Roberto Lovato

Progressive Politics Don't Feel So Inclusive When You're Latino

Locals say angels quietly protect the dead buried beneath the live oak trees of Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias, Texas. Since the oil bust decimated the fracking economy in recent years, Falfurrias and other towns dotting the coastal plains of southeast Texas have taken on a ghostly quiet, a quiet so encompassing you can hear at a distance the hissing and flapping of big white owls.

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We're Witnessing the Decline and Fall of White America as We Know It

The body of Tamir Rice bears the wounds of U.S. history. Deep wounds. So do the bodies of Central American children like those I visited earlier this year in Karnes County, children whose bodies are scarred and violated because of U.S. history in their homelands, in Mexico, where most of their mother’s bodies are violated, as well as in the Texas immigrant prisons where prison officials hired by the Obama administration accuse mothers staging hunger strikes of “insurrection” while they’re “waiting for helicopters,” according to  government documents.

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COP21: International Rights of Nature Tribunal Finds Corporations, Governments Guilty of Crimes Against Nature

As the COP21 climate conference comes to its conclusion, many here don’t believe that the agreement to cut emissions will suffice to alter the catastrophic course of the planet. In fact, many will leave believing that what is most important is the continued work to pressure governments not only to reduce greenhouse gases, but to address the inequalities that underly the problem.

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Climate Change Activists in Paris Say They’re Being Silenced With Counterterrorism Following Attacks

Standing in Republique square, just two blocks from the Bataclan Theater, site of the massacre of 90 people in Paris two weeks ago, Pierre—who declined to give his last name—told me last Sunday, the opening day of the COP21 climate change talks, “I don’t feel safe here.”

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10 Reasons Marco Rubio Would Lose in a General Election

The GOP elite appears ready to crown a new candidate: Marco Rubio. With the imminent decline and fall of Jeb Bush, the Republican establishment’s previous candidate of choice, signs of Rubio’s coming coronation are clear. There are reports of a "Rubio surge" in the press and in polls, new commitments from influential GOP donors like billionaire investor Paul Singer, and a growing list of key GOP establishment endorsements. Tuesday’s debate only bolstered the perception that Rubio, not Bush, represents the GOP's elite kingmakers. 

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Obama Must Strongly and Unequivocally Condemn the Coup in Honduras

Viewed from a distance, the streets of Honduras look, smell and sound like those of Iran: Expressions of popular anger -- burning vehicles, large marches and calls for justice in a non-English language -- aimed at a constitutional violation of the people’s will (the coup took place on the eve of a poll of voters asking if the President's term should be extended); protests repressed by a small, but powerful elite backed by military force; those holding power trying to cut off communications in and out of the country.

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Obama Pressured by Israel Lobby to Boycott World Conference Against Racism

At a time when racial conflict and discrimination are on the rise around the world, the Administration of the world's first black U.S. president will not be attending the world's most important conference on race and racism.

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Immigration Reformers Must Take the Moral High Ground

The buzz filling Blackberrys, busy halls and spacious deal-making rooms in Washington appears to signal that spring arrived early this year for immigrants. In the last week alone, several prominent figures—outgoing President Bush, incoming President Obama, Mexican President Calderón, Los Angeles Cardinal Mahoney, to name a few—have discussed the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform. And, as in the previous failed attempts at reform in 2006 and 2007, legalization for the more than 12 million undocumented among us occupies the center of forums, speeches and other public statements of Democratic and civic leaders in the beltway.

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Obama May Tap a Strong Progressive to Manage Our Wilderness

Anyone who has visited a national park or traversed the country's diverse wilderness comes home with gorgeous, yet distressing images of it; those returning from a visit to one of the more than 562 tribes the federal government recognizes and is supposed to assist also bring back sad stories about it; and those of us who enjoy camping or fishing or hunting inevitably return home talking about it. "It" is the scenery and life found on the millions of acres of federal land left blemished and vulnerable by the Bush administration's Department of the Interior.

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Obama Retreats from Key Progressive Issues

Obama Votes to Silence Debate and Pass FISA
By John Nichols, TheNation.com

Arizona Sen. John McCain did not bother to show up for Wednesday's Senate votes on whether to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to absolve George Bush of responsibility for initiating an illegal warrantless wiretapping program and to provide retroactive immunity to the telecommunications corporations that violated the privacy of their customers in order to collaborate with a lawless president.

But that's OK, because Illinois Sen. Barack Obama cast the votes that McCain would have.

In addition to joining the majority in a 69-28 Senate vote to pass legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union describes as "a Constitutional nightmare," Obama voted to silence debate on the FISA bill.

While most Senate Democrats -- including New York Sen. Hillary Clinton -- opposed the FISA rewrite and voted to keep the debate open, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president sided with the Republicans in saying that the essential Constitutional questions raised by this legislation did not merit extended or thoughtful debate.

The cloture vote split 72 in favor of shutting down debate to 26 for keeping it open. Two senators -- McCain and ailing Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy -- missed Wednesday's session.

The "no" votes on cloture were cast by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and 25 Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Obama's Democratic colleague from Illinois, and Clinton, Obama's primary competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Leading the fight to keep the debate about the FISA rewrite open were Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, the two senators whom Obama promised earlier this year to work with in an effort to block this assault on the Constitution and corporate responsibility.

Said Feingold, "I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the inspector general report, the election of a new president or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure."

Unfortunately, while Obama once promised to work with Feingold, he wasn't listening on Wednesday when the Wisconsin senator explained to his colleagues that granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications corporations would effectively block the ability of Congress and the courts to address not just massive corporate wrongdoing but attacks on the privacy rights of Americans.

"If Congress short-circuits these lawsuits, we will have lost a prime opportunity to finally achieve accountability for these years of law-breaking," said Feingold. "That's why the administration has been fighting so hard for this immunity. It knows that the cases that have been brought directly against the government face much more difficult procedural barriers and are unlikely to result in rulings on the merits."

Feingold was speaking the truth about a moment in which the ACLU said the Senate was on the verge of passing "an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance."

But Obama did not want to hear it.

*****


In Centrist Speech Aimed at Latinos, Obama Neglects War -- Latinos’ Most Important Issue
By Roberto Lovato, Of America

Candidates Obama and McCain are gearing up to do what the mainstream media is touting as a "mini-Latino voter tour" that includes speeches at the LULAC Convention today and speeches at the National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) convention in San Diego next week.

For discussion's sake, let's do as the mainstream media does and forget that the voice of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, is but one very well-funded voice in a cacophony of more than 40 million Latino voices and thousands of Latino organizations in the United States. And, in the name of being part of this often inane (as in, anybody seen that political Chupacabra -- the widely-reported Latino unwillingness to vote for a black candidate -- lately?) conversation labeled "Latino politics," let's also ignore that lurking beneath that brown blob of a media construct called "Hispanics" in headlines and sound bites are inconvenient truths, like the fact that organizations like LULAC do not always speak for many, if not most, of us.

OK. So, the "tour" of all two organizations began with a "festive" gathering at the LULAC convention in the Latino heartland of Washington, D.C., where LULAC President Oscar Moran designated McCain "nuestro amigo." Joining Moran, Wal-Mart, Shell Oil, Miller Beer and the usual host of corporations sponsoring these kinds of festivities were other, richer organizations whose very life depends increasingly on their ability to bring in Latino bodies: the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense (see the full list of LULAC Convention sponsors below). And, for the record, while some individual staff and board members and some local chapters of LULAC strongly oppose the war, the leadership of neither LULAC nor that of most other major Latino organizations has taken a position on the war.

As if not wanting to offend some of the sponsors in the audience, Obama made no mention in his LULAC speech of what numerous polls tell us is the numero uno issue for Latinos by large margins: the Iraq War. Again, war, not immigration, is the No. 1 issue for the fastest-growing group in the U.S. military.

For his part, McCain made mention not of the war, but of the Latino troops, and he did so in a manner that sounded like another in the tsunami of multimillion-dollar media ads brought to you by the Pentagon sponsors in the audience:

"When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan, you will meet some of the thousands of Hispanic Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well. To love your country, as I discovered in Vietnam, is to love your countrymen. Those men and women are my brothers and sisters ..."

Yeah. OK, hermano. Moving on, in his LULAC speech McCain fumbled around the ticklish issue of immigration, according to this piece in the Dallas morning news.

Missing in the brown sea of "si se puede"s and "amigo"s at the "spirited" event was nary a word describing other, more "no se puede" concerns of Spanish (and English) speakers -- issues like:

"prision" -- the exponential growth of the Latino prison population.

"Pentagono" -- the multibillion-dollar effort to trick Latino youth into joining the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and other armed forces.

"Muerte, detencion y migrantes" -- immigration issues such as the thousands of dead in the desert; death and sexual and physical abuse in ICE detention centers; and thousands of raids and other terror inflicted on immigrant children and adults.

"pobreza" -- the unprecedented challenge of a country in which the wealthiest 1 percent has over $2 trillion more than the bottom 90 percent, according to the Nation magazine. In other words, the candidates won't be asked in Español or en Ingles, "How come the wealthiest 1 percent have $19 trillion while the rest of us 300,000,000 only have a combined wealth totaling less than $17 trillion?"

So, let's "hope" that the larger, better-funded NCLR event brings us fewer "si se puede"s and more of things like "substancia," "realidad" and "transparencia."

    List of Sponsors of LULAC's 2008 Convention

  • Diamond Sponsors

  • Comcast Corporation

  • General Motors Corporation

  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc.


  • Presidential Sponsors

  • American Airlines

  • Bridgestone/Firestone

  • Ford Motor Company

  • LULAC Council #1

  • Miller Brewing Company

  • Shell Oil Company

  • Sprint Nextel Corporation

  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

  • Judicial Sponsors

  • AARP

  • AT&T

  • Dell

  • El Zol

  • U.S. Army


  • Senatorial Sponsors

  • The Coca-Cola Company

  • ExxonMobil Corporation

  • Google Inc.

  • Harrah's Entertainment

  • McDonald's Corporation

  • Nissan North America Inc.

  • PepsiCo, Inc.

  • Procter & Gamble Company

  • Southwest Airlines

  • Tyson Foods Inc.

  • U.S. Department of Defense


  • Congressional Sponsors

  • Countrywide Financial Corp.

  • U.S. Department of Education

  • U.S. Navy

  • Univision Communications

  • Western Union


  • Patriot Sponsors

  • Bank of America

  • Freddie Mac

  • Geico

  • NBC/Telemundo

  • The Nielsen Company

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture


  • Patron Sponsors

  • 7-Eleven Inc.

  • Americans for Secure Retirement

  • ARAMARK

  • Billetel

  • Burger King Brands Inc.

  • Continental Airlines Inc.

  • Denny's Restaurants

  • DISH Latino

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company

  • Hyatt Hotels Corporation

  • International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers

  • Merisant Worldwide Inc.

  • PhRMA

  • Sed de Saber

  • TracFone Wireless Inc.

  • U.S. Agency for International Development

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • Walt Disney Company

  • Wyndham International

Combatting Dishonest Military Recruitment


Here’s an issue we can safely assume the candidates will conveniently ignore: the massive recruitment efforts of the U.S. Pentagon. This video doc by Jorge Mariscal and my friends at Project Yano details the machinations of the U.S. war machine in its efforts to not just survive to fight another day, but to simply survive.



As I’ve said previously, given the vastness of the U.S. military presence abroad, we can expect the Pentagon’s multi-billion (yes BILLION) dollar effort to recruit young bodies to intensify at home. Because of the rapid decline in the number of young blacks and women opting out of military service, the Pentagon has taken an unprecedented and very expensive interest in young Latinos.


So, if you want to destroy the Empire, you can do so non-violently by supporting anti-military recruitment efforts like those of Project Yano, the AFSC and a growing galaxy of organizations doing their part to bring down Sauron’s tower by bringing down the number of our kids doing Sauron’s bidding.


Check out this video by project Yano. Those of you who are teachers or those who work in community organizations can use it with young people to counteract the effects of the seamless system of war consciousness created by private-public partnerships like those documented in James Derderian’s book about what he calls the “military-industrial-media-entertainment network”.



So, Project Yano’s kind of media work previews what must be the future tactics of any effort to destroy the workings of militarism in the minds of our young. Check it out.

McCain Gearing-Up For Attack on Immigrants?


In what may be the first of several tacts learned from the Clinton campaign’s failed racial strategy against presumed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the McCain campaign appears to be gearing up for its own racial antics.



According to this story in Newsday, we should expect “sniping to intensify around race, class and terrorism.” Every schoolboy/girl/lgbt who follows this blog and anyone who’s not been in a coma over the course of this primary (sadly) knows that race-and racism-occupy a central part of of the formula of any campaign now. In this post-industrial era of intense social, economic and political fragmentation, mixing numerous kinds of fear-inspiring memes occupies much of the time of any political consultant today.


Again, the Newsday story says that we should expect McCain to “exhume Obama’s support for ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s aborted license plan for illegals - perhaps eclipsing McCain’s own past fight with his GOP rivals on immigration.”



I personally think that such a tactic is neither advisable nor very smart. Such a stealth bilingual approach - spewing anti-immigrant cant in English while courting immigrant Latino votes with Spanish language political love poems- will not work. That McCain’s Spanish language ads goes out of its way to distance him not just from GWB but from the GOP itself (as in his ad says “When we are filling up the gas tank, we are not Republicans, Democrats or Independents. We are Hispanics, and we all are hurting together in this uncertain economic time.”) gives us some sense of how much the fear there is in the GOP around the much-anticipated Latino backlash against Republicans, who went from getting 35-40% of the Latino vote in the 2004 primaries to less than 22% in this year’s primaries.


In sum, it would only take one of the great majority of Latinos that is bilingual to point out that McCain will be speaking out of both sides of his mouth if he tries to use the immigrant driver’s license attack on Obama.

Juan Crow in Georgia

This article appeared in the May 26, 2008 edition of The Nation.

From the living room of the battered trailer she and her mother call home, Mancha described what happened when she came out of the shower that morning. “My mother went out, and I was alone,” she said. “I was getting ready for school, getting dressed, when I heard this noise. I thought it was my mother coming back.” She went on in the Tex-Mex Spanish-inflected Georgia accent now heard throughout Dixie: “Some people were slamming car doors outside the trailer. I heard footsteps and then a loud boom and then somebody screaming, asking if we were ‘illegals,’ ‘Mexicans.’ These big men were standing in my living room holding guns. One man blocked my doorway. Another guy grabbed a gun on his side. I freaked out. ‘Oh, my God!’ I yelled.”As more than twenty Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents surrounded the trailer, said Mancha, agents inside interrogated her. They asked her where her mother was; they wanted to know if her mother was “Mexican” and whether she had “papers” or a green card. They told her they were looking for “illegals.”

After about five minutes of interrogation, the agents–who, according to the women’s lawyer, Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed no warrants and had neither probable cause nor consent to enter the home–simply left. They left in all likelihood because Mancha and her mother didn’t fit the profile of the workers at the nearby Crider poultry plant, who had been targeted by the raid in nearby Stilwell. They were the wrong kind of “Mexicans”; they were US citizens.

Though she had experienced discrimination before the raid–in the fields, in the supermarket and in school–Mancha, who testified before Congress in February, never imagined such an incident would befall her, since she and her mother had migrated from Texas to Reidsville. Best known for harvesting poultry and agricultural products, Reidsville, a farm town about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, is also known for harvesting Klan culture behind the walls of the state’s oldest and largest prison. But its most famous former inmate is Jim Crow slayer and dreamer Martin Luther King Jr. His example inspires Mancha’s new dream: lawyering “for the poor.”

