The Immigrant Rights Movement at a Crossroads
By Javier Rodriguez
After the last round of successful May Day 2007 mobilizations, the national debate on immigration reform legislation heated up intensely but it appears the legislation is dead for this congressional session. However, it is clear the recently defeated senate proposal and the one waiting to be addressed in the lower house, the STRIVE ACT are neither pro immigrant, nor pro worker immigration reform and both fall far short of the human rights standards set forth by the United Nations International Covenant for the Protection of Migrant Workers.
Under both proposals, the legalization offer is a torturous expensive process of 10 to 15 years wait for the coveted “Green Card”. Combined with a guest worker program, a destruction of the family unity concept for a point system and of course the so called national security frame work which endangers civil and human rights standards, making mass persecution and the criminalization of immigrants palatable. There is really no trade off. And liberals as well as some progressives in our ranks have been singing the tune that every country has a right to protect its borders, surrealistically forgetting that it is the people of the poverty stricken sending countries of the world who are in need of protection from the criminal appetite of the transnational corporations and the American empire,. The fabricated conflict against Iraq is but one example.
As has been said before by credible experts and the majority of immigrant rights leaders in the country, the two proposals are gross corporate designed legislations that if approved will maintain undocumented immigrants in suspension of their basic human rights, leaving them politically vulnerable and brutally exploitable. In other words continue the “transnational corporate fiesta”.
More than ever the challenge of what is to be done comes to the fore. Either the people and its organized forces conform to the crumbs on the negotiating table or fight back. In the base, the millions of immigrants themselves are in a quandary. The quest to visit the homeland, have a work permit, be legal, have access to college education, secure the family and not have the fear of being deported on their back all are paramount. But for the future of family unity and the millions more to come, the well being of the whole American working class and for the country’s civil and human rights as a society, the stakes are also very high. The results of this social issue will set the path for a higher or a lower standard of living for all for years to come.
Without a doubt the country’s ruling elite have analyzed the Immigration Reform Act-IRCA of 1986 which generously legalized several million immigrants and it only stipulated a one year wait for the coveted green card and an additional five for full citizenship rights. According to Former Secretary of State Edwin Meese, former President Ronald Reagan was sorry he ever signed the IRCA law and today’s ruling elites, “don’t want to make the same error”. Of course this is the view of corporate America and its political class, including the Latino Estalishment.
Apologists for the dead bill have been saying the proposals are not perfect to “fix” the broken immigration system but under present conditions “it’s the best we can get”. Additionally, it has to this year because the presidential campaign will take precedence and there will not be another opportunity for years.
For us it’s imperative to look at the history of that 1982 to 1986. It was early 1982 and the US Supreme Court ruled on the Class Action Case “Silva Vs INS” popularly known as the Silva Letter. It was an official government document which protected over 100,000 immigrants and their families from deportation. As the case resolved and only 20,000 got their permanent residency, the rest went up in arms. It was the explosion that signaled the beginning of a wave of mass protest. (Very similar to HR4437 and the mass reaction of 2006). The immigrant rights movement, founded in LA in 1968 by the Old Man Bert Corona qualitatively changed and met the challenge of the times. From 1982 to 1986 until President Ronald Reagan signed the Amnesty Law, the masses of undocumented immigrants, then an estimated 6 million in the country, organized and demonstrated militantly. We mounted the massive effort for amnesty unto the historical Jesse Jackson for President Campaign of 1984. It was this campaign through the Democratic Primary in California which I was directing in the state’s Latino community. On May 19 of that year we held the largest ever street protest for immigration rights, 10,000 in downtown LA, and Jackson and my brother Antonio Rodriguez led it. It was for legalization, no raids and deportations and against the Simpson-Mazzoli Immigration Bill. That march agitated and galvanized the country. We then tactically had Jackson stay at the home of Carmen Lima, an undocumented immigrant female leader of the LA grass roots movement. That was a radical and highly symbolical move by the highest African American leader of the time. From there we catapulted to the San Francisco Democratic National Convention where several hundred Latino delegates frenetically demanded from the leadership to kill the bill. But what put the icing on the cake was civil disobedience. The offices of the top gurus of the National Democratic Party, the Law Firm of Mannat and Associates in Beverly Hills, were taken by 30 undocumented immigrants and leaders and held for several days. The Simpson-Mazzoli Bill was killed and replaced by IRCA 1986, the Simpson Rodino Law. Although it introduced employer sanctions and set four years of residency in the country to qualify, it was a generous amnesty. It empowered millions with a “a permit to work, a one year wait to get the green card and six total to gain citizenship and vote”.
It was the class action law suit, then the mass upsurge, the street heat, the presidential campaign, civil disobedience, a strategy and militant tactics and a radical leadership that did it. The rest is history.
The message of this narration is obvious. In this potentially last stage of the present struggle for the empowerment of the millions of undocumented workers, the conditions for a more creative and militant expression to fight back have to be discussed and analyzed and logically placed into practice. In 2006, history was made when the largest mass movement in the history of this country came to be. It successfully embarrassed the empire. And it was not spontaneous. I designed and guided the political strategy parting from the history of this social movement since 1968 and it was inherently based on the present national and international political and social conditions, including the use of the corporate mass media.
Today, indisputably the gigantic struggle for immigration reform in the United States has been rich in its political and organizational expressions and legacy. This is reflected in its major historical accomplishments that above everything else has changed the collective psyque of the people towards the elusive goal of unity. It is an established fact that the slogan “Si Se Puede” is now a relative reachable reality. The immigrant rights movement and its principal protagonist, the immigrant worker, have generated respect and solidarity, not only here, inside the empire, but worldwide and May 1-International Workers Day is now embedded as a workers holiday
in the country where it was born. And it came in a grand scale with a 2006 May 1 National Great American Boycott that in Los Angeles alone, easily, almost all the industries where Latino immigrants labor, stopped a whopping 75% of the production, including the all important Harbor and Long Beach Ports. It was repeated in 2007 at a much lesser, but respectable level. The latest polls on the country’s sentiments on immigrants and legalization, clearly indicate a majority support for the legalization for immigrants. That translated means, a sentiment for the empowerment of the weakest sector of the working class, the globalized immigrant. Our people.
Today this movement, on par with the developments in Latin America moving away from the neo liberalist economic model and against transnational imperial dominance, is once again at a crossroads. The millions who marched in 2006 and 2007 did so to demand their rights for immediate legalization and empowerment, not to continue being near second and third class and near slaves.
We need to push the right buttons. Set the network of forces on the chosen targets which could give premium political results that will essentially force the political establishment to concede. For this to advance, all targets in the political arena are fair game, including the Republicans, the Democrats, the Latino Establishment and brokers. The fundamental tactics of mass expression including, mass street demonstrations, the boycotts and civil disobedience exist in our political memory and our history.
Javier Rodriguez is a Media and Political Strategist and was the initiator for 1.7 million digitally conted mass protest of March 25, 2006 in Los Angeles firstname.lastname@example.org 323-702-6397