settlement in general undermines the progress ICE and local law enforcement agencies have made in disrupting criminal immigrant street gangs.

The MCAO report from County Attorney Andrew Thomas features these startling numbers for prosecuted felony cases in Maricopa County, Arizona:

In 2007, illegal immigrants accounted for:

10% of sex crimes convictions
11% of murders convictions
13% of stolen cars convictions
13% of aggravated assaults convictions
17% of those sentenced for violent crimes
19% of those sentenced for property crimes
20% of those sentenced for felony DUI.
21% of crimes committed with weapons
34% of those sentenced for the manufacture, sale or transport of drugs
36% of those sentenced for kidnapping
44% of forgeries
50% of those sentenced for crimes related to "chop shops"
85% of false ID convictions
96% of smuggling convictions

Illegal immigrants make up 19 percent of those convicted of crimes in Maricopa County and 21 percent of those in county jails.

Illegal immigrants only make up an estimated 9 percent of the county’s population.

It is estimated that each violent crime cost citizens $20,000, and each property crime cost citizens $4363 per offense.

All the more a concern is research that finds the likelihood of an illegal immigrant being incarcerated grows with longer residence in the United States and that the U.S. born children (considered citizens) of illegal immigrants are dramatically more likely to be involved in crime than their illegal immigrant parents. For instance, native born Hispanic male high school dropouts are eleven times more likely to be incarcerated than their foreign born counterparts.

zeezil said...

Enforcement Works:

Prince William County, Virginia fought back over rising crime rates, overcrowding and quality of life issues due to illegal immigration. In July 2007 they enacted a tough illegal immigration control ordinance, termed the “Rule of Law Resolution”.

Besides a huge improvement in quality of life issues, there is this telling statistic: Overall crime rate decreased by 22%. Murders were down by 44%, rape decreased by 33%, robberies decreased by 23% and aggravated assaults by 18% as measured within the period July 2007 – July 2008.

Prince William County is one of only two counties in Northern Virginia that partner with ICE through the 287(g) program. In the first half of 2008 Prince William County has turned over 533 inmates to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, 134 more than any other county in the Washington area.

As reported in August 2008, Prince William County and Manassas once again was by far the hottest residential real estate market in Greater Northern Virginia in July, with year-over-year sales up 103% over July of 2007. Culpeper County came in second with a 25% increase, and nowhere else was there a positive double-digit change. This makes the sixth straight month where Prince William and Manassas topped the rest of the area by a wide margin, a market leadership that doesn’t show any sign of slowing down as the total inventory of available houses on the market fell again for the fourth straight month. Meanwhile, the area as a whole saw year-over-year sales remain flat.

All the above factors are undeniable proof that strict enforcement of immigration laws work, If only the federal government were as astute and possessed the same convictions for “the rule of law” that Price William County, Virginia does.

zeezil said...

Attrition through enforcement —

involves a program of consistent, comprehensive application of the immigration law (something we have never attempted), not only at the borders, but also at our consulates overseas and at worksites and elsewhere inside the country. The aim is to reduce the number of foreigners sneaking in to the country (or overstaying visas) and at the same time increase the number of illegal immigrants already here who go home — some forcibly through deportation, but most voluntarily, through what might be called self-deportation. By engineering a steady decrease in the total number of illegal aliens, instead of the continual annual increases we’ve permitted over the past two decades, we can back out of a problem that has taken many years to develop.


Enforcement Works – Mexican returning home in record numbers:

The Mexican Consulate's office in Dallas (August 22, 2008) is seeing increasing numbers of Mexican nationals requesting paperwork to go home for good, especially parents who want to know what documentation they'll need to enroll their children in Mexican schools.

"Those numbers have increased percentage-wise tremendously," said Enrique Hubbard, the Mexican consul general in Dallas. "In fact, it's almost 100 percent more this year than it was the previous two years."

The illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has dropped 11 percent since August of last year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Its research shows 1.3 million have returned to their home countries.

Some say illegal immigrants are leaving because a soft economy has led to fewer jobs, causing many laborers to seek work elsewhere. Others argue that a tough stance on immigration law enforcement has cause illegal immigrants to depart. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that illegal began returning home before the downturn in the economy indicating, in large part, that enforcement played a major role in their departure.,2933,409221,00.html

Mike Frizzi said...

This is a very nice look at the evolution of Immigrant rights. I would have liked to see you mention some of the reactionary visas that the US has issued for immigrants, including the eb5 green card, which was created to classify immigrants into more categories, and immediately reward those who were ready to enter the country while making serious contributions to the economy. We can't forget that while some immigrants fight for their rights and their respect, some are fortunate to have pretty much purchased both..

Mike Frizzi said...

I am absolutely in favor of equal rights for all people everywhere. However, I don't think illegals should be given any sort of insurance or other such privileges. How can we justify rewarding lawbreakers when there are legal immigrants utilizing amazing programs like the immigrant investor visa program who are actually struggling to get insured? It just seems wrong on so many levels.