The toll this increasingly oppressive climate has taken on Mancha represents but a small part of its effects on noncitizen immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, and other Latinos. Mancha and the younger children of the mostly immigrant Latinos in Georgia are learning and internalizing that they are different from white–and black–children not just because they have the wrong skin color but also because many of their parents lack the right papers. They are growing up in a racial and political climate in which Latinos’ subordinate status in Georgia and in the Deep South bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans who were living under Jim Crow. Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants. Listening to the effects of Juan Crow on immigrants and citizens like Mancha (”I can’t sleep sometimes because of nightmares,” she says. “My arms still twitch. I see ICE agents and men in uniform, and it still scares me”) reminds me of the trauma I heard among the men, women and children controlled and exploited by state violence in wartime El Salvador. Juan Crow has roots in the US South, but it stirs traumas bred in the hemispheric South.

66 Deaths in Immigrant Prisons Signal Need to Shut Down ICE

This hugely important story by the New York Times Nina Bernstein, hands-down best immigration reporter in the U.S., is a must read. It tells the story of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who overstayed his tourist visa. According to Bernstein, who secured documents about Bah and 65 other imimgrants who died under questionable circumstances in immigrant prisons run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and its subcontractors, Bah's family did not know what was happening to until his
... frantic relatives located him at University Hospital in Newark on Feb. 5, 2007, he was in a coma after emergency surgery for a skull fracture and multiple brain hemorrhages. He died there four months later without ever waking up, leaving family members on two continents trying to find out why.
Bah's is but one of the 66 storied of individuals who died in immigration custody between January 2004 to November 2007.

66, more than the number of those who died while in custody at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -combined.


In addition to the tragedy gripping the families of these victims, this report sends an unmistakable signal to the immigrant rights community: the dehumanization of immigrants has reached deadly institutional levels. Such high levels of death among detained migrants prove that the Stop the raids slogans and calls for reform are of limited value.

Some of us need to raise the ante beyond the important but ultimately reformist calls to improve conditions in the jails; Some of us need to call for Congress to shut down the factory of death and dehumanization: the ICE. This latest proof of the damage wrought by the exponential growth of official and extra-official dehumanization of migrants joins the destruction already wrought by the most militarized branch of the federal government besides the Pentagon, ICE: thousands of raids, militarization of immigration policy, hyper-profits wrought by its military-prison industrial subcontractors, thousands of DEAD in the desert (many more than the 1000 conservative estimate reported in the article).

Thousands of dead.

Thousands of dead.

Yes, I said thousands of dead.

The Pentagon Comes to Cinco de Mayo

Those of us old enough to remember might recall those halcyon days when celebrating Cinco de Mayo meant many things: closing off a street in what was then known as a “barrio”, listening to sometimes inspired and sometimes less-than-inspired music of long-sideburned Santana wannabees from the local garage bands and eating food infused with the love of the local. And we sort of listened to the bandana’d radical Chicana organizer urging us to become part of the global liberation struggle commemorated on May 5th, when badly-equipped, but inspired Mexican guerrillas defeated the forces of Napoleon III’s French Empire in the 19th century.

Others may recall how, in the 80’s and 90’s, the long lost Decades of the “Hispanic”, many turned local street fairs across the Southwest into the larger, corporate-sponsored, alcohol-drenched festivals whose ghost we can still see today. The proud proclamations of culture and political struggle previously embodied by “Viva el Cinco de Mayo” gave way to the “Hispanic pride” contained in slogans like Budweiser’s “Viva la ReBudlucion!” or Absolut Vodka’s more recent racist -and ultimately failed-attempt to cash in on culture with its ad equating drinking vodka with a fictitious Mexican desire to re-conquer (the dreaded specter of “reconquista” promoted by anti-Latino groups and some media outlets) the Southwest.

Looking back on those days now, it’s clear how Latino children and adults going to Cinco de Mayo celebrations became a “mission critical market” in the clash of corporate empires that define a major part of our lives today. But, as a visit to most of the recent Cinco de Mayo and other Latino-themed celebrations makes clear, Latino events now move to the beat of a new power, that of the U.S. Pentagon.

Nationwide Rallies Highlight Failure of War on Immigrants

The battle for immigrant rights rages daily in the heart, mind and lanky 10 year-old frame of Chelsea resident and May Day marcher, Norma Canela. Norma's mother Olivia illegally crossed the borders of Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S. almost eleven years ago from Honduras. Born shortly after her mom came to the U.S., Norma says attending one of the over 200 May Day marches for immigrant rights made her feel "good, like we could help people get their papers!"

Chanting, singing and marching alongside so many others in the Chelsea march, also provided the energetic 4th grader a counterbalance to the crush of loneliness ("I feel like nobody wants to help us"), fear (I'm scared they might take my mom") and isolation ("Sometimes I feel alone"). If, it achieved nothing else, march organizers say, the May Day mobilizations gave Norma, Olivia and the 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families living in United States a dose of hope in the face of an escalating war on the undocumented.

Yelling "Alto a las redadas! Alto a las deportaciones!" (Stop the Raids! Stop the Deportations!) the tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marching throughout the country on May Day believe they took crucial steps for a movement trying to defend families like Norma's from a multibillion dollar war being waged on immigrants. On May Day they hoped they helped align the movement's agenda, animate its base and flex its power.

Relieved, yet still animated after organizing the largest (30,000 +) of the hundreds of May Day marches in towns and cities throughout the country, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin, a low-wage and immigrant workers center, said that the day's primary objective had been accomplished. "Almost all immigrant rights groups are now on same page as far as opposing measures that criminalize immigrants and demanding legalization in the first 100 days of the next [President's] administration" said Ortiz adding "I think across the board most groups are calling on Bush Administration put an immediate end to raids and deportation."

Prior to today's marches, the fissures and differences around strategy for immigration reform had split the movement. Some groups supported 'tradeoffs' -- legalization for even heavier enforcement -- like those contained in the now defunct McCain-Kennedy bill while other groups didn't. May Day march organizers also found themselves on the defensive against what Ortiz calls " a kind of low-intensity conflict" unleashed on immigrants shortly after the historic May Day marches of 2006: thousands of raids on homes and workplaces conducted by heavily-armed immigration agents, deployment of 6,000 national guard troops to the border, billions of dollars in government contracts to military-industrial companies like Halliburton, Blackwater and Boeing to build the infrastructure to surveill, trail and jail immigrants.

Against the backdrop of the intense escalation of attacks and the fear these attacks engendered after 2006, Ortiz and other organizers like Gladys Vega of the Chelsea Collaborative believe they also succeeded in injecting some "animo" into their movement. "On a daily basis, we have to deal with community members terrorized by raids, facing increased problems in the workplace because of the tighter (employment) regulations" said Vega adding "Here in Chelsea, a city that is 63% immigrant, 350, mostly Latino families had their houses foreclosed on and we can't just sit by and watch."

In response to what she considers the very predictable mainstream media stories focused on the decreased size of the May Day marches, Vega said, "When your community and you have to do so much and when there is so much repression against immigrants and their faamilies, the real story is how so many people overcame their fear and marched in 200 cities."

Now Ortiz is ready to pull out a defensive posture and launch an offensive. "Marching is one critical piece but not the only one" said Ortiz. "Most of us are also involved in the massive push for voter registration, citizenship drives and getting people to vote. May Day was also about sending a message to the Republicans and Democrats, about holding their feet to the fire."

Norma and Olivia can't cast a vote this election season. One is too young, the other doesn't have the papers. But they are still involved in the electoral process. How? "I talk to our family and friends who can vote; I make phone calls, distribute flyers, attend events anything I can do I do it" said Olivia. For her part, future voter Norma, who sometimes joins her mother's electoral activities, offers up some immigrant rights strategy of her own, "We're going to march until they (the government/immigration authorities) get bored. Then we can all be safe."

Still They March

The battle for immigrant rights rages daily in the heart, mind and lanky 10 year-old frame of Chelsea resident and May Day marcher, Norma Canela. Norma's mother Olivia illegally crossed the borders of Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S. almost eleven years ago from Honduras. Born shortly after her mom came to the U.S., Norma says attending one of the over 200 May Day marches for immigrant rights made her feel "good, like we could help people get their papers!"

Chanting, singing and marching alongside so many others in the Chelsea march, also provided the energetic 4th grader a counterbalance to the crush of loneliness ("I feel like nobody wants to help us"), fear (I'm scared they might take my mom") and isolation ("Sometimes I feel alone"). If, it achieved nothing else, march organizers say, the May Day mobilizations gave Norma, Olivia and the 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families living in United States a dose of hope in the face of an escalating war on the undocumented.

Yelling "Alto a las redadas! Alto a las deportaciones!"(Stop the Raids! Stop the Deportations!) the tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marching throughout the country on May Day believe they took crucial steps for a movement trying to defend families like Norma's from a multibillion dollar war being waged on immigrants. On May Day they hoped they helped align the movement's agenda, animate its base and flex its power.

Relieved, yet still animated after organizing the largest (30,000 +) of the hundreds of May Day marches in towns and cities throughout the country, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin, a low-wage and immigrant workers center, said that the day's primary objective had been accomplished. "Almost all immigrant rights groups are now on same page as far as opposing measures that criminalize immigrants and demanding legalization in the first 100 days of the next [President's] administration" said Ortiz adding "I think across the board most groups are calling on Bush Administration put an immediate end to raids and deportation."

Prior to today's marches, the fissures and differences around strategy for immigration reform had split the movement. Some groups supported 'tradeoffs' -legalization for even heavier enforcement- like those contained in the now defunct McCain-Kennedy bill while other groups didn't. May Day march organizers also found themselves on the defensive against what Ortiz calls " a kind of low-intensity conflict" unleashed on immigrants shortly after the historic May Day marches of 2006: thousands of raids on homes and workplaces conducted by heavily-armed immigration agents, deployment of 6,000 national guard troops to the border, billions of dollars in government contracts to military-industrial companies like Halliburton, Blackwater and Boeing to build the infrastructure to surveill, trail and jail immigrants.

5 Reasons to Participate in the Immigrant Rights Marches on May 1st


As the Mayday marches approach, I hear the pattering of well-meaning, but worried hearts. Some have told me that they are worried that Mayday may become low-turnout day. Though normal and to be expected, especially in a climate so toxic with state and corporate media-sponsored hopelessness, such fears need to be recognized and dealt with, for such personal, internal negotiations in times of global crisis are the stuff that the best political dreams are made of.



So, as we ponder whether to move our bodies to march in an age when politics and, especially, “progressive” politics, have given way to the important, but largely disembodied politics of the web, here are a few things to consider:

Immigrant Crackdowns Are Building the National Security State

"He [King George] has erected a multitude of new offices and set hither swarms of officers to harass out people and eat out their subsistence." The Declaration of Independence, 1776

Building Up the Domestic Security Apparatus

Most explanations of the relentless pursuit of undocumented immigrants since 9/11 view it as a response to the continuing pressures of angry, mostly white, citizens. The "anti-immigrant climate" created by civic groups like the Minutemen, politicos like (name the Republican candidate of your choice) and media personalities like CNN's Lou Dobbs, we are told, has led directly to the massive -- and growing -- government bureaucracy for policing immigrants.

The Washington Post, for example, told us in 2006 that "The Minutemen rose to prominence last year when they began organizing armed citizen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move credited with helping to ignite the debate that has dominated Washington in recent months." Along the way to allegedly responding to "grassroots" calls about "real immigration reform" and "doing something about illegals," the Bush Administration dismantled the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and created the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, whose more than 15,000 employees and $5.6 billion budget make it the largest investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government after the FBI. In the process of restructuring, national security concerns regarding threats from external terrorist enemies got mixed in with domestic concerns about immigrant "invaders" denounced by a growing galaxy of anti-immigrant interests.

Implicit in daily media reports about "immigration reform" is the idea that bottom-up pressure led to the decision to dismantle the former INS and then place the immigration bureaucracy under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Citizen activism contributed significantly to the most massive, most important government restructuring since the end of World War II. Nor do press accounts mention Boeing and other aerospace and surveillance companies, which, for example, will benefit as government contractors to the federal Secure Border Initiative (SBI) that is scheduled to receive more than $2 billion in funding for fencing, electronic surveillance and other equipment required for the new physical and virtual fence being built at the border.

Nowhere in the more popular explanations of this historic and massive government restructuring of immigration and other government functions do the raisons d'etat -- the reasons of the state, the logic of government -- enter the picture. When talking about immigration reform, what little, if any, agency ascribed to the Bush Administration usually includes such mantra-like phrases like "protecting the homeland," "securing the border," and others. And even in the immigrant rights community few, for example, are asking why the Bush Administration decided to move the citizenship processing and immigration enforcement functions of government from the more domestic, policing-oriented Department of Justice (DOJ) to the more militarized, anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security.

Little, if any, consideration is given to the possibility that immigrants and immigration policy serve other interests that have nothing to do with chasing down maids, poultry workers, and landscapers.

Failure to consider the reasons of state behind the buildup leading to the birth of the ICE, the most militarized branch of the federal government after the Pentagon, leaves the analysis of, and political action around, immigration reform partial at best. While important, focusing on the electoral workings of the white voter excludes a fundamental part of the immigration bureaucracy equation: how immigrants provide the rationale for the expansion of government policing bureaucracy in times of political crisis, economic distress, and major geopolitical shifts. Shortly after the attacks and the creation of DHS, the Bush Administration used immigrants and fear of outsiders to tighten border restrictions, pass repressive laws and increase budgets to put more drones, weapons and troops inside the country.

Government actions since 9/11 point clearly to how the U.S. government has set up a new Pentagon-like bureaucracy to fight a new kind of protracted domestic war against a new kind of domestic enemy -- undocumented immigrants. While willing to believe that there were ulterior motives behind the Iraq war and the pursuit of al Qaeda, few consider that there are non-immigration-related motives behind ICE's al Qaeda-ization of immigrants and immigration policy: multi-billion dollar contracts to military-industrial companies like Boeing, General Electric and Halliburton for "virtual" border walls, migrant detention centers, drones, ground-based sensors, and other surveillance technology for use in the Arizona desert that were originally designed for war zones like the deserts of Iraq; the de-facto militarization of immigration policy through the deployment of 6,000 additional National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border; hundreds of raids in neighborhoods and workplaces across the country; the passage of hundreds of punitive, anti-migrant state and federal laws like the Military Commissions Act, which denies the habeas corpus rights of even legal residents who are suspected of providing "material support" to terrorist groups.

In the same way that private companies like the Pinkerton Detective Agency provided highly profitable policing, surveillance, and other government services targeting immigrants and citizens in the 20th century, companies like Halliburton, Blackwater, the Corrections Corporation of America, Boeing, and others are reaping profits by helping build the government's immigrant policing bureaucracy today.

Contrary to the electoral logic prevailing in "pro-immigrant" and mainstream media explanations of the current buildup of the (anti)immigrant government bureaucracy, ICE's war on immigrants is not solely, nor even primarily about shoring up support for the Republicans and other prowar political and economic interests as most analysts and activists would have us believe. A look at precedents for this kind of government anti-immigrant action yields the conclusion that using immigrants to build up government policing and military capabilities is, in fact, a standard practice of the art of statecraft. The historical record provides ample evidence of how national security experts, politicians, elected officials, bureaucrats and other managers of the state have used immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies as a way of normalizing and advancing militarization within the borders of the United States (the "homeland").

At a time when the mortgage and banking crises make obvious that the American Dream is dying for most, a time in which even its illusion is hardly tenable as revealed in polls that found that less than 18 percent of the U.S. population believes it is living the "American Dream," the state needs many reasons to reassert control over an increasingly unruly populace by putting more ICE agents and other gun-wielding government agents among the citizenry.

Focusing on non-citizens makes it easier for citizens to swallow the increased domestic militarism inherent in increasing numbers of uniformed men and women with guns in their midst. Constant reports of raids on the homes of the undocumented immigrants normalize the idea of government intrusion into the homes of legal residents. Political scientists, investigative journalists, and activists have long reminded us of how elites are constantly concerned with creating the structures that may be needed to control a potentially unruly population, especially one protesting for its rights like the millions of immigrants who marched in 2006.

