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Responding to Arizona

fastforumlogo-300x168Welcome back to Fast Forum!  We pick a hot topic and ask 3 – 6 organizers from across the country to weigh in. Our hope is to draw out new ideas and to encourage new voices to take a stab at the freshest challenges facing our community. This month, we asked five organizers for their reflections on the question:


What is the political significance of the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona?  What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?

We have incredible contributions from: Salvador Reza, Puente and Alto Arizona; Maria Poblet and Sanyika Bryant, Causa Justa / Just Cause; Gerald Lenoir, Black Alliance for Just Immigration; Subhash Kateel, Florida Immigrant Coalition - Deportee Defense Network; and Gihan Perera, Miami Workers Center.



Salvador Reza is veteran activist who organized day laborers, taco vendors and fights to defend the rights of immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona with Puente and ¡Alto Arizona! He was interviewed here by Sushma Sheth.


What is the political significance of bill SB 1070 in Arizona?

For the first time in a while, the US is allowing a state to use the concept of race to interrogate people. This is not solely the case but the bill does not exclude racial profiling. We haven't been exposed to this since type of policy since the 1960s.  This is like an apartheid system we haven't seen since the Apartheid era in South Africa.

This legislation is also significant because it sets a precedent. Since 2006, we were building essentially an anti Arpaio movement.  Joe Arpaio effectively impacted one county but we know this wasn't true. From the beginning, we went after the furniture store not solely as a local target but the example of someone who was exercising the Obama and Bush formula for militarizing and making the US a police state.  When we were able to defeat the furniture store, we then went after Arpaio himself.  Arpaio became the target so we could expose him for what he is worldwide: a human rights violator. But with that came the reality the human rights violator is not just Arpaio, but also the Arizona and the United States governments that are creating a nationwide police state. The state bill is a game changer because this issue is no longer local, its now national.  Ohio, Colorado, South Carolina and another 10 states will emulate this immediately.

What role has the Obama administration played and what demands are being placed on him now?

Obama's selection of Napolitano to head Homeland Security: When Napolitano was getting attacked by the right, she mollified them by moving anti-immigrant measures under the pressure of Arpaio and other police units and municipalities to expand what Arpaio was doing.  When Obama invited her to Washington, she went to Homeland Security with a ready script and formula.  This is why we are in this situation today. Basically, Obama brought her on to help him mollify a rightwing attack which he was sure to get.  He is empowering and positioning Nepolitano to emulate the Arizona formula nationwide.

Making Mexico's government beholden to the US: Why didn't Mexico lean heavier on Obama or vic versa? The Mexican presidency is dependent on President Obama and Plan Merida.  There are a billions of dollars supposedly for the drug fight but is essentially transforming Mexico into a police state and this is same thing that is now happening in Arizona. The same arguments are being used to expand the border.

There is a race-based split emerging between the Democrats.  Today, Luis Gutierrez, Le Jalva, al Pastor were asking President Obama to basically  "You can stop this now if you wanted to. You do not have to wait for court challenges."  They are putting the blame and power on the Obama administration.  It wasn't too long ago that Washington advocacy groups said that they did not want to follow that strategy and were instead supporting the Schumer bill. That now is being criticized and the Schumer bill has been equated with the Arizona bill here.  Some Democrats, like Congressman Vijalva, are echoing the call for a boycott of Arizona.

How is the national immigrant rights movement responding?

What can immigrant right community do? They can catch up to the people. Families for the first time are realizing that their lives are on the line because there are a lot of mixed families.  What is happening is that they are ready to fight because they have nothing to lose.  If the price of fighting is deportation, well they are going to do this anyways.  People are realizing that we are in an apartheid system, in the United States today.

Immigrant rights advocates have been left behind.  People's movements are spontaneously reacting to this law. There is no central organization right now. Last week, 100 demonstrators shut down the El Paso/Juarez port of entry.  There is boycott of the Diamondbacks (Arizona's Baseball Team) in Chicago where even season ticket holders will not attend. This movement has been built through text messaging, Facebook, and the internet.  The same tools that Obama used to get elected are now being used to fight these policies nationally.

There has to be a national uproar and national uprising.  Right now, text messaging has surprised the traditional power brokers. Those guys are still debating tactics (whether or not to have a boycott). While they are talking about it, people are texting the call to protest the Diamondbacks.

What is behind the Diamondback boycott?

