Immigration

An Atlanta Campaign Demands Immigration Reform, End to Policies of Deportation and Detention

A coalition of local community organizations have launched an ICE Free Zones campaign.

Photo Credit: everchanging/Flickr Creative Commons

On June 15, coordinated actions were held across the world including in Atlanta, seeking justice for Berta Caceres, an indigenous human rights and environmental justice activist who was assassinated in Honduras on March 3. Several of those charged with her murder have ties to the Honduran military, including at least one high-ranking officer who reportedly was trained by U.S. Rangers.  

At the Atlanta action, we also drew attention to the recent ICE raids that have targeted women and children fleeing horrific persecution, rape, murder, and torture in Central American countries such as Honduras, who were seeking a safe haven in this country. Caceres' assassination was only the latest example of this systematic, patriarchal violence, in part facilitated by U.S. government policies and decades of intervention in the region.

The actions of the Obama administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement combined with the racist rhetoric coming from Republican Party candidates are responsible for generating fear and anxiety in our immigrant and refugee communities. This is only gearing up in the wake of the horrific Orlando attack with attempts to scapegoat Muslim communities. 

In order to end government policies of raids, detention and deportation which are tearing apart families in the Latino community in particular, a coalition of local community organizations in metro Atlanta led by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Southerners on New Ground and the Georgia Not1More Coalition has launched an ICE Free Zones campaign. 

As part of the campaign, we aim to make our state, cities and neighborhoods welcoming spaces for our immigrant, refugee, Muslim, and queer and trans communities. We demand that ICE put an immediate stop to the deportation raids. We demand that the Georgia legislature stop pushing through bills targeting our communities and instead repeal the xenophobic and discriminatory legislation they passed in previous years. We demand an end to policies of mass incarceration that target and imprison communities of color, immigrants, queer and trans people, and poor people. We demand an end to violence against our communities in whatever form it takes, initiated by the state or individual actors. 

We are also cognizant of the role of U.S. foreign policy in creating conditions of colonization, extreme poverty, terror, and hypermilitarization, forcing people to flee their homes. The Cáceres family has publicly stated it believes U.S. military aid has fueled repression and violence in the country which now has the highest murder rate in the world. Political violence and militarization have intensified since a military coup in 2009 overthrew the elected government of Manuel Zelaya. The Obama administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provided tacit support for the coup.

But 2009 is not the first year the United States has interfered in the internal affairs of Honduras. U.S. Marines landed in Honduras to protect the economic interests of U.S. banana plantations, banks and railroads in the early and mid-1900s. In the '80s, Honduras was also used by the United States as a staging area for contras, a right-wing armed group heavily supported by the U.S. which attempted to sabotage and topple the leftist Nicaraguan government. 

In addition to military intervention in the internal affairs of Central and South American countries, economic trade policies such as the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Bill Clinton, are responsible for causing havoc and creating economic refugees forced to come here to seek a livelihood for their families. 

In the Middle East and Africa, decades of militarized violence by the U.S. and governments it supports are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from the destruction of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, drone bombings in Pakistan and Yemen, and the occupation of Palestine. This led to more than a million migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe in 2015. Dislocation of individuals and their families due to economic, political, and military reasons is happening on a massive scale all over the world. 

Whatever form it takes, this dislocation is traumatic and violent. If we want to address the root causes of this crisis, we must address the corporate and governmental policies responsible for it. The decades-long U.S. political and military intervention in the internal affairs of countries such as Honduras combined with exploitative trade deals benefiting U.S. multinational corporations have led to what we are facing today.

Demagogic politicians seize upon the economic anxieties of working-class people in an attempt to get them to misdirect their anger toward immigrants and refugees, Latinos and Muslims, in particular. It is a classic formula of finding scapegoats reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. As a recent local example, Governor Deal illegally attempted to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia and deny them federal aid. A whole group of people was branded as suspects based on their country of origin and their faith. 

This atmosphere of increasing xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, and homophobia demands that we confront hate and any attempts to divide us. We must build solidarity, locally and internationally, with all those who are under attack. Only by standing together as one can we all be made free.

Paul McLennan is a member of the Organization for Human Rights and Democracy. 

Azadeh Shahshahani is Legal & Advocacy Director with Project South and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. 

Adelina Nicholls is Executive Director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.

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