History and present experience remind us that, in times of heightened (and often exaggerated) fears about national security, immigration and immigrants are no longer just wedge issues in electoral politics; they magically morph into "dangerous" others who fill the need for new, domestic enemies required by an economy, a political system, a citizenry, a country created, nurtured and dependent on civilizational warfare and expansionism. Historians write about the geopolitical contours of the U.S. empire that began with the stealing of Mexican land. But little to no attention is paid to how, today, the domestic contours of empire -- and the infrastructure that supports it -- are also being reinforced by targeting Mexicans and other immigrants actually living inside this now very troubled land.

The ICE's media and policy framing of the issue of immigration as a kind of "war" complete with "most wanted" lists of terrorists, drug traffickers, and immigrants like Elvira Arellano, the undocumented immigrant leader deported after seeking and gaining sanctuary in a Chicago church, follows clearly the directives outlined in a couple of critical documents developed just after 9/11.

A Key Moment After 9/11

In order to understand how and why ICE now constitutes an important part of the ascendant national security bureaucracy, we must first look at the intimate relationship between National Security policy and "Homeland Security" policy. One of the defining aspects of immigration policy and the current attacks on immigrants is the fact that they are being shaped by elite priorities of the post-9/11 climate.

Shortly after 9/11, the Bush Administration had, in July 2002, introduced its "National Strategy for Homeland Security," a document that outlines how to "mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks." Two months later, the Bush Administration released the more geopolitically focused "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," whose purpose is to "help make the world not just safer but better." 9/11 provided the impetus to create a bureaucratic and policy environment dominated by security imperatives laid out in two of the most definitive documents of our time, documents which outline strategies that, we are told, "together take precedence over all other national strategies, programs, and plans," including immigration policy. Immigration policy nonetheless receives considerable attention, especially in the Homeland Security Strategy. The role of the private sector is also made explicit on the DHS website, which says, "The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for assessing the nation's vulnerabilities" and that "the private sector is central to this task."

By placing other government functions under the purview of the national security imperatives laid out in the two documents, the Bush Administration enabled and deepened the militarization of government bureaucracies like the ICE. At the same time, immigrants provided the Bush Administration a way to facilitate the transference of public wealth to military industrial interests like those of Halliburton, Boeing and others through government contracts in a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism.

For example the two documents called for DHS to "Establish a national laboratory for homeland security" that solicits "independent and private analysis for science." This materialized through the budget of ICE, which has resources for research and development of technologies for surveilling, capturing, detaining, and generally combating what politicos and Minutemen alike paint as the Malthusian monster of immigration. Again, immigrants help the state justify massive expenditures like those for the creation and maintenance of ICE, which, in turn, have led to a major reconfiguration and expansion of the state itself.

Perennial complaints of the former INS's infamous inefficiency in both its border enforcement and citizenship processing functions, and the 9/11 catastrophe, combined to create the perfect political storm that swept in another historic bureaucratic shift. Hidden behind what some call the "anti-immigrant hysteria" characterizing periods like ours are the political crises, economic earthquakes and geopolitical crises that drive history.

The Lessons of History

History provides several precedents that illustrate how immigrants have consistently provided elite political and corporate interests the rationale for major government restructuring that often has little to do with migration and much to do with other things, like: bureaucratic patronage (think big government contracts for military industrial firms); deploying and displaying power; controlling the populace and rallying different sectors of society round the idea of the nation (nationalism).

Long before the Patriot Act, DHS and ICE, policies linking immigrants to the security of the country have formed an important part of U.S. statecraft. The period before and after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which gave then-president John Adams the authority to remove any immigrant he deemed a threat to national security, is one example. During this time, the Bush-like enumeration of "Seditious Acts" was linked to the elite need to control the populace, and militarize the society in times of profound instability. Another example is the period of the Red Scare of 1919, when millions of mostly-immigrant-led strikers provided the political impetus leading to the creation of the domestic policing bureaucracy known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). History has shown that, in times of extraordinary instability, governments go to extraordinary lengths and spend extraordinary amounts of money to create and reinforce the ramparts of their policing apparatus and of nationhood itself. Current efforts by the U.S. government to instrumentalize immigrants as a means of buttressing itself in times of domestic and geopolitical crisis follows a logic tried and true since the establishment of the country amidst the global and internal turbulence around the turn of the 18th century.

Immigrants and the Establishment of the National Security State

Like many of the newly established countries suffering some of the political and economic shocks of economic and political modernization in the late eighteenth century, the fledgling United States and its leaders needed to simultaneously consolidate the nation state established constitutionally in 1787 while also maneuvering for a position on a global map dominated by the warring powers of France and England. Central to accomplishing this were immigrants who provided both a means of rallying and aligning segments of the populace while also legitimating massive expenditures towards the construction of the militarized bureaucracies meant to defend against domestic threats to "national" security which linked external enemies real and perceived.

At the turn of the 18th century, the United States was much weaker than and still very vulnerable to the power of Britain and France, which were engaged in a war that defined political positions inside and outside the new country. Like many of their elite and more imperially inclined Federalist peers, Alexander Hamilton and President John Adams were fearful of the French revolution. Developments in the revolutionary republic pushed people and states around the Atlantic world to take positions for and against the revolution at that time. In addition, some Federalists like Hamilton also wanted to push out the French and conquer Florida, Louisiana, and South America.

Immigrants and immigration policy of the post-revolutionary period became ensnared in the battle for power between Federalists, who advocated a more urban and mercantile route to nationhood, and the anti-Federalist Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson, whose romantic proto-capitalist path to consolidation of the nation was paved by agrarian expansion. The battles between the Federalists and anti-Federalists played themselves out in relation to France and the ideals of the French revolution, as elites tried to cope with the instability wrought by capitalist expansion on the rural majority.

The political, economic and geopolitical crises inherent in the modernization process had a profound impact on how elites and the state viewed the large immigrant population in the United States. In response to the devastating effects of economic transformation, thousands of French, German, Irish and other immigrants led uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay's Rebellion, which were viewed as threats by elites, especially the Federalists.

In the face of both popular unrest and Republican competition for political power, and in their efforts to consolidate the state and the globally oriented mercantile and pre-industrial capitalist economy, Hamilton and then-President Adams did what has, since their time, become a standard operating procedure in the art of U.S. statecraft: build the state and insert its control apparatus in the larger populace by scapegoating immigrants as threats to national security.

In the words of historian John Morton Smith, "The internal security program adopted by the Federalists during the Administration of John Adams was designed not only to deal with potential dangers from foreign invasion growing out of the "Half War" with France, but also to repress domestic political opposition." In this context, immigrants became the domestic expression of the threat represented by the French Jacobins, the proto-communist and al Qaeda-like subversive threat of the early nineteenth century. Commenting on this threat, Samuel Sitgreaves, a Federalist Congressman from Pennsylvania, made the connection between internal immigrant threats and external big power threats when he said in May 1798 " ... the business of defence would be very imperfectly done, if Congress confined their operations of defence to land and naval forces, and neglected to destroy the cankerworm which is corroding the heart of the country ... there are a great number of aliens in this country from that nation [France] with whom we have at present alarming differences ... there are emissaries amongst us, who have not only fomented our differences with that country, but who have also endeavored to create divisions amongst our own citizens."

Also considered a threat were the free and unfree blacks who elites feared might form a "domestic army of ten thousand blacks." Other fears of subversion by domestic interests linked to external enemies were stoked by rampant rumors of a French-influenced "Illuminati" conspiracy, an "internal invasion" to create a godless, global "new world order" allegedly led by emigrants from France and St. Domingue. The modern use of the word "terror" first enters the language when Sir Edmund Burke gazed across the English Channel and applied it to the actions of the Jacobin state in France.

Burke's conservative American cousins then adopted the term and applied it to French-influenced immigrants and others considered subversive. Such a climate aided Federalists in their efforts to centralize and consolidate both power and nationhood. Hamilton and then-President John Adams undertook several legal and other institutional initiatives designed to enhance their and the state's power while also putting their Republican critics and other opposition in check. Laws facilitating press censorship were coupled with calls to unify the nation in preparation for war with France. After Hamilton and the Federalists raised taxes to pay for their expansionist expenditures to consolidate their version of the new country, a group of people who refused to pay taxes unleashed Fries' Rebellion. In response, Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists seized on the unrest to unleash heretofore unrealized state powers and nation-reinforcing state bureaucracy.

At the core of the moves was the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts proposed by Adams and passed in 1798. The law targeted the immigrant threat by making it easier to put them in jail for subverting the government.

At the same time that they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists also implemented the first major reorganization of government bureaucracy. Central to this reorganization was the establishment of the Department of the Navy, a revived U.S. Marine Corps and a "New Army" in the 1798. In the same session in which it passed the Alien and Sedition acts, the Federalist-dominated fifth congress passed in its first session a bill authorizing $454,000 on defense, which, at that time represented a large expenditure. During its second session it authorized $3,887,971.81, an amount equal to "more than the entire 1st congress had appropriated for all government expenditures". During its third session it authorized $6 million for a total of over $10 million. The end result of the anti-immigrant expenditures Federalists created what some call the first national security state.

Immigrants, the Red Scare, and the Birth of the FBI Bureaucracy

A similar situation in which a crisis sparking immigrant activism led to a major build-up of the government policing apparatus took place during the Red Scare of 1919. The U.S. government faced several economic and political pressures including the end of World War I, the demobilization of the Army, returning troops, joblessness, depression, unemployment and growing inflation.

The precarious situation gave rise to increased elite fear of Jewish, Italian and other immigrant workers in the era of the Bolshevik revolution and an increasingly powerful -- and militant -- labor movement. Socialists, Wobblies, and other activists like Emma Goldman, who were against the war and demonstrated high levels of labor militancy, staged historic labor actions in 1919. That year saw 3,600 labor strikes involving four million workers, many of whom were led by and were immigrants. Government and big business had to watch as a full one-fifth of the manufacturing workforce staged actions. Massive organizing by Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association and race riots in northern cities further stoked elite fears and gave birth to the institutional response to what became known as the Red Scare.

Like other national governments of the period, the United States had begun intensifying the centralization of functions formerly carried out by the private sector, including keeping labor and other dissidents in check. In the words of Regin Schmidt, author of The FBI and the Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States, "In response to social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration and the potential political threats to the existing order posed by the Socialist Party, the IWW and, in 1919, the Communist parties, industrial and political leaders began to look to the federal government, with its growing and powerful bureaucratic organizations to monitor and control political opposition." Major expansion of the state via the building of new bureaucracies (Bureau of Corporations, Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission, etc.) and bureaucratic infighting for government resources and legal jurisdiction between the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor of the FBI, the Department of Labor and other agencies turned the largely immigrant-led unrest into an unprecedented opportunity for A. Mitchell Palmer and his lieutenant, J. Edgar Hoover. Both men saw in the domestic crisis an opportunity to build and expand personal fortunes and what would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI historian John A. Noakes concluded that "The domestic unrest during this period presented the Bureau of Investigation the opportunity to expand its domain and increase its power."

Illustrating the budgetary effects of the Bureau's power grab, he continues, "Following the armistice, but before the Bureau's decision to join the Red Scare hysteria, the Bureau had requested an appropriation of $1,500,000. When the Department of Justice declared the nation in imminent danger of a radical uprising, however, Congress immediately increased the appropriation by $500,000; by the end of the fiscal year the Bureau had a budget of $2,750,000."

Thousands of immigrants were surveilled, rounded up, and deported during the Red Scare. Just five years after the Scare, Hoover went on to found the FBI and became the most powerful non-elected official in U.S. history. In what sounds like a precursor to the current ICE raids, local police and federal agents collaborated around immigration. FBI historian Kenneth D. Ackerman states, "Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons." Close to none of these immigrant prisoners had anything to do with radical violence. And, according to Ackerman, "Palmer's grand crackdown was one big exercise in guilt by association, based primarily on bogus fears of immigrants being connected to vilified radical groups such as the recently formed American Communist Party." Drawing parallels between the Red Scare and the current "War on Terror," Ackerman concludes, "Almost 90 years later, today's war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare."

Conclusion

As shown in the examples from U.S. history, immigrants provide the state with ample excuse to expand, especially in times of geopolitical and domestic crisis. During the post-revolutionary period, the pursuit of alleged immigrant subversives led to the massive funding of the Department of the Navy and to the expansion of state power through laws like the Alien and Seditions Acts. Similarly, the crisis following the end of World War I led to the creation of the FBI and to unprecedented government repression and expansion embodied by the Palmer Raids. "In eliminating the Wobblies, government officials passed legislation, evolved techniques, and learned lessons that shaped later course of conduct." Viewed from a historical perspective, it is no surprise that the government should respond to the geopolitical and domestic crisis in the United States with expanded government power and bureaucracy. Rather than view the placement of ICE under DHS as solely about controlling immigrant labor or about political (and electoral) opportunism disguised as government policy (both are, in fact, part of the equation), it is important to connect the creation of ICE and its placement under DHS to the perpetual drive of government to expand its powers, especially its repressive apparatus and other mechanisms of social control.

From this perspective, the current framing of the issue of immigration as a "national security" concern -- one requiring the bureaucratic shift towards "Homeland Security" -- fits well within historical practices that extend government power to control not just immigrants, but those born here, most of whom don't see immigration policy affecting them.

One of the things that makes the current politico-bureaucratic moment different, however, is the fluidity and increasing precariousness of the state itself. Like other nation states, the United States suffers from strains wrought by the free hand of global corporations that have abandoned large segments of its workforce. Such a situation necessitates the institutionalization of the war on immigrants in order to get as many armed government agents into a society that may be teetering on even more serious collapse as seen in the recession and economic crisis devastating core components of the American Dream such as education, health care and home ownership. Unlike the previous periods, the creation of massive bureaucracies superseded the need to surveil, arrest and deport migrants. Today, there appears to be a move to make permanent the capacity of the state to pursue, jail and deport migrants in order to sustain what some call a kind of migration-military-industrial complex.

Several indicators make clear that we are well on our way to making the war on immigrants a permanent feature of a government in crisis. In addition to being the largest, most-militarized component of DHS, ICE, spends more than one fifth of the multibillion dollar DHS budget and is also its largest investigative arm. As mentioned previously, multibillion dollar contracts for border security from DHS have become an important new market to aerospace companies like General Electric, Lockheed and Boeing, which secured a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Borders Initiative, a DHS program to build surveillance and other technological capabilities. That some saw in 9/11 an opportunity to expand and grow government technological capabilities -- and private sector patronage -- through such contracts, can be seen in the fact that DHS was created with what the national security documents say is a priority to "Establish a national laboratory for homeland security" that would "solicit independent and private analysis for science and technology research."

Like its predecessor, the "military-industrial complex", the migrant-military industrial complex tries to integrate federal and state economic interests through a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism in which increasing numbers of companies are bidding for, and dependent on, big contracts like the Boeing contract or the $385 million DHS contract for the construction of immigrant prisons. Also like its military-industrial cousin, the migrant military industrial complex has its own web of relationships between corporations, government contracts and elected officials. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in the case of James Sensenbrenner, the anti-immigrant godfather who sponsored HR 4437 which criminalized immigrants and those who would help them. According to his 2005 financial disclosure statement, Sensenbrenner held $86,500 in Halliburton stocks, $563,536 in General Electric and Boeing is among the top contributors to the Congressman's PAC (Sensenbrenner also owns stocks in companies like Olive Garden restaurants, which hire undocumented workers.)

In conclusion, the current war on immigrants is grounded in the history of statecraft and big government bureaucracy. While critical, the almost exclusive focus of the immigrant rights movement on the laws and employment of workers fails to take into consideration the need for a war on immigrants to build and maintain massive policing bureaucracies like ICE and DHS. In their search for solutions to the continuing crisis of immigration policy, activists might consider focusing at least some energy on the reasons of the federal state rather than solely on state legislatures, white voters, elections and the immigrants.

Who Will Take the Fall for the CIA Torture Tape Scandal?

As he concluded a closed-door congressional hearing into the CIA torture tape scandal, Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, on Wednesday opened the country to a historic possibility: that the fate of the investigation into the destruction of the tapes will be decided by Latino government officials. Current and former Latino officials may even determine whether the investigation reaches the White House.

Reyes, the powerful chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is charged with overseeing an investigation into the latest controversy. Reyes' fellow Tejano, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was one of four Bush administration officials briefed on the tapes before they were destroyed, may be asked to testify in the investigation. And at the heart of the whole affair is Jose Rodriguez, the Puerto Rican native who was the CIA's former director of clandestine operations. According to the CIA officials, Rodriguez ordered the destruction of the interrogation tapes in 2005.

Rodriguez was subpoenaed to appear before a closed-door hearing of Reyes' intelligence committee on Jan. 16. But after Rodriguez's lawyer informed Reyes and the committee that his client would not testify without a grant of immunity, the congressman decided to postpone the former CIA official's appearance. Some observers believe the postponement signals a willingness on the part of Reyes to negotiate some kind of immunity deal with Rodriguez.

Developments in the case represent a new, more diverse chapter in the history of national security scandals. How these current and former Latino officials proceed -- especially Reyes and Rodriguez -- may well determine whether the investigation reaches as far as the Bush administration. President George W. Bush said last December that he could not recall hearing about the 2005 destruction of the tapes prior to a Dec. 6 briefing by CIA Director Michael Hayden, despite recent revelations that Gonzales was among the four White House lawyers debating between 2003 and 2005 whether to destroy the now infamous tapes. Some experts speculate that Rodriguez's testimony could lead to a wider investigation and that he is trying to avoid becoming a fall guy for the Bush administration.

"If everybody was against the decision, why in the world would Jose Rodriguez -- one of the most cautious men I have ever met -- have gone ahead and destroyed them?" said Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former head of counterterrorism during an interview with the Times of London. Cannistraro's sentiments were echoed by Larry Johnson, another former CIA official interviewed by the Times last month. "It looks increasingly as though the decision was made by the White House," said Johnson, who pointed to a likely expansion of the investigation by an eventual Rodriguez testimony. "The CIA and Jose Rodriguez look bad, but he's probably the least culpable person in the process," said Johnson. "He didn't wake up one day and decide, 'I'm going to destroy these tapes.' He checked with a lot of people and eventually he is going to get his say."

Whether or not Rodriguez does, in fact, get his say depends on his fellow Latino government official, Reyes. Unlike Gonzales, whose rise from poverty in Humble, Texas, to the heights of power and controversy became front-page news following his involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal, Reyes is a much lesser-known Tejano. Called "Silver" by his friends and close associates, Reyes, a very conservative, pro-Pentagon Democrat and Vietnam war veteran from El Paso, rose to the top of the congressional intelligence chain after a 26½-year stint with the Border Patrol.

As the head of the congressional committee responsible for oversight of the CIA and 15 other agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community, Reyes will play a definitive role in determining the breadth and scope of the tape controversy investigation. Derided by Fox News commentator John Gibson and other conservative pundits for being "unqualified" for the position, Reyes' past statements about Rodriguez may raise questions about his ability to objectively manage the investigation. During a Border Security Conference organized by Reyes at the University of Texas at El Paso in August, he presented an award to Rodriguez, calling him "our good friend and American hero" and speaking glowingly of his claim to fame as the man who inspired the role of Jack Bauer in 24. Rodriguez, he said, was "the genesis -- with a few liberties that Hollywood takes -- the exploits of Jose Rodriguez are documented in the series 24." Rodriguez, he added, "admitted to me that he likes fast cars. I won't tell you about the women, but I will tell you about the fast cars. He is a connoisseur of fine wine."

Before becoming the CIA's director of the National Clandestine Service, Rodriguez was a career CIA operative who worked primarily in Latin America for more than 30 years. His role in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s appear to have prepared him to adopt the current legal posture he's taking before Congress today. When the FBI called Rodriguez in for questioning about his involvement, he was told that Iran-contra was "political -- get your own lawyer." After surviving that affair, he went on to become the agency's chief of Latin America Division before moving on to become, in 2004, director of the National Clandestine Service, the job that embroiled him in the torture tape controversy. His path to the position, Rodriguez says, was paved by both his Latino identity and his experience in Latin America.

"When I took over the National Clandestine Service in November of 2004," said Rodriguez during a speech at the El Paso conference, "I did not realize that my experience, my background, my ethnicity, my diversity would be so important in allowing me to successfully lead service." Appearing to reinforce the position put out by Rodriguez and the CIA -- that he decided to leave the clandestine service because of his interest in what CIA chief Hayden called "speaking publicly on key intelligence issues" like "diversity as an operational imperative" -- Rodriguez's speech focused primarily on the link between ethnicity and national security.

In a speech that sounded like a mix between a counterterrorism lecture and a sermon about affirmative action, he spoke to the racial discrimination that many Latinos and others experience in professional settings. "Our government was not going to put someone in charge of the nation's clandestine, counterterrorism, Humint (Humanintelligence) operations against Al-Qaeda merely to satisfy a 'diversity' requirement. I was put in charge because I brought something unique to the mission." And, as if putting a positive spin on the CIA's controversial role in Iran-Contra, the Central American wars of the 1980s, the bloody drug war in Colombia and other operations, Rodriguez credited his experience in "counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations in Latin America." This experience, he said, also "provided some of the methodology that was adapted to fighting terrorism." He concluded his brief speech with a slogan popularized by Chicano civil rights activist Cesar Chavez (and, more recently by candidates Clinton and Obama), as he called his CIA experience a "source of inspiration to many minorities who now understand that 'si se puede, si se puede'" (yes we can, yes we can).

Whether or not the tape scandal investigation reaches the White House, the involvement of high-profile Latinos in the controversy has already attracted considerable attention, especially among Latinos. For Antonio Gonzales, the executive director of the William Velasquez Institute, a Los Angeles-based think tank, Latino involvement with the CIA has a long history. "The CIA has always used our community," says Gonzalez, who added, "Many Cubans have always done CIA dirty work in Latin America and the entire world. Oliver North's Iran-Contra assets were Latinos." Asked about Reyes' ability to bring vigorous oversight to the investigation, Gonzales said, "Reyes is a heretofore unknown quantity. He's pretty [politically] moderate but is not considered corrupt or unprincipled. This investigation will be a big test of his abilities. I hope he does the right thing."

Obama in a New Era of Race Politics

As news broke of Barack Obama's victory in Iowa, one of the country's whitest states, political pundits of all stripes quickly told us that we were witnessing a historic shift: the end of race and racism as campaign issues. Even CNN's dour conservative political analyst Bill Bennett waxed multiculti as he proclaimed that Obama "taught" African Americans that race wasn't an issue they needed inorder to succeed in politics. Though enthusiastic about the Obama victory, Bennett's more jocular colleague Jack Cafferty was not quite ready to intone a full-throated Kumbaya. But he did declare that the Illinois senator's win "gives him currency in a state where the color of his skin may be an issue."

NBC's Tom Brokaw credited the Mike Huckabee victory in the Republican caucus to "his defense against illegal immigration," an issue not viewed in racial terms by white voters. On all parts of the political and media spectrum, pundits and politicos are interpreting the Iowa results to mean that we inhabit a color-blind electoral system.

While watching a black man win the vote of an overwhelmingly white electorate is especially welcome in such racially-charged times as ours,
and while the victory of a poor (at least in terms of electoral cash) populist preacher over the preferred Republican candidates of corporate America is refreshing, we are hardly entering the age of race invisibility in politics.

Instead, Iowa points us towards the age of invisible race politics.

To his credit, Barack Obama has carefully cultivated an image as a "change" candidate who takes the higher ground, one that talks about race -- but not racism. Iowa confirms that, in doing so, he can make even the whitest electorate feel like it's voting to overcome the catastrophic legacy of racial discrimination, like the Oprah viewer that gives himself or herself a racial pat on the back for really, truly liking her show.

"[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness," political theorist Angela Davis told the Nation magazine recently, adding that "it's the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That's what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He's become the model of diversity in this period ... a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change."

It was interesting to watch Obama deliver the most memorable and moving caucus victory speech in memory, one that included King-like intonations and references to the activists who "marched through Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause" in the 1960s. Such inspired, impassioned pleas follow a campaign trail-tested rhetoric in which racism such as that surrounding the Jena Six case remains a largely unspoken part of Obama's speeches and policy platforms. He appears to be more comfortable getting choked up when speaking about the fight against the racist past than he does during those few times he talks about the racist present.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee also did his part to promote invisible race politics. The GOP underdog did so in no small part thanks to the issue of immigration, a very racial electoral wedge that many voters believe has nothing to do with race.

By focusing on "illegals," "illegal aliens" and other racial codes, Huckabee and other Republican candidates get to ride the juggernaut of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment gripping the country -- without appearing racist. Pundits have even taken to calling the immigration issue the "New Willie Horton," in reference to how, during the 1988 presidential race, a political advertisement deployed by George H.W. Bush against Democratic rival Michael Dukakis featured a black man convicted of murder who, after being furloughed. raped a woman. Many African Americans and others deemed the Horton ads a thinly veiled appeal to anti-black sentiment in the electorate.

Latino leaders and editorials in Spanish-language newspapers have denounced Huckabee for openly touting the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, one of the co-founders of the anti-immigrant Minutemen, an organization denounced as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others. In an election that will witness the largest Latino voter participation in history, how well the veil of legality hides the racial aspects embedded in the immigration issue may determine the fate of Republican candidates like Huckabee.

Regardless of the outcome of this year's election, the success of Barack Obama and the immigration politics of Mike Huckabee signal clearly that we are well on our way to a new era in race and politics. Obama's story and his echoes of King make us feel good about ourselves and God knows this country desperately needs that. The question we need to ask is: "Are we willing to push him to talk seriously about those echoes of the racial past in the present that he so skillfully avoids?" And as far as Republicans like Huckabee, we have to ask, "How long are we willing to accept their unskillful use of the racist appeals inherent in their rants about immigrants and immigration issues?" Failure to ask these and other questions will leave us vulnerable to the silent poison of invisible race politics.

The Latino Agenda for the 2008 Election



Karen Linares's face contorted as she stared at the thick, rusted pipe and the bottle of brown water before her. The reddish-brown props used by an environmental panelist speaking about water politics at the second annual National Latino Congreso reminded Linares of water she's seen in the numerous places she's called home.





"The LA river water running by my house is full of filth," said the 22-year-old Salvadoran-Chicana delegate to the five-day convergence of left-leaning Latinos held this past week in her hometown. "I saw the same brown water in El Salvador. In Tijuana you see the sewage trickling down the dirt roads," she said. Asked what, if any, connection existed between the water she saw in her neighborhood and the water in her parents' homelands, Linares answered, "Clear water runs upward where the money runs. Brown water runs down where poor brown people are."




Asked how to resolve the water problems of the more than 588 million Latinos in the hemisphere, Linares responded by drawing from the deep well of the two-pronged -- electoral and mass-based organizing--Latin American political culture now rooting itself in the United States: "I'm going to organize for the [California water bond] initiative. I also want to organize to help our people in the South."




Listening to Linares, one hears echoes of the global citizenship that is thundering with increasing frequency from Canada to Patagonia. Flowing into and through Latino and Latin American political gatherings like the Congreso is a new Latino agenda, one that transcends the more nation-state-based "ethnic" politics of a previous era. Among the many resolutions passed by Linares and 1,500 other delegates were measures relating to a range of local and hemispheric issues: opposition to the Iraq war -- the top concern for Latinos, according to polls; overturning Bush Administration travel restrictions to Cuba; opposition to the expansion of NAFTA or CAFTA; and support for several environmental initiatives.




Central to the new Latino agenda is the development of an electoral strategy to complement to the grassroots efforts for the 2008 presidential election, regarded by many to be the most important Latino vote in US history.




Congreso organizers like Antonio Gonzales, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, know that Democratic presidential candidates have won 248 or more electoral college votes in the last four presidential elections. He knows that this translates into Latinos wielding significant influence because most of them live in swing states.




If trends first seen in 2006 continue, he says, the Democrats can secure the 277 votes they need to win the presidency next year by simply winning Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, all sites of major Latino voting blocks. By simply adding Florida to the historic Democratic core, they get 275 votes.




To illustrate the new Latino politics, Gonzales points me back to what Linares and growing numbers of Latinos are calling "water justice." He cited Latino support last year for California's Proposition 86, a successful ballot initiative that increased funding for water and park projects.




"That proposition would not have passed without the 85 percent Latino support for it. They were decisive in its success," he told me. "This was also the first-ever environmental bond initiative that lost white votes."




Some of these same white voters were among the majority who supported Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative that sought to deny health and education services to the children of the undocumented and which also launched the movement that inspired current immigrant-rights activism.




Immigration has been and continues to be at the heart of Latino politics. Congreso co-convener Oscar Chacon, leader of the Chicago-based National Association of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, an immigrant-led network of more than eighty organizations, links local immigration to global trade -- only he views immigration through a much wider lens than that of the white voters who supported Proposition 187.




"NAFTA has been the main cause for more than 1.3 million Mexican campesinos to lose their livelihoods. Not surprisingly, the number of Mexicans who have emigrated to the United States rose 60 percent in the first six years after NAFTA," said Chacon, adding, "We can only resolve immigration issues by addressing the bigger question of what is forcing so many people to emigrate in the first place. The first step is to stop expanding the same agricultural rules of NAFTA to Peru and other Latin American nations."




Hemispheric concerns like Chacon's will enter US voting booths in the upcoming elections. Poll after poll indicate that Latino voters, especially the immigrant voters who now make up half of all Latino votes and who are the fastest-growing voter segment, harbor profound concerns about the increased workplace raids, racial profiling, lack of immigration reform and other signs of ill-treatment of immigrants. Though most polls tell us that, like most (North) Americans, Latinos' number-one political issue is the Iraq war, a Gallup poll conducted in July indicated that one-third of Latinos named immigration as their number-one issue.




Republican attacks on immigrants have helped galvanize the marching and voting army that may well realize the GOP's worse fears. Most of the attendees to the Congreso were among the millions chanting a time-honored Latin American slogan, Ahorra marchamos, manana votamos --Today we march, tomorrow we vote.

The Real Reason People Fear Evo Morales

"Why are you going to go listen to that idiot? That racist indio (Indian) can't even talk during interviews," snarled my blonde-haired, green eyed Cuban friend when I told him I'd be covering the visit of Bolivian President Evo Morales. He was clearly unhappy with the friendship between Morales and Fidel Castro. My friend was not alone.

Here in the North, the Bush administration regularly denies visas to indigenous, mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian), and even white members of Morales' cabinet. In the South, meanwhile, right-wing Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa recently published an article about Morales titled, "A New Racism Approaches the Region: Indians Against Whites."

"To put the Latin American problem in racial terms as do some demagogues is senseless and irresponsible," said Vargas Llosa.

Indian power ruffles feathers in the modern world.

The first time I saw Morales during his visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, he was suited up as a midfielder in a soccer match on the Lower East Side. Though impressed by some of what I'd heard about the very smart reform agenda of the first indigenous head of state in Bolivia -- a majority indigenous country -- in 500 years, the journalist in me in was skeptical about political theater, even if it took the form of soccer, the only sport I really like.

Yet, even from a distance, he looked very much at ease, undistracted from his game despite the blaring cacharpaya (traditional Andean music) or the throngs of Bolivianos screaming "Evo!" at his slightest pass or shot. I asked Mathilde Lazcano, a Bolivian psychologist and social worker who has met Morales and who worked among indigenous populations for more than 20 years, why people were so effusive about Evo. "For most of our lives, the indigenas, the poor of our country could not express ourselves. I'm here because he (and) his movement brought to life my work," she said, adding, "He's the real thing."

After the match, which his team won despite the presidente's missing a penalty kick, he was whisked by his soccer-uniformed security crew through the crowd. He stopped for a moment and stood right near me. I studied his lanky frame, his straight hair and aquiline nose. Most striking were his intense, but warm brown eyes. He looked like a more genial version of the Geronimo pictures I grew up with. He looked "integro" or "integral" as some of my most respected Salvadoran revolutionary friends called those personifying the highest political -- and personal -- ideals. But my biggest surprise was when I saw how tall he was. Most Bolivianos I grew up with were short mestizos like the Chavez brothers who played on a soccer team my not-so-PC brothers in San Francisco's Mission district named the "Conquistadores" or (Spanish) "Conquerors." Like them, it was easier for me to identify with the Spanish and nationalist side of the mestizo equation than with the indigenous side.

The 5-foot-10-inch Evo came, it seems, to turn over the tortilla of our consciousness about Indians, race and power -- and about ourselves.

When I saw him on stage during a speech he gave the next day at the historic Great Hall of the Cooper Union, he started looking even taller. He nervously began by telling us that he was honored to stand at a podium where the likes of honest Abe Lincoln (another lanky president) have stood. But unlike Lincoln, he located himself in relation to not just the "intellectual and professional" and "western" tradition of power but also to the 2,000-year-old collective political tradition of the Aymara people he descended from. "For 500 years," said Morales, "we have had patience."

"It's amazing how he's able to weave and connect so many issues while connecting them back to his base," said my friend, a highly respected former Latin American diplomat in the audience.

Evo Morales also said things Lincoln or any other U.S. president could or would never say, things like, "Capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity" or "We need to decolonize internally and externally." I've never heard a head of state, certainly not inside the United States, interrogate and point out the cultural similarities between both rightists and leftists of the "West."

Morales strikes a 180 degree difference from other indigenous South American heads of state. Peru's Alejandro Toledo, the Stanford-trained Ph.D. and former president, championed U.S. free trade agreements and drug enforcement policies rejected by Morales. Strongly supported by the U.S. State Department and Vargas Llosa, Toledo ranked among the least popular presidents in Latin America, with 23 percent approval in polls taken by the respected Mitofsky International last year. The same polls ranked Morales among the most popular by margins of 81 percent.

It's not just that he's indigenous, but that he communicates honesty and centeredness, even on TV as he did during his smash-hit (raucous audience applause sounded like the fans at the soccer field in the Lower East Side) appearance on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

By the time I met and spoke with him on the third and final day of my time tracking him, I, like the growing number of those nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize, believed him when he looked at you and said things like, "We do not have a vengeful mentality" or "We must build a culture of life"; and I also understood why my white Cuban friend, the U.S. State Department, Vargas Llosa and a slew of others criticize Morales with such intensity: fear.

They fear him not only because he is indigenous, not only because he is a leftist in the presidential palace with a massive base of support across the entire insurgent continent; they fear him because his public and private persona, his gentle charisma and ethical approach forces them -- and us -- to look at the long history of violence and hate buried in our individual and collective subconscious, our top-down notions of political -- and personal -- modernity. He forces us all to look at the inner Conquistador -- and the inner Indio.

We are ill-prepared to deal with someone who can say without blinking, "I think that indigenous people are the moral reserve of humanity."

Though he uses state bureaucracy and other instruments of modernity, he also wields them with an unprecedented difference. He has, for example, established in Bolivia something like a Department of "Decolonization" designed to help those wanting to deal with the ravages of modernity.

As he crisscrosses, like a skilled soccer player, New York City between TV studios, skyscrapers, freeways, the 9-11 memorial and other symbols of New York life, I hope he leaves the blueprint for such a department for us to study and apply here.

How Gonzales Destroyed the American Dream

Alberto Gonzales went down dreaming.

While announcing his resignation earlier this week, Alberto Gonzales deployed one of his most powerful and romantic rhetorical weapons. "I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world and that I have lived the American dream," he stated. "Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days."

More than any public official in recent memory, the often smiley and sometimes smirking Gonzales -- and his supporters -- consistently framed his story as a brown embodiment of the American dream.

His rise from "extremely poor" circumstances in his hometown of Humble, Tex. became the stuff of small-town mythmaking and tear-inspiring speeches in Washington corridors, especially on those occasions when he had to be confirmed -- or rebuked -- by Congress.

During Gonzales' nomination, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a fellow Texan, said, "The nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to serve as our nation's 80th attorney general -- and our first of Hispanic descent -- is the American dream come true."

Following the Tejano Horatio Alger script, many -- but not all -- of the leaders of the largest Latino organizations lent their credibility to the Gonzales dream story. Hector Flores, former national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) called Gonzales "the American dream personified." Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), said his was "a compelling American success story."

As we watch the Gonzales' compelling personal story wind down to a tragicomic resolution, it becomes clear that the meaning behind his smile and the moral of his story has nothing to do with whether or not he expanded the American dream (he didn't). It has everything to do with manipulating his story while he did the dirty work of defending powerful interests against the death of the dream.

Rather than look at his story through the looking glass of political and media spin, it is best to view the story from the vantage point of its authors: the rich and powerful.

Viewed from the optic of elite political and corporate interests, who know better than anyone of the death of the American dream (they are, after all, the ones who created and killed it), Alberto Gonzales did his job.

He may have left too much evidence of state-sanctioned torture and lying and malfeasance and corruption (he may also still be put on trial for perjury in the attorney firing scandal).

But he did what he was supposed to. More than anyone, he was responsible for securing the legal systems necessary to better control a citizenry that was increasingly angry and frustrated at big government and big business for destroying the American dream. his saga provides an object lesson in how to hide elite interests behind a dreamy haze of real-life ethnic success stories.

While many of us were debating whether or not the son of migrant workers was or wasn't the embodiment of the dream, he worked loyally -- as fiercely as his farm worker parents -- to lay the legal foundation to make it easier to snoop on, arrest, prosecute and jail a population growing less and less patient with the status quo.

In the time it took most of the country to admit that it no longer believed in the dream -- a July poll by veteran pollster Celinda Lake found that only 18 percent of people in the country believe they are living the American dream -- Gonzales prepared for the fallout by helping fashion the Patriot Act. This made it easier for government to define as "domestic terrorists" those who choose to speak out against the Iraq war and other dream (and budget)-killing policies.

While Hollywood and Washington tried to keep the global dream machine working, Gonzales crafted the legal rationale for the global nightmare exemplified by Abu Ghraib. As more and more people joined the ranks of the uninsured -- 9 million since Bush was elected in 2000 -- Gonzales facilitated the government's ability to access intimate medical, financial and other personal records.

As banks foreclose on the homeownership part the American dream, Gonzales worked feverishly to set up the conditions to keep the now thoroughly politicized Justice Department in the business of denying fundamental rights like habeas corpus and jailing more citizens and non-citizens, especially blacks and Latinos, than any other country.

If the country takes a more democratic direction, future retellings of the scandal-laden Gonzales tale may institutionalize the storyline about a Tonto-like, up-from-the-bootstraps friend falling on the sword for a failed administration.

But if history continues along the conservative, even reactionary, course favored and advocated by many in the Bush-Cheney era, smiley Gonzales may yet have the last laugh as we continue to live under the boot of unprecedented legal structures designed to rein in what the elite haves clearly consider a threatening -- and rapidly growing -- populace of have-nots.

What the ultimate moral of the Gonzales story becomes depends on whether we are ready to not just to accept the death of the American dream, but to take part in dispelling whatever illusions of it are left.

Principal among the illusions still held by many Latinos, for example, is the old-school practice of ethnic politics propped up by many major Latino organizations, most of whom stood by Gonzales until March of this year before saying they were "reconsidering" their support for him.

Like the immigrant rights activists still seeking basic rights for the undocumented, Latinos must draw on the traditions of justice in our newspapers: Latino papers like Los Angeles' La Opinión and New York's El Diario/La Prensa denounced Gonzales from the beginning. And their pages have, for many years, told thousands of stories about poor migrants and their children making a difference.

Compare that with Hispanic magazine's designation of Gonzales as the "Hispanic American of the year" in 2005, well after he became the person most responsible for policing, prosecuting and jailing more Latinos -- including poor farm workers -- and non-Latinos than anyone in U.S. history.

Despite the tragedy and comedy of it all, Gonzales' scandalous story offers us an opportunity to dispel obsolete notions, like the dreamy idea that government is looking out for the little guy -- or that ethnic politics can only be played one way -- and other dangerous ideas rooted in the American dream he embodied.

Will Latinos Continue Moving Democratic?

After last year's elections, Lionel Sosa watched the returns and saw more than 30 years of his life's work endangered. Sosa, the advertising executive who, along with close ally, Karl Rove ("we've been good friends a long, long time"), engineered the GOP's historic advance among Latinos in the 2004 elections, had warned party leaders of the consequences of the anti-immigrant policies of certain of its members.

Latino support for Republicans rose from 21 percent in 1996, to 31 percent in 2000, to between 40 to 44 percent in 2004 (the number is still being debated). In 2006, after the final results were tallied, less than 29 percent of Latinos voted Republican, and Sosa publicly "I told you so'd" the GOP with comments like, "We as a party got the spanking we needed." The much-vaunted rise of the Latino Right had reached, at the very least, a pause.

From his office in San Antonio, Sosa told me, "I don't think everything I worked for is lost." Asked why, he relayed an insight given him by Ronald Reagan, who said that Latinos "are Republicans and they don't know it yet." Democrats should not see Latinos "in their hip pocket," Sosa added, because of their "conservative values" -- rooted in their religion, strong work ethic, and traditional families. Sosa is not entirely wrong. What will happen to the rightward-leaning tendencies among the country's ultimate swing voters depends not just on the political machinations of the GOP, which just appointed Cuban immigrant Mel Martinez as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Nor does the direction of Latino politics depend solely on what the Democrats -- who just appointed Tejano congressmember Silvestre Reyes as head of the powerful House Intelligence Committee -- do or don't do.

While influential and important, the Machiavellian movements of the strategists and pollsters take place atop more important institutions and subterranean trends that will ultimately define the direction of the Latino Right -- and, possibly the Latino politic. Chief among these influences are the soft-power effects of things like culture and religion, as well as the hard-power pull of militarism and jobs. The rightward tendencies among Latinos have more to do with things like some Latinos' embrace of a "white" identity (50 percent checked off "white" in the 2000 Census); the intensive focus on Latinos by Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian churches, the military, and the criminal justice system; and trends not as easily measured by surveys or exit polls. Such factors will determine how deep into the rabbit hole of rightward tendencies Latinos will go.

The stunning drop of support for George W. Bush and his party from approximately 40 percent (the best analyses confirm this number, not the 44 percent touted by Rove and the Republicans) in 2004, to the less than 29 percent support in 2006, demonstrates only that the consolidation of a Latino Right is not a completely done deal. Sosa and Rove know better than most Democrats and media pundits the cultural, identity, and economic realities that change minds. They expanded the conservative base by building on segments and issues in the Latino community that do tend conservative.

Nowhere is this clearer than among reliably conservative Latino evangelicals. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center concluded that much, if not most, of the growth in the GOP's Latino support came from Protestant evangelicals. While Latino Roman Catholic support for Bush was at 33 percent in both 2000 and 2004, support for Bush among Latino evangelicals mushroomed from 44 percent in 2000 to a 56 percent majority in 2004, according to the study. While no detailed analyses of the Latino vote in 2006 have been published to date, it is safe to assume that these numbers reflect the discontent expressed by Latino evangelical leaders since the introduction of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill in December 2005, which offended many with its call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and other harsh measures.

Church leaders like the Reverend Luis Cortes, Jr. have been organizing and lobbying aggressively in support of legalization for the more than 12 million undocumented living in the United States. Cortes, who heads up Esperanza USA, a network of more than 10,000 Latino evangelical churches, told Newsweek that Latinos -- including Latino evangelicals "are unlikely to forget who made them the focus and the scapegoat for a failed immigration system. If the Republicans continue, they will be alienating Hispanics for decades. Their only hope to win a national election will be voter apathy. The numbers are clear: by 2040 a quarter of all Americans will be of Hispanic descent. If the party wants to alienate us, they are welcome. But I don't think it is a sound political move."

Most mainstream evangelical leaders reject legalization but some influential ones have begun responding to Cortes' and others' call. A new coalition, the "Families First in Immigration" coalition, was recently formed by conservative Christians to support more equitable immigration policy, and includes dozens of major Christian evangelical figures, such ultraconservatives as Paul Weyrich, head of Coalitions for America, Dr. Donald Wildmon from American Family Association, and Gary Bauer of American Values, along with David Keene with the secular American Conservative Union.

Reflecting both the political confusion and growing threat posed by the complexities of evangelical politics, the coalition recently proposed a "compromise" immigration proposal that includes punitive border security measures, an amnesty for undocumented workers who are relatives of citizens, and an end to birthright citizenship.

Strong bases of rightward-leaning Latinos exist in places like Martinez's Florida, where South Beach anti-Castristas built a political empire without equal in the United States. Although they are less than 3.5 percent of the Latino population, right-leaning Cuban-Americans, especially those of south Florida, have influenced national Latino and hemispheric politics since the 1970s. But the still quite powerful South Florida political machine built by Rafael Diaz-Balart, Fidel Castro's ex-brother-in-law who only recently died, is undergoing major challenges. In the Cuban American community, a new generation that is more moderate than the old is coming of age, and conservatives must face the fallout from their success in making it more difficult to travel and send money to Cuba. Meanwhile, massive numbers of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and other less rightward-leaning Latinos are migrating to Florida, adding to the pressure on the conservative Latino machine.

Another major base of operations for the workings of the Latino Right is Texas, the state that is home to Sosa, Rove and a slew of Latinos propped up as national leaders including Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the now disgraced former head of the forces in Iraq, and others. Such "leaders" reinforce the "conservative values" Sosa, Rove, and Reagan tell us lie in the heart of Latino Americans.

And these values are backed up by a kind of national security Keynesianism and acculturation. With the critical need to increase Latino enlistment from 10 to 22 percent by 2025 (with black enlistment way down), the Pentagon is spending billions of dollars to identify, recruit and keep young Latinos in the military. Bilingual appeals to "Go Army" on Univision television and most other, more advertising-starved Latino media don't just turn Latino media into mouthpieces for the military. They also play to the community's economic needs with promises of higher education and training.

When we consider that millions of Latino families will depend on the military for their very livelihood, the intense recruitment of Latinos reflects clearly the role of the military as a socializing institution described by Machiavelli, Gibbon, and more contemporary masters of national security-driven statecraft like Samuel Huntington. Nakedly laying out the acculturating effect of military service, Huntington, the former head of security planning in the Carter Administration's National Security Council, stated in his most recent and controversial book, Who We Are, "Without a major war requiring substantial mobilization and lasting years ... contemporary immigrants will have neither the opportunity nor the need to affirm their identity with and their loyalty to America as earlier immigrants have done."

That a fellow Democrat -- and a Latino -- Louis Caldera, was the first to push and implement the intensive recruitment of young Latinos shows the limits of party and ethnic loyalties. As the Secretary of the Army during the Clinton Administration, Caldera launched the Hispanic Access Initiative, inspiring similar efforts throughout the numerous branches of the Pentagon, all of which are cash rich and Latino starved. This lust for Latino bodies connects directly with the great needs of one of the country's poorest, least educated groups to create a different, more conservative, and patriotic Latino in the mold of the state, since military personnel tend to be more conservative politically. Such practices date back as far as Sparta and other city-states of ancient Greece.

Using the military as a builder of nations and national character and culture began in earnest in the nineteenth century, when then nascent countries used the armed forces to build allegiance through what was deemed a "school of the nation." In Latin American countries like El Salvador, the ascendant capitalist elites used the military for multiple reasons. One of the major functions of the military was to draw the allegiances of native peoples to their tribal structure, including tribal armies. Another was to reeducate and recreate Indian identity in its own image. And, for those who refused such acculturation and forced relinquishment of Indian land and life, the military also served to provide a final solution to that problem.

Such socializing dynamics are not lost on Rove, who, after working on a research project at the University of Texas on the work of the handlers and ideologues of the McKinley Presidential campaign, came up with the strategies that helped tilt the Latino electorate rightward. Speaking of McKinley's success among the German, Irish, Polish and other immigrant groups in the late nineteenth century, Rove said, "A successful party had to take its fundamental principles and style them in such a way that they seemed to have relevance to the new economy, the new nature of the country, and the new electorate."4 He basically wanted to do what McKinley's strategists did in the industrial age, through messaging, policies, and jobs in the digital age -- and he almost succeeded with the help of people like Sosa. Rove added that "He [McKinley] basically made it comfortable for urban ethnic working people to identify with the Republican Party." Rove and Sosa are clearer than most about how institutions like the church and the military are still among the most influential socializing -- and right- leaning -- institutions among Latinos.

Another institution that serves this socializing function is the criminal justice system. While most students of Latino politics focus on the prisoner side of the equation, nobody's watching the watchers of the penitentiary behemoth: the exponential growth of Latinos working in the criminal justice system headed up by Alberto Gonzalez, hailed as the first Latino Attorney General in US history.

At the same time, Gonzalez' ubiquitous smile hides the tragic reality of the growth of the Latino prison population from 17.6 percent in 1995 to 20.2 in 2005. It also appears to celebrate the rapid and little-discussed rise in the Latino prison guard population. And at a time when national security imperatives like those of the Department of Homeland Security push police departments across the country to become more militarized, the cultural reality behind, for example, the 13 percent increase (the fastest of any group) in Latinos employed in criminal justice between 2000 and 2003 means that more Latino families will be tied to another institution with powerful conservative influences.

Even as the families of incarcerated Latinos lose considerable income with the loss of a breadwinner, compare that to the middle class opportunities offered to families of Latinos arresting, prosecuting and guarding other Latinos. This cynical shift in wealth endows economic value on certain Latinos at the expense of others.

A similar transfer of human value takes place under the auspices of the Roman Catholic and Christian churches that, like the military and the criminal justice system, depend on Latino bodies for their future. Latino congregants are among the fastest growing, most important groups in both Roman Catholic and evangelical churches, both of which are key players in the move to create a Latino "values voter." The transfers of resources from the nonprofit sector serving Latino and other poor to the religious community realized through George W. Bush's "faith based initiative" makes clear who is elect in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the state. Organizations like Cortes' Esperanza USA receive millions of dollars that would otherwise go to secular, nonprofit social service agencies that offer the same services, but without the Gospel- laden environment and messaging found in their drug rehab, family planning and other programs.

Though droves of Latino evangelical leaders and their congregants abandoned the Rovian project during the last elections, in no small part because of immigration, much of the cultural software -- the conservative "values" emphasized by Sosa and others -- coded and massively distributed by the GOP remains in place. The use of abortion, anti-gay initiatives and other reactionary wedge political issues will continue to play the conservative programming with deep historical roots among Latinos.

A smaller, more dispersed, counterbalancing religious force can be found in congregations like Chicago's Adalberto United Methodist Church (where Mexican immigrant Elvira Arellano was granted refuge from immigration authorities) and other churches now declaring sanctuary as part of the immigrant rights movement. (Of course, their numbers are small since Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger purged the church of more liberation theology-oriented priests and parishes.)

Will Latinos continue their turn away from the Right, continuing the momentum witnessed in last year's massive marches and during the off-year elections? That will depend on how and whether the forces of the left in the community can bring awareness and offer alternatives to the ideological workings of powerful institutions like the Pentagon, the criminal justice system, and organized religion. Equally important is the need to educate people about the political nature of these institutions, as well as show how, without Latinos, these institutions may suffer great devastation. We need campaigns to decrease the number of Latinos in the military and (both sides) of the criminal justice system while at the same time press local and national Roman Catholic and Christian churches to adopt positions on issues like the Iraq war, Latino recruitment, rapidly growing incarceration rates, and U.S. policy in Latin America.

More of us need to understand how Latino poverty creates the same pool or hopelessness from which institutions like the military and the church draw their economic and human resources. Many of us grew and are still growing up in situations that leave us few options besides the military, law enforcement, or jail. The reasons for this poverty must be denounced at pulpits and legislative houses that remain silent on these issues all the while loudly affirming and defending "the sanctity of life" and "family values." Democrats, leftists and others concerned about the future of this soon-to-be "majority-minority" country (as most of the top 100 cities already are) should heed the call of the voiceless and the choiceless.

Failure to do so will result in a Latino politic in the service of empire.

The Smog of Race War in LA

These days, Chris Bowers wakes up every morning to a vivid reminder that crossing borders can get you killed in South LA's Harbor Gateway area. Just outside the fence in front of his rented stucco house on Harvard Boulevard is a silver scooter, an assortment of dried flowers and a dozen candles bearing religious messages written in Spanish and English -- a makeshift memorial to Cheryl Green, the 14-year-old whose murder last December by members of the 204th Street Gang sparked accusations of Latino "ethnic cleansing" of African-Americans. "There were two of them," says Bowers, a 22-year-old college student and high school football coach. "They came up and shot off one shot. They looked confused, and then shot off the rest of the rounds." Jonathan Fajardo, 18, and Ernesto Alcarez, 20, members of 204th Street, have been charged with gunning down Green as she stood with her scooter talking to friends. Police say they had been seeking a black person to kill.

After greeting a friend who drives by in a beat-up suburban, Bowers, whose dreads and ready smile give him a Marleyesque air, looks south and says, "From 207th down, blacks and Latinos get along; people drink beer together, kids skate and play with other kids. You see black and Latino interracial kids. People kick it together. It's a real community."

Then he looks up the street toward the ramshackle Del Amo Market -- one of the few stores on the twelve-block strip that is Harbor Gateway -- an establishment that 204th Streeters forbid black people to enter. "But over there, that way, no," he says. "You don't really see many black people over there."

Though he gets along with most people on either side of the invisible line and has a Latina girlfriend, Bowers himself must be vigilant of those policing the racial borders up the street. "Even I don't go to the store," he says, "'cause I might get shot."

Bowers and most African-Americans and Latinos living in Harbor Gateway and other poor neighborhoods that are home to LA's 700 gangs and 40,000 gang members -- the largest concentration of gangs in the world -- increasingly find themselves trapped as unwilling gladiators in a zero-sum, black-versus-brown game, one broadcast as if it were a sporting event.

In these graffiti-filled, job-emptied neighborhoods, and in the media, receptivity to simplistic race war rhetoric appears to grow in direct proportion to the speed and intensity with which globalization, migration and economic dislocation remake the City of Angels. The rise of Latino power in LA, most recently displayed in the electoral victory of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005 and last year's 2 million-strong immigrant rights march downtown, has taken place just as the once-powerful African-American community has watched its numbers and influence rapidly dwindle. (LA's 428,000 African-Americans now account for less than 11 percent of the city's population.) In the minds of some African-Americans, Latinos, especially poor immigrants, have replaced white racism as the primary cause of the disappearance of LA's robust black middle class in once-great black suburbs like Compton, built on a foundation of industrial and government jobs and reflected in the election of black officials like Mayor Tom Bradley. Since the end of the Bradley era, after the '92 riots announced that everything and nothing had changed in black LA, many explanations for black displacement have arisen -- some of which cast the ascendant Latino majority in a role formerly reserved for whites who fought the rise of black power.

"Latinos who happen to be gang members are trying to push African-Americans out of that [Harbor Gateway] area," says the Rev. Eric Lee, president of the LA office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as he sits at a desk flanked by portraits of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. "This is more dangerous than what the Ku Klux Klan was doing. More dangerous because it's coming from people in the same socioeconomic situation. The Harbor Gateway killings were based on racial, not gang-on-gang, violence."

Lee refers approvingly to one of the more controversial pieces about the Green killing, a January op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Tanya Hernandez, a law professor at Rutgers University. Hernandez's commentary links the murder to anti-black racism imported by immigrants from Latin America. Her claim that the murder is "a manifestation of an increasingly common trend: Latino ethnic cleansing of African Americans from multiracial neighborhoods" has become a clarion call for many local African-American leaders and has been widely circulated through African-American websites, blogs and newspapers.

Minutemen and anti-immigrant websites like VDare seized on this narrative for their own purposes, denouncing the racism of the Green murder with claims like, "Many Hispanic gang-bangers are illegal aliens. Increasingly, Hispanic gang members kill random blacks to drive them out of the area -- ethnic cleansing." (Black Minuteman Ted Hayes has announced a March 25 rally in downtown LA to "stop ethnic cleansing of US black citizens by illegal aliens.") Conservative think tanks such as David Horowitz's Freedom Center then intellectualized the hysteria -- as did some of their progressive counterparts. A front-page story in the Intelligence Report, a publication of the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center, sounded the alarm that blacks were becoming a besieged minority amid LA's ethnic strife. The article described a "sort of gang-life fatwah" that "amounts to a standing authorization for Latino gang members to prove their mettle by terrorizing or even murdering any blacks sighted in a neighborhood claimed by a gang loyal to the Mexican Mafia."

Some of these narratives may not have intended to exacerbate racial tensions, but lobbing terms like "ethnic cleansing" into LA's racial landscape has proven neither accurate nor useful. Their intensity may have helped provoke interracial fights in public schools in the wake of Green's murder (human relations officials were deployed to quell conflicts), and they have certainly eclipsed discussion of the less spectacular drivers of racial tension and the rapid growth in gangs.

Rather than deal with gangs and racial tensions comprehensively, as an expression of overcrowded schools, unemployment and the utter failure of urban development policies in pre- and post-riot South LA, the preferred approach here has been "suppression." Most resources for addressing gang violence go not to drug prevention, counseling and job development but toward surveillance, armed sweeps, mass arrests for minor offenses and the criminalization of everything perceived as gang-related, from graffiti to tattoos. This punitive approach is reinforced by gang injunctions and laws facilitating increased incarceration. Gangs and racial tensions provide the LAPD with a raison d'être, an opportunity to redeem itself as an army of good soldiers in a "war" on gangbanger "superpredators" dividing and terrorizing communities.

Police Chief William Bratton marched into his new job in 2002 calling for a "war on gangs" and gang "terrorists." After drawing fire from community groups, Bratton tamped down his language, but his policies have been impervious to important insights like those offered in a just-released evaluation of the city's antigang efforts, funded by the City Council. Led by eminent civil rights attorney Connie Rice of the Advancement Project, the study examined the role of twelve city departments, from police to social services, and concluded, "After a quarter century of a multi-billion-dollar war on gangs [$80 billion, according to Rice], there are six times as many gangs and at least double the number of gang members in the region." The report calls for a major overhaul of gang policy that balances suppression with a more comprehensive program that includes appointment of a "gang czar" and unprecedented funding increases for cash-starved prevention and intervention programs.

Bratton has seized on recent racial incidents as an excuse to resurrect his gangs-as-terrorists frame and legitimize the LAPD's militaristic suppression strategies. Following a February 7 keynote address at an international conference on gangs, he announced a "new" gang strategy. But it seemed strangely familiar: "abatement" of the 204th Street Gang and creation of a "most wanted" gang member list. Bratton rallied his audience of law-enforcement leaders by declaring that "the capabilities and abilities of the gangbangers and gangs is every bit as destructive to democracy and our way of life as the global and national terrorism that we're experiencing."

When applied to black-Latino relations, the hyperbolic talk of "ethnic cleansing" and "terrorism" sounds a dissonant chord among the actual residents of Harbor Gateway, like Green's mother, Charlene Lovett. Sitting in the kitchen of her apartment, in front of a large picture of a smiling Cheryl and a colorful sign with the word Friendship atop dozens of signatures of her daughter's Latino, Samoan and African-American friends, Lovett says that truth has become another casualty, singling out one CNN story for its agonizing inaccuracy. "It enrages me to see how the reporter made it into a 'gang on gang' story, that Latinos are striving to be better than black people in the area. That didn't have anything to do with what actually happened. My daughter was not part of any gang." After pausing to regain her composure, Lovett adds, "If anyone is targeting black people it's the gangs, not all Latinos. We get along, but you don't see them reporting that." Since losing her daughter, Lovett has attended peace rallies with Latinas like Beatriz Villa, who only days before the Green murder lost her brother-in-law, Arturo Ponce, to what witnesses say was a black gunman who yelled an anti-Mexican epithet.

Arturo Ybarra, director of South LA-based Watts Century Latino Organization (WCLO), points out another misapprehension. "I've been there talking with those gangs [in Harbor Gateway]," he says. "They're not immigrants. They're not Mexicans. Most of the members are not even the children or the children of children of immigrants. They're mostly a Chicano gang. It's absurd how people start making the connection between the [Green] killing and saying that immigrants are stealing jobs and want to kill African-Americans."

Facts on the sidewalk tell an even more granular story. African-Americans in certain neighborhoods have become the targets of some gangs. But the Green and Ponce murders turn out to be isolated incidents in a county of 10 million. Police reports and county records indicate that between 2002 and 2005 only one African-American was killed by a Latino in what authorities identified as a racially motivated incident. (There was also the attempted murder of some Latinos by African-Americans.) There were no racially motivated murders at all in 2004 or 2005. That Southern Poverty Law Center article detailing the "racist terror campaign" afflicting black residents of LA's Highland Park actually centers on a crime that took place in 2000.

Lost in it all is a sad but fundamental fact of life in poor Los Angeles: Most violent crimes, most murders, most attempted murders, most gang killings are intraracial. In one of the most comprehensive studies of LA homicides to date, University of California, Irvine, researcher George Tita tracked 500 killings that occurred between 1999 and 2004 in the 77th Precinct, which covers an area north of Harbor Gateway and Watts and is one of most violent precincts in the county. He found that 94 percent of African-Americans were killed by other African-Americans and 77 percent of Latinos there were killed by other Latinos. Tita says there is a recent "uptick" in racially motivated killings, "but it makes absolutely no sense to ignore all the other homicides because of these rare events."

Analyzing this violence through the lens of racism is useful as long as it doesn't blot out another crucial factor: the economic strip-mining of greater LA. Most of the bloodletting takes place in a dead sea of empty lots created by the deindustrialization of South LA, which lost 70,000 jobs between the Watts and Rodney King riots, years that also saw the explosion of gangs -- and gang suppression units. Though the Harbor Gateway murder took place in the shadows of the steel cranes looming over the harbor's gargantuan ports, people prefer to talk about bullets and blood instead of jobs and globalization. The ports generate half a million jobs, but few young people in South LA can get them. One Harbor Gateway resident told me that his neighbors view the port as a "gated community," where "you have to know somebody to get in."

Instead, many of the young African-Americans and Latinos swept up by the LAPD (450,000 minors have been arrested over the past ten years) will likely only see the port from jail cells, like those of the gigantic new Harbor police station being constructed across the street. In this area surrounded by miles of streets bereft of parks and social service organizations, the jail is what passes for community development.

"Gangs grow in low-income areas where there's no support for family and community," says Alex Sanchez, a former gang member who now directs Homies Unidos, a gang-violence-prevention project that works with youth in South LA. "Most gangs come from disenfranchised communities, and these communities have lacked resources they need for a long time -- recreation centers, parks, entertainment, an educational system, good housing, good-paying jobs. Some parents have two or three jobs and can't give attention to their kids. Gangs fulfill the need for respect, attention, being taken into account, camaraderia."

Sanchez, who has helped broker gang truces and has received numerous awards for promoting racial harmony between blacks and Latinos, is walking, talking and protesting testimony to the fact that, under the right conditions and with sufficient resources, there are alternatives to gang life and the racial tensions it fosters. But he too has run up against the LAPD's great wall of suppression. In 1999 and 2000, LAPD antigang units surveilled, raided, arrested under false pretenses and beat up Sanchez and other members of Homies Unidos. These attacks were later detailed in reports about the Rampart scandal, which exposed to the world how LA's generously funded antigang units perpetrated the very extortion and violence they were supposed to suppress. These units fomented racial strife, too, by routinely picking up gang members from one neighborhood and dropping them off in territory controlled by another.

Sanchez argues that this combination of suppression, sensational media coverage and sentencing laws that make it easy to jail minors is what fuels racial tensions. "Suppression means more overcrowding in the jails and more gang tensions," he says. "Then if a young person watches the media, where they're bombarded by messages about racial conflict, they're going to see issues between gangs as issues of blacks and Latinos."

Robin Toma, executive director of the LA County Human Relations Commission, has also witnessed the way police and prison policy can stir LA's caldron of racial hatred. "I was in Harbor Gateway when there were racial tensions in 1997," Toma recalls. At that time African-Americans, including black gangs, were moved by housing authorities from nearby San Pedro into mostly Latino Harbor Gateway. Police responded with arrest dragnets and a "surge" strategy reminiscent of the Iraq War. "We had limited social investment from city leaders," Toma says. "Many kids were picked up and thrown in jail, and now they're older and angrier and coming onto the streets. Their biases spill into the schools. Addressing social problems with incarceration and policing that focuses solely on suppression is a proven failure."

Antonio Villaraigosa, LA's first Latino mayor in more than a century, indicated early on that he would take a different approach, signaled by his first high-profile event as mayor-elect: a visit to a school where more than a hundred black and Latino students clashed in May 2005. Unlike his predecessors, the mayor has been vocal about expanding the discussion of gangs and racism to include socioeconomic forces and has voiced interest in a comprehensive "prevention, intervention and suppression" strategy. In March he proposed a budget increase for youth employment programs that would add 7,500 jobs to the 2,500 now provided. Still, the political and financial heart of his antigang strategy has been a continuation of all-cops-all-the-time, an approach that has endeared him to the same white suburbanites who have voted to cut billions in funding for schools and inner-city social services.

Villaraigosa fought for and got funding for 1,000 more police officers last year, some of whom will be dedicated to gang suppression. We want to "make violent street gangs public enemy number one," he said at a press conference following the Green murder. This intensification of the war on gangs comes despite contrary recommendations of countless blue-ribbon panels over the years -- the McCone Commission following the Watts riots, the Christopher Commission following the Rodney King beating, the Webster Commission following the riots of 1992, the reform recommendations following the Rampart scandal -- that have all urged an end to the practices documented most recently in a 2006 report on police reform: "erroneous arrests...coercive interview tactics, evidence suppression or planting by officers, alarmingly flawed investigations and police perjury." The Rampart scandal report echoed recommendations that have been made for decades, most notably transitioning from "suppression policing" to "problem solving policing," which builds community relationships.

Given the nonstop PR campaign to soften the noirishly tough image of the LAPD, Villaraigosa's prioritization of suppression has the effect of reinforcing the worst aspects of an institution that is notoriously resistant to change. If Villaraigosa doesn't act rapidly on calls to break City Hall's addiction to suppression, the question will arise as to whether he can make a difference for South LA's poor African-Americans and Latinos.

"Having a lot of Latino elected officials in Los Angeles doesn't mean we get the attention Latinos need down here," says Arturo Ybarra from the WCLO office in one of the weed-infested lots still littering post-riot South LA. "We're still abandoned because of a lack of political leadership."

As one of the few visible Latino leaders in South LA, Ybarra, an immigrant from Mexico, organizes events like an African-American-Latino Cinco de Mayo parade. (The holiday may be one reason school hate crimes spike to their highest levels each May, according to the County Human Relations Commission.) He says he feels a deep responsibility to voice what others prefer to remain silent about. "The whole area is majority Latino immigrants, and most of the people elected to office are black officials," he says. "Most of the infrastructure in South LA -- the senior centers, the youth centers, childcare -- are led and managed by African-Americans. Some are doing excellent work with Latinos -- and some are not."

Asked how he thinks the city can meet its racial and gang challenges, Ybarra points to programs like conflict resolution, job training and diversity awareness that helped him and other Watts residents overcome racial tensions in Nickerson Gardens and other historically black housing projects. "We need to deal with racial issues," Ybarra says. "We need to deal with the effects of violence. But we also need to deal with the economic roots, the urgent need for jobs, training, building cultural understanding and programs for reintegration into society after prison."

But the approach favored by Ybarra may be too expensive for a city that, in 2005, spent $25.8 million on gang prevention and intervention programs and $56 million on gang suppression -- not including more than $1 billion spent on policing, by far the largest line item in the city budget. The study of gang policies Rice produced for the City Council estimates that to develop a basic prevention and intervention network in one cluster of high schools reaching 22,323 people, the city would have to spend $56 million per year. Rice estimates that it would therefore cost upward of $1.3 billion a year to create the employment, education and violence prevention programs needed to reach the 300,000 young Angelenos the report says are at risk of joining gangs.

But given the report's estimate that in 2006 gangs cost the city more than $2 billion in damage to victims and property, Rice argues that LA can ill afford not to spend on its youth. To move beyond what Bratton likes to call the "war on gangs," she says, "Los Angeles needs a Marshall Plan to end gang violence."

Mel Gibson Is Wrong about Who the Violent Americans Are

After watching Mel Gibson’s controversial film Apocalypto, I left the theater pondering the history of racism, pillage and apocalyptic war through my own blood and family history. Gibson, I concluded, would have been more accurate, his film more resonant, had he used another group of people, another culture – certainly not the Maya -- to depict his vision of the Apocalyse.

Like many Central Americans born and categorized as mestizos (mixed Indian and Spanish blood), I watched Apocalypto as someone who consciously revered the Maya and other indigenous groups while subconsciously prohibiting himself any real identification with them.

As a boy, my parents gave me a leather case with a picture of an Indian from the region now known as El Salvador (the Savior). But I heard my father call people he considered ugly “cara de indio” (Indian face). For many of us--mestizo and non-mestizo alike--it’s always been easier to identify with the Christian culture depicted in Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ than with the Maya culture in Apocalypto.

The fundamental problem with Apocalypto’s depiction of Maya culture is that, in a procrustean manner, it imposes violence and an apocalyptic world view on the wrong people. In fact, UC Riverside archaeologist Zachary X. Hruby wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle: “There exists no archaeological, historic or ethnohistoric data to suggest that any such mass sacrifices -- numbering in the thousands, or even hundreds -- took place in the Maya world.”

Instead, Gibson should have looked for apocalyptic war and culture in the off-screen history of our Catholic, mestizo, and indigenous families in the Americas.

He could have done his homework about how Salvadoran culture sanctions my father’s use of “cara de indio” as a way to call someone ‘ugly.’ I never understood the deeper reasons for such racist remarks until my father told me what happened when he was a ten-year-old boy who climbed trees in 1932. That year, my father saw military men kill hundreds of Indians in what historians call “La Matanza” or the Killing. More than 30,000 mostly Indian peasants in El Salvador were slaughtered on the order of General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, a theosophist military dictator who used radio broadcasts to justify his actions by sowing apocalyptic fear. Most of the killing my father witnessed took place not far from where the fictional killing fields of Apocalypto take place. Until I asked him about it, my father remained quiet about La Matanza for more than 65 years. The fear of Indians and apocalyptic war he learned while climbing trees as a boy stayed with him and spilled onto his kids through what some psychologists call “intergenerational trauma.”

It saddens me that the first big screen depiction of the inspired and inspiring culture of the Maya is this fatally inaccurate and very controversial film. Like the traumatized boy who became my father, millions among the current generations of Mayan, Guatemalan, Salvadoran and other Central American youth growing up in the United States and other countries are the children of apocalyptic war survivors. Most have experienced the numbing cultural effects of war; either firsthand or as the children of those who have witnessed the savagery of wars like the one in Guatemala, where apocalyptic dictator and born-again Pentecostal President Efrain Rios Montt, who famously said, “the true Christian has a Bible in one hand and a machine gun in the other,” ordered the killing and disappearance of more than 100,000, mostly Mayas. I saw how Montt used television and other media to beam the colorful biblical imagery of his apocalyptic vision as a way to cover over the massacre of innocents. He compared the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to the four contemporary evils of hunger, misery, ignorance and subversion

Apocalypto’s depiction of the Mayas scares in its inaccuracy, but it makes sense when we consider that Gibson’s main audience belongs to a culture that reveres another very conservative actor like him, Ronald Reagan. Reagan introduced the use of media-communication skills and apocalyptic politics to advance a political agenda. He used them to justify the full arming, full funding of and political support for Montt, whom Reagan defended as “getting a bum rap.” In the name of combating “evil” and protecting the “city on a hill,” Reagan infused his foreign and domestic policy with statements like, "we may be the generation that sees Armageddon" and “I don't know if you have noted any of those prophecies lately, but, believe me, they describe the times we are going through." While filmmaker Gibson claims to offer an allegorical critique of the declining, apocalyptic civilization that feeds wars like the one in Iraq, Gibson the extreme right-wing Catholic, anti-Semite fails in Apocalypto and in all his movies to critique the very religion that has dominated apocalyptic politics for centuries.

Better than most, Gibson knows that Apocalypse sells in a culture in which born-again politicos, best-sellers like the Left Behind books and blockbuster movies like his Mad Max series or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s End of Days and the Terminator trilogy plug into the cultural and political DNA of this country, whose Puritan founders came here prepared for the end of days with Bibles and 20-ton cannons crammed into their ships.

My identity, in part, has been shaped by the effects of a culture of violence and apocalyptic war best found not so much in the stuff of Gibson’s Mayan epic, Apocalypto, but in the stuff of his Christian epic, The Passion of the Christ

Latino Backlash Could Doom GOP

Editor's Note: The anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation from many Republicans (and some Democrats) is stoking flames of resentment against Latinos among the GOP's largely white base. Should Latinos get fed up and refuse to vote Republican -- and exit polls suggest a large majority did just that on Nov. 7 -- the GOP could be doomed politically for years to come.

As I watched political history on my television and computer screens Tuesday night, I couldn't help but think about Lionel Sosa, the Latino who may have lost the most in this week's election. Sosa, a political consultant and director of Mexicans and Texans Thinking Together (MATT), a nonprofit in San Antonio, is largely credited with developing the strategies that colored almost 40 percent of the Latino electorate Republican red. I was curious about how it felt for someone who worked closely with Karl Rove, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan to watch his work turn Democrat blue. (Experts I interviewed and exit polls estimate that about 70 percent of Latinos voted Democratic last Tuesday, as compared to 53 percent in 2004). So, I called Sosa at the MATT office.

"I don't think everything I worked for is lost," Sosa said, "but Latinos did send a message to the Republican party: If we don't humanize the approach to immigration, it will cost us the Latino vote." His choice of the word "humanize" was telling, for Tuesday's election is but another reminder of the GOP's urgent need to move beyond appeals to the baser instincts of its still predominantly white base. Lionel's soft-spoken strategic advice must roar in the ears of his longtime friend Karl Rove, whose efforts to broaden the largely white Republican tent appear to have imploded.

Whether Republicans' enforcement-only approach to immigration -- the infamous wall and other punitive measures -- drives Latinos as deep into the anti-Republican camp as African-Americans (whose support for GOP is consistently in single digits) depends on whether we see the 187-ization of the nation.

I came to understand the long-term effects of anti-immigrant policies after fighting such policies in California. The most famous is Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that called for the denial of health and education services to the children of undocumented immigrants. Prop. 187, which was eventually blocked in the courts, turned the Golden State into a template for the current immigration wars.

As I listen to strategists like Sosa and other experts ponder the possibility of an anti-Republican backlash among Latinos, I'm reminded of a 1993 meeting between a delegation of Latino activists and Latino elected officials and then-California Gov. Pete Wilson, the main sponsor of Prop 187. "I resent the implication that I'm a racist," Wilson told the group, pounding his desk. "I am not a racist and I give the Hispanic community more credit than to fall for this kind of race-baiting." I'd asked Wilson how he felt knowing that many of the 10-year-old Mexican and Salvadoran kids I worked with thought he hated them because of his leadership around Proposition 187.

Those kids turned 22 this year. They remembered Pete Wilson and his imitators throughout the country and paid them -- and the Republican party -- back by building the youthful army (the average Latino is 26) driving the largest mobilizations in U.S. history. Several told me that they organized around voting this year because they were too young to do so in 1994. As part of the largest Latino turnout (8.5 percent) in U.S. history last Tuesday, they delivered on their slogan, "Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote."

States, cities and towns such as Hazelton, Pa., are mimicking Pete Wilson's California by adopting anti-immigrant measures. More than 80 Proposition 187-like initiatives denying immigrants everything from drivers' licenses and health care to education and housing appeared on recent state ballots. These areas are also starting to resemble California demographically and socially. The elements for the 187-ization of the nation are in place: declining white population, fast-growing Latino population and a shrinking middle class in economic distress. White backlash against Latinos pushes them to mobilize in streets and into voting against the Republicans.

What's worse for the future GOP are distressing anti-Latino trends. Principal among these is how Republicans (and some Democrats, including Latino Democrats) framed immigration as the "national security issue." The organized and consistent attacks of the Minutemen did not exist in 1994. Since 1994, Latinos have had to stand by and watch weekly reports of the deaths of scores of immigrants in the desert; the number of immigration raids has reached historic highs according to Homeland Security officials; and the wall provides a concrete and fenced daily reminder of the loathing of Latinos.

These and other factors are giving birth to the 187-ization of the nation.

Sosa's warnings to his friends in the weakened seat of global power are on point. The Republican party must rapidly reverse the dehumanization of millions in our midst. Otherwise last Tuesday's results point to nothing less than a GOP future of political catastrophe.

Have Immigrants Hit The Wall?

After casting her "angry liberal" vote on Tuesday, psychiatrist and Coney Island, N.Y., resident Ellen Weinberg looked past the fence and wall guarding the entrance to her gated community and declared, "We have a right to protect our quality of life" and then added "even if it means putting up a wall."

The good news for the Jamaican, Dominican, Chinese and other immigrants living in the tall, crowded projects just a block away, is that Weinberg cast a vote that caused the fall of the GOP, the party of the red border wall. The bad news for immigrants across the country is that her angry vote helped bring about the rise of the party of the blue border wall, the Democrats. "A wall at the [U.S.-Mexico] border protects our standard of living," said Weinberg, whose conservative, national security-infused positions on immigration mirror those of a significant number of those Democrats--liberal, moderate and conservative--elected to the House and Senate Tuesday night.

Despite the predictable demise of Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Randy Graf in Arizona and other red state darlings of the Minutemen and other anti-immigrantistas, the pro-immigrant legislative outlook is less-than-rosy--or even purple. The crop of House and Senate members-elect includes many Democrats whose positions on immigration hardly differ from the "border first" Republicans they ousted. This poses a major problem to those hoping the new political wave washes away the Wall, opposition to legalization, the increased raids and other enforcement-only immigration policies.

A good case in point is that of Ohio's senator-elect, Sherrod Brown, a self-described "progressive." In addition joining fellow Democrats and presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (as well as 24 other Demss and Republican presidential hopefuls John McCain and Sam Brownback) in their vote for the recently-approved 700-mile wall at the border, Brown also voted to deny habeas corpus to undocumented and legal immigrants deemed "enemy combatants" or suspected of providing "material support" to terrorist groups by the president.

In the House, the voice of the new majority may sound like that of one of the growing number of Blue Dog Democrats like North Carolina's Heath Shuler, who said in an interview during the campaign, "I oppose illegal immigration and any amnesty for those who have entered our country illegally. Securing our borders is not just an immigration issue, it's a matter of national security. I support the necessary funding for physical barriers, additional border agents and any other means required to secure our borders."

Despite the historic immigration marches earlier this year, Blue Dog, liberal-left and moderate Democrats were pretty consistent in following the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's message on immigration, which seemed to be, "Emphasize border security, ignore legalization." As Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi crafts what some pundits predict may be a more "moderate" legislative agenda that includes increasing the minimum wage, funding stem cell research and tax breaks for college tuition, her campaign and victory statements have largely left out any mention of immigration.

This silence on immigration from Pelosi and other Democrats provides little sense of where the numerous reform proposals of 2006 will go. This will depend on both the recent elections and on what activists on both sides of the immigration issue do inside and outside the Beltway. We should remember that, prior to the spring marches, the largest in U.S. history, the word in Washington was that there was no chance of even considering legalization. And though naive projections of a million new voters did not materialize, Latinos appear to have joined African-American, suburban, Catholic and women voters as they return to the Democratic fold. Recent polls by the William C. Velasquez Institute, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and other organizations indicate that a majority of Latinos will carry into the Democratic tent concerns about immigration as one of their most important electoral issues.

In a rather bizarre scenario, the rightward tilt on immigration of many newly-elected Democrats may benefit the immigration proposal of the man deemed the biggest loser Tuesday night: George W. Bush.

Immigrant rights activists like Nativo Lopez, head of the Los Angeles-based Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana and a key leader in the 400-organization strong National Alliance for Immigrant Rights, fear that Blue Dog and other Democrats, some Republicans, key labor unions and other interest groups could create the perfect immigration storm by cutting a bipartisan deal on a guest worker program. "I think that deal may have been made even before the election" says Lopez, who represents the wing of the immigrant rights movement that rejects guest worker legislation or other bills that do not provide a path to full legalization.

Another, brighter scenario for immigrant rights supporters is one that frames the election of the Democratic majority as opening a space for negotiations. In that space, Blue Dog Democrats--and even those House Republicans who voiced support for legalization, a la McCain-Kennedy--the opportunity to vote early enough so that the heat coming from such a vote dies down before elections in 2008. But such a strategy would require significant and early pressure on Pelosi and her lieutenants by more left-leaning unions, religious and community groups and others. And a Democratic Senate majority and a McCain presidential candidacy may do much to provide further cover to closeted legalization supporters.

Regardless of their position on guest worker, legalization or other proposals, the movimiento may have to return to the mix of strategies and tactics--some tried-and-true, others new and more in-your-face--that shook Washington earlier this year. Now that elections are over, immigration rights activists may have to reverse and expand their signature slogan to say, "Today We Vote, Tommorrow We March, Protest, Organize, Sit-in and Declare Sanctuary."

As statements by many of the newly-elected members of Congress sound indistinguishable from statements made by outgoing Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, the author of the original legislation calling for a border wall, the movimiento must work harder to prevent the Democratic Party from building on Republican immigration policies. Failure to do so may result in the fusion of local politics in Ellen Weinberg's gated community to the politics of Fortress America.

Does Top GOP Xenophobe Cash in on Undocumented Labor?

When President Bush signed into law on Oct. 4 a bill authorizing the construction of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the man who stood to reap the greatest political profits did not join the president in Arizona. Instead, Congressman James Sensenbrenner is back in his Milwaukee district fending off a growing chorus of local critics who claim he is also reaping financial profits from the very immigration policies he has championed.

Immigration rights advocates, the congressman's Democratic opponent and some constituents are pointing to Sensenbrenner's investments in companies they say are generating profits from the labor of undocumented immigrants. They also say the congressman stands to benefit from investments in companies contracted by the federal government to provide services he has proposed as part of his immigration reform legislation -- such as building massive immigrant detention centers or providing surveillance systems to monitor immigrants near the border.

An analysis of companies identified in Sensenbrenner's most recent financial disclosure forms (2005) reveals that the congressman has invested in companies that have directly hired or subcontracted with employers who hire undocumented workers.

Drawing especially strong criticism are the $86,500 in stocks Sensenbrenner holds in the construction and infrastructure colossus Halliburton. The Texas-based giant has been the subject of Senate hearings into its labor practices in the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. News reports and several panelists at Senate hearings have stated that Halliburton used subcontractors hiring hundreds, perhaps thousands of undocumented workers as part of no-bid federal contracts to cleanup Belle Chasse Naval base and other military facilities in the devastated region. Halliburton has also secured a $385 million Department of Homeland Security contract to build gigantic immigrant detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border and stands to secure further contracts from proposals to reopen closed military bases to house deportees and detainees.

Halliburton has also been mentioned as one of the main contractors to build increased security infrastructure, security roads and improved employment verification systems at ports of entry.

Sensenbrenner owns more than $563,536 in General Electric stocks. GE's Security Unit has been a Pentagon subcontractor, providing video surveillance and other electronic security systems at the border. and contributed to Sensenbrenner through its employee PAC. Boeing, which recently secured a $2.5 billion contract order to install sensors, radar and cameras along the U.S. borders, is among the top contributors to Sensenbrenner's PAC.

Sensenbrenner's filings showed a total net worth in excess of $10 million in 2005, with just under $1 million in stock investments in Kimberly-Clark, maker of tissues and personal care products.

The multibillion dollar federal contracts and proposals to build the physical and virtual walls at the border -- which were signed into law on Oct. 4 -- were first proposed in Sensenbrenner's now historic immigration bill, HR 4437.

As November elections draw near, Sensenbrenner, like other elected officials, is spending more time in his district. But the immigration issue may not be giving him the political traction it once did. Usually predictable Town Hall meetings with constituents are increasingly becoming more heated. A June 25, 2006, town hall held in Thiensville, Wis., is revealing. Sensenbrenner was confronted by constituent Lester Schultz, who asked the congressman about the "moral and ethical" implications of investing in companies like Halliburton, which hire undocumented workers.

Sensenbrenner said the investments in question were "bequeathed to me before I began my public service." When pressed he insisted that his portfolio didn't affect his votes. "We don't believe it," some audience members responded.

Asked about Schultz' and others' criticisms of the congressman's investments in companies hiring undocumented workers and benefiting from immigration policies, Sensenbrenner spokesperson Jeff Lungren said, "I'm unaware of these complaints."

Sensenbrenner's HR 4437 calls for "systematic surveillance of the international land and maritime borders of the United States through more effective use of personnel and technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras."

Sensenbrenner's Democratic opponent in the upcoming Congressional race in Wisconsin's fifth district, Bryan Kennedy, has publicly asked Sensenbrenner to divest himself of Halliburton and other companies he believes benefit by hiring undocumented workers.

Sensenbrenner has criticized companies that profit from exploitative working conditions that, he recently said, make it "cheaper to hire an illegal alien than a citizen or a legal alien who is present in this country with a green card."

Other investments raising flags in Milwaukee include the $44,179 in shares Sensenbrenner holds in Darden Restaurants Inc. Darden operates chains like The Olive Garden and Red Lobster, which have been reported to employ undocumented workers. "Jose," a cook at a Red Lobster restaurant in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa in Sensenbrenner's district, was unaware that he was working for a company that made the Congressman that proposed "el Muro" (the wall) richer. "I don't have papers and had to cross the border from Mexico," Jose said. "Is he schizophrenic? Does he like our work and hate us?"

Cristina Neumann Ortiz, a Sensenbrenner constituent who organized the largest marches in Milwaukee history in response to HR 4437, finds typical the alleged contradiction between the congressman's anti-undocumented immigrant policies and rhetoric and his pro-undocumented stock portfolio. "This is a classic case of exploiting workers. He (Sensenbrenner) is for their work while doing everything he can to make sure that they don't get any rights. I see this among exploitative employers. I see it in Congress."

After finishing his shrimp scampi at the Red Lobster restaurant in Wauwatosa, Sensenbrenner constituent Jim Rehtman defended the congressman. Rehtman was joined by his nephew, John, a tattooed trucker who stood in the restaurant lobby wearing a T-shirt with a large American flag that read "Welcome to America…NOW LEARN ENGLISH."

"I support what he's doing to try to stop those illegals," said Rehtman, a 73-year-old retired welder.

Asked how he felt about the fact that his food may have been prepared by one of the undocumented workers interviewed for this story, a cook in the back kitchen, Rehtman leaned his head sideways, raised his shoulders and said, "I don't like it. Not one bit. They shouldn't be back there. That's why we need to change the laws." When told that Sensenbrenner, who recently referred to employers of the undocumented as "21st-century slave masters," was also an investor in the company that owned Red Lobster, Rehtman shook his head.

"Car salesmen and politicians, they both..." He then stopped short. "I don't want to insult car salesmen that way."

Voices From the New Civil Rights Movement

Under cover of an oak tree on a tobacco farm deep in the heart of rural North Carolina, Leticia Zavala challenges the taller, older male migrant farm workers with talk of a boycott and legalizacion.

"We will not get anything without fighting for it," declares the intense 5-foot-1 organizer with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Pen and notebook in hand, Zavala hacks swiftly through the fear and doubt that envelop many migrants. She speaks from a place, an experience, that most organizers in this country don't know: Her earliest childhood and adolescent memories are of migrating each year with her family between Mexico and Florida. "We have five buses and each of you has to decide for yourselves if you want to go to Washington with us," she says. After some deliberation most of the workers, many of whom have just finished the seven-day trek from Nayarit, Mexico, opt to get on another bus and join the May 1 marcha and boycott. They trust her, as do the more than 500 other migrant workers from across the state who heed the call from one of the new leaders of the movimiento that is upon us.

Asked why she thinks FLOC was so successful in mobilizing farm workers (the union made history after a stunning 2004 victory that secured representation and a contract for more than 10,000 H-2A "guest" workers who labor on strawberry, tobacco, yam, cucumber and other farms), Zavala talks about "the importance of networks" and the need to respond to the globalization of labor through the creation of a "migrating union." She and other FLOC organizers have followed migrant workers to Mexico, where the organization has an office--and then have followed them back over several months. She also points to the vision, strategies and tactics shared by her mentor, FLOC founder Baldemar Velasquez, who passed on to her the advice that Martin Luther King Jr. gave him during the Poor People's Campaign in 1967: "When you impact the rich man's ability to make money, anything is negotiable."

But when you ask her what is most important in the twenty-first-century matrix of successful organizing, the bespectacled, bright-eyed Zavala will bring you back to basics: "One of the biggest successes of the union is that it takes away loneliness."

The 26-year-old Zavala's vision, experience and learning are a telling reflection of how the leaders of the movimiento merge traditional labor and civil rights strategies and tactics with more global, networked--and personalized--organizing to meet the challenges of the quintessentially global issue of immigration. While it's important to situate the immigrant struggle within the context of the ongoing freedom struggles of African-Americans, women (like Zavala, an extraordinary number of movimiento leaders are mujeres) and others who have fought for social justice in the United States, labeling and framing it as a "new civil rights movement" risks erasing its roots in Latin American struggles and history.

The mainstream narrative of the movement emphasizes that single-minded immigrants want legalization--and how "angry Hispanics" and their Spanish-language radio DJ leaders mobilized in reaction to HR 4437 (better known as the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which would criminalize the undocumented). But Zavala and other movimiento leaders across the country say that while it's true that the Sensenbrenner bill provided a spark, explaining this powerful movement of national and even global significance as a reaction to DJ-led calls to "marchar!" leaves many things--and people--out of the picture.

This time, there is no Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez centering and centralizing the movement. Instead, grassroots leaders like Zavala mix, scratch and dub different media (think MySpace.com and text messaging, radio and TV, butcher paper and bullhorns) while navigating the cultural, political and historical currents that yoke and inspire the diverse elements making up this young, decentralized, digital-age movimiento.

At the older end of the age and experience spectrum (the average Latino is 26) is 44-year-old Juan Jose Gutierrez. He started organizing in the late 1970s, distributing mimeographed copies of the radical newspaper Sin Fronteras to immigrant workers in the face of hostility from the anti-Communist right. The director of Latino Movement USA and a key figure in the recent (and, to some, controversial) May 1 boycott, Gutierrez has logged thousands of miles and met hundreds of leaders in his efforts to build one of many vibrant movement networks. "Since January, I've been to about thirty-five different cities and seen old and new leadership coming together to create something that has never been seen before," says Gutierrez, who migrated to Los Angeles from Tuxpan, Jalisco, Mexico, when he was 11. "The [Spanish-language] DJs played a role, an important role, but they let us put our message in their medium. You can trace this movement all the way back to 1968."

Unlike the movimiento leaders who cut their teeth organizing in left-leaning Latin America, Gutierrez traces his political roots to post-civil rights East LA; he and many of the most important Mexican and Chicano immigrant rights leaders in LA--including union leader Maria Elena Durazo, longtime activist Javier Rodriguez and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa--came out of the Centro de Accion Social Autonomo (Center for Autonomous Social Action), or CASA, a seminal Chicano political organization founded by legendary leaders Bert Corona and Soledad "Chole" Alatorre in 1968. One of the central tasks of CASA, which from its inception had a strong working-class and trade union orientation, was organizing undocumented workers. Gutierrez and others who have covered the country spiderlike for years see a direct line from the organizing around the amnesty law of 1986, which legalized 3 million undocumented workers, to immigrant rights organizing in California (home to one of every three immigrants in the United States), the fight against Proposition 187 of 1994 (which tried to deny health and education benefits to the children of the undocumented) and the historic shift of the AFL-CIO in 2000, when it decided to undertake immigrant organizing.

Having hopped back and forth among many of the more than 200 cities and towns that staged actions in April and May, Gutierrez sees different kinds of leaders emerging from the grassroots: "There are, of course, the undocumented, who are also leading things in local communities; there are legal immigrants getting involved, because they have friends and family who are affected by the anti-immigrant policies; and there are immigrants from different countries who bring their own political, sometimes radical, experiences from places like Guatemala and El Salvador."

One of the "radical" legacies that New York immigrant rights leader Miguel Ramirez has carried with him since fleeing El Salvador is an intensely collective outlook on personal and political identity. Ramirez, who heads the Queens-based Centro Hispano Cuzcatlan, recalls how one of his US-born colleagues told him to "correct" the resume he used to apply for his first organizing job in New York. "He [the friend] told me I had to take out the 'we,'" says 53-year-old Ramirez, whose bushy mustache often lifts to reveal a disarming smile. "I didn't know it was wrong to write, 'We organized a forum, we organized a workshop, we organized a network.'"

The experience and approach of Ramirez, who left his homeland in 1979 after many of his fellow students at the University of El Salvador were persecuted and killed, show that the US movimiento is as much the northernmost expression of a resurgent Latin American left as it is a new, more globalized, human rights-centered continuation of the Chicano, civil rights and other previous struggles that facilitated immigrant rights work here.

Ramirez, who estimates that since migrating he's helped organize more than 100 marches--all of them "very disciplined and without incidents"--is informed by the experience of organizing students, campesinos and others in revolutionary El Salvador, where one of every three Salvadorans adopted radicalized politics during the war. Lacking the wealth and pro-US government politics of Cuban-Americans and other, more conservative immigrant groups, Ramirez and many Salvadoran immigrants (most of whom were denied legal status and benefits granted to Cubans, Vietnamese and others) created organizations that then formed vast multi-issue, mass-based networks challenging the foreign and domestic policies of the most powerful country on earth.

This robust legacy energizes Ramirez and Centro Hispano Cuzcatlan, which organizes around worker rights, housing and immigration, as they play definitive roles in the construction of local networks like the Immigrant Communities in Action coalition. Through the coalition, Centro joined Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Indonesian and other groups that have organized some of the country's most diverse marches.

Reflecting the historic and ongoing tensions between more election- and legislative-focused immigrant rights advocates in Washington and local and regional players, Ramirez, like the younger Zavala, calmly insists the movimiento must look beyond the upcoming elections and even the pending immigration bill. "In the end, it's an issue of power, one that can only be addressed by constant organizing."

US-born Latinos also feel Ramirez's urgency about organizing around immigration. Their ranks include teens and twentysomethings relatively new to politics, along with veterans like Wisconsin's Christine Neumann-Ortiz, who was influenced by several Latin American movements as well as the struggle against California's Proposition 187.

"To see those thousands of people marching against Prop 187 was an inspiration," says Ortiz, who heads Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant worker center in the belly of the anti-immigrant beast, James Sensenbrenner's Milwaukee