Diamondbacks make money and they give political money to Republicans like Governor Jan Brewer.  This is a national boycott they are calling for.  So wherever the team goes to play, they are asking Latinos and people in support not to show up to the games. They are not waiting for La Causa or someone else to tell them.  They are not waiting for the traditional pro-immigrant issue organization that have been calling for immigration reform in the past.

What role can progressive, left organizers now play?

Progressive advocates and organizations that have capacity should be helping in the analysis of what the most effective targets might be.  Especially, if there is a boycott or divestment of Arizona.  Right now, the Diamondbacks have been suggested because they are very visible and because a lot of Latinos like the Diamondbacks. People are doing this on their own.  No one is telling them what to do or can tell them want to do.  They are saying we marched, we picketed and created petition but now as though they need the world to know what regime they are living under.




Gerald Lenoir is the Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). BAJI is an education and advocacy group comprised of African Americans and black immigrants from Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean. The mission of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration is to engage African Americans and other communities in a dialogue that leads to actions that challenge U.S. immigration policy and the underlying issues of race, racism and economic inequity that frame it.  Parts of this piece were excerpted from the BAJI Blog, supplemented with an interview by Harmony Goldberg.

What is the political significance of the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona?

On Friday, April 23, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, legalizing racial profiling of Latinos in her state. Local law enforcement is empowered to stop and question anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, which is not defined in the bill. There is already rampant racial profiling in Arizona and now, it will be done under the color of law. Legitimizing racial profiling threatens the rights not just of Latino immigrants, but also all people of color, including African Americans.

The criminalization of black and brown people has been happening for a long time in these United States. One only has to look at the disproportionate incarceration rates for our youth versus white youth. Now, immigrants of color are being criminalized. So-called “illegal aliens” are being demonized for the “crime” of crossing the border without legal papers, which is a civil, not criminal, offense.

But who are the real criminals? The U.S. government and U.S. corporations who are complicit in forcing the flow of migration. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, Mexico opened its markets to subsidized food crops from the United States. The result is that three million Mexican farmers could not compete with cheap U.S. commodities and lost their land and their livelihood. Many of them, along with their families, have migrated to the U.S. looking for jobs.

So, let me get this right, the United States invades the economy of another country and the economic refugees that come here are labeled illegal? What’s wrong with this picture?  I say that people have a right to stay in their own country. U.S. intervention has deprived them of that right. And now Arizona - the State of Hate - will punish the victims.


What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer promises to increase the hostility towards immigrants and create the United States of Hate, if you will. Senator Schumer stated on Monday, “We believe our blueprint is even stronger than the Arizona senators’ proposal in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants because our plan both increases border security and prevents employers from hiring illegal immigrants.” People who are trying to support themselves and their families are driven from their homes and their country, risk their lives in the harsh Sonoran Desert, and if they make it to the United States, face being treated as criminal, jailed, and deported without due process.  I think there needs to be debate and discussion within the immigrant rights movement about the Schumer bill.  There are many undercurrents of discussion about it, but these debates need to be upfront. We need to engage the whole immigrant rights community - and also other communities in the debate about what kind of bill we need in Congress and what we should be supporting or opposing.

We all must oppose the blatant oppression of immigrants. I especially call on the African American community to link arms with Latino and immigrant communities to speak out against these blatant forms of racism and economic exploitation. The rightwing politicians, organizations and movements that oppose immigrant rights are not the friends of African American communities. We have more in common with immigrants of color. We know firsthand about racism and economic exploitation. And we have faced the hostile mobs, biased employers and racist legislators. I think that the immigrant rights movement should make a concerted effort to build alliances with the African American community and not just call on Black leaders to support this or that proposal.  We need to do some real work in African American communities around immigrant rights issues and – actually – some real wok that goes beyond immigrant rights. I don’t think that we can treat immigrant rights as a stand-alone issue. It needs to be a part of a broader effort at movement-building that involves multiple issue that impact multiple communities.



María Poblet is the Executive Director of Causa Justa / Just Cause in the Bay Area. She has ten years of experience organizing San Francisco tenants and the Latino immigrant community. María is a founder of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. She also served on the National Planning Committee for the U.S. Social Forum.

Sanyika Bryant is the Regional Civic Engagement Coordinator at Causa Justa / Just Cause.  Sanyika was trained by the Labor/Community Strategy Center where he worked on the Bus Riders Union and Frontlines Press projects. He is also a graduate of the Strategy Center's National School for Strategic Organizing, class of 2003.

What is the political significance of the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona?

What Arizona's 1070 represents is a decisive advance of racist right-wing forces in the U.S.  After the election of Obama, fascist tendencies have grown in size and in militancy, calling on racist fears, economic hardship, and a hegemonic complex of superiority to win the falling middle class to a reactionary agenda.

This legislation represents and inside/outside strategy of the right wing, where certain sectors are working within government and the electoral process to re-invigorate the Republican Party and move it further to the right, while more radical forces work explicitly against the government.

It also puts on display the spectacular failure of the Democratic Party to defend the interests of working class people of color, and the lack of an effective inside/outside strategy from progressives working in the national electoral arena.   While some individual Democrats have stood up for legalization, most do not even question 287g, let alone the neoliberal economic system that pushes people across borders in the first place.  In fact, the Democratic response to this nakedly racist and unconstitutional attack has been to affirm their commitment to the militarization of the US/Mexico border!

What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?

It's high time that the immigrant rights movement reach a higher level of cohesion and alignment, and move forward with an aggressively pro-active agenda for citizenship rights and broader anti-racist alliances, specifically with African-American communities.  It's heartening to know that Black/Latino unity work is thriving in Arizona, and growing in grassroots organizations throughout the country.

This legislation has sparked solidarity actions all over the place.  We have pushed and won Arizona boycott/divestment ordinances in both San Francisco and Oakland, and we marched in raucous International Workers Day mobilizations.  For Causa Justa / Just Cause, this moment presents a unique opportunity to discuss the commonalities between segregation in the south and anti-immigrant policies today, and to highlight the opportunities for joint struggle of Latinos and African-Americans.  And, just as in the civil rights movement, we cannot ignore the social base of the far right, the reactionaries of the American ruling and middle classes. They must be actively struggled against.

In the bigger picture, the question now is whether progressives will be able to present socialism as a concrete alternative in the public discourse, and whether a cohesive inside/outside strategy will emerge to coordinate and strengthen this agenda.  The failures of capitalism are apparent and immigrants from the third world and people of color inside US borders are being blamed for the economic collapse.  We cannot allow the far right to repeat history and implement their "solution" to the crisis of capitalism.   We need to quickly build up to a scale where we can effectively swing votes as a block and put forth laws that will defend our communities and place impediments on the legal and extra-legal means the reactionaries use to attack our communities.



Subhash Kateel works with the Florida Immigrant Coalition - Deportee Defense Network, and he is based in Miami, Florida.  He was also one of the founders of Families for Freedom, a New York-based multi-ethnic defense network by and for immigrants facing and fighting deportation.


What is the political significance of bill SB 1070 in Arizona?

Honestly, Arizona has been a path to become what Birmingham was in the 1960's, a testing ground for state sponsored racism.  Alot of it started when Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County (the county that houses Phoenix) pushed for what I would call an unholy alliance with ICE (the government agency that enforces immigration laws).  Actually, there are some that would take it back even further - to when the ramped-up border security in California pushed alot of immigrants coming in from Mexico through the Arizona desert.  But I would place Arizona's thirst for immigrant apartheid on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's push for a 287 (g) agreement.  Traditionally, immigration laws have been the Federal governments responsibility.  287 (g) agreements allowed local police to get a piece of the action and gave local police alot more power than they ever had before.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio pushed this power, and its abuse to the max.  He basically made it fashionable for local government to have immigration powers, and marketed it to whoever would listen.  The political significance now is that local governments around the country  are going to become more and more interested in the same type of stuff found in SB 1070 (the Arizona bill).  If we don't fight it now, every state government and local government around the country is going to want the same power that local governments in Arizona have now.

What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?

Now, more than ever we have to make it clear that no one will tolerate SB1070 or any bill like it.  The interventions, in my opinion come on three different levels:

1) Working locally to defeat any local agreements (287-g, Secure Communities, etc.) that allow local governments to jump in bed with ICE.  Trust me there is no good in these agreements.

2) Work locally to support anti-SB 1070 work by following the lead of community groups in Arizona to launch boycotts, etc.  For example, organizations around the country have been protesting at venues where the Arizona Diamondbacks (a major league baseball team) are playing.

3) If you have the resources, see what help is needed on-site in Arizona. Just make sure it is done responsibly with a local grassroots organization.



Gihan Perera is a nationally recognized progressive strategist, community organizer, and leader in the US social justice movement.. He is co-founder and Executive Director of the Miami Workers Center, a community organizing institution for low-income Black and Latino communities in South Florida. Gihan also serves as Chair of Right to the City, a national alliance across eight urban centers of the U.S. dedicated to expanding human rights and democracy in the city. Perera is a regular contributor to The Miami Herald and The Huffington Post and featured in national publication and events exploring urban poverty, racial disparities, civic engagement and social justice in the U.S. this piece was written for the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), and the emerging youth movement in Arizona, and it originally appeared on Huffington Post.


What is the political significance of the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona?


We must recognize that the developments in Arizona are the manifestation of a profound and growing sickness, toxicity, in the hearts and minds of our nation, promoted by a hateful few.

We recognize the loss of certainty by many, particularly White and working people, in the United States. The economy, politics, and culture are in a state of turbulence. Fear is easily channeled to hatred and blame. We understand, but we must resist this urge.

We recognize that the passage of Arizona state law SB 1070 represents a qualitative shift in this toxic state. Its passage is a clear signal to the people of Arizona, the United States, and to people throughout the world, that state sanctioning of racial, ethnic, and class segregation and degeneration is acceptable.

The lines have been drawn. But no person of good conscience can allow this to solidify in our collective consciousness or become socially acceptable. The law mandates interrogation based on racial perception - specifically targeting Latinos and those who 'appear' Mexican, Central American, and/or of indigenous ancestry. It puts them in the cross hairs of an increasingly militarized and policed state. It makes their existence in the state suspect; an illegal act to exist. The profound cruelty and irony of the measure is this: Arizona and its neighboring states are the ancestral homelands of these very peoples. They are the dispossessed and dehumanized within the lands that they are native to. They are here as workers, dependents of an economy that they were forced into, because of the destruction of their traditional ways of life.

History has taught us often about the outcome of this type of social control. It is an untenable solution to codify and criminalize racial status. It will only lead to dire polarization, desperation, and death. The lessons of the Jim Crow South, the South African regime, Palestine, and Nazi Germany are clear - apartheid is dehumanizing for all involved. It is not a sustainable mode of governance. It makes the owners of authority illegitimate; they are forced representatives of a captive people. We cannot control and repress the basic needs for survival. Security for a few will not be achieved through systemic suspicion and criminalization. In fact, the opposite is true. The yearning for life and freedom and dignity will not allow it. It never has. Not in Cape Town, not in Selma, not in Phoenix. It never will.

However, Arizona is a signal of greater danger coming. If Arizona's law stands, it will have a ripple effect. Policies modeled after SB1070 will spread to many more states. These measures will take our energy and our resources away from finding true solutions to our problems, and will further polarize us. It will take us back in time and reestablish a racial line of demarcation as the basis of politics in the United States, and we will have no choice but to choose sides.

What are the critical interventions that the immigrant rights movement needs to be making right now on a national level?

Now is the time for moral leadership, in high places and everyday places. It begins with our President. President Obama's role in establishing the moral compass of our nation is as important as any other he occupies. The indignity that the people in Arizona now face is familiar to him, in his blood.

We look to him now, to act in sacred reciprocity. We look for him to recognize and honor the tradition of the plight and redemption of his African forebears who suffered the greatest brutality that the world has witnessed. We look to him now, to simultaneously recognize and honor the tradition of Americans who throughout history have chosen their calm and conscience over fear that was fanned to spite. He must remember those good people in Iowa who were the first to propel him to electoral victory, proving that this country can act on a sense of dignity and purpose despite all the pressures and easy access to prejudice and petty politics.

The time must come now, not a moment later. President Obama must act decisively, clearly, with resolve. As commander-in-chief he must draw the moral line, and tell politicians in Arizona that they have crossed it. He must immediately and unequivocally say no to the use of any federal resources, especially ICE forces, to enable and enforce a hate-filled and racist pogrom. He must act now, to show that there is no compromising when our human dignity is at stake.

And we must support him in doing that. In every town and city and place of worship, we should be talking to each other about Arizona. We should be organizing vigils, and speak outs, and educational forums, and acts that display our moral outrage to the crime that is being perpetrated. We should be at federal buildings and immigration offices, calling on the federal government to act NOW.

In these uncertain times, I find that there is an important lesson in the ancient teachings of the First Peoples of the Arizona area. Their wisdom holds that we must consider the impact of our actions not just on the present, but on seven generations into the future. It is our obligation and our legacy for our children and their children. Therefore, we should all be making a moral pledge to act in good conscience to defy this law and stand for a much higher standard of being. We are the difference between harmony and disintegration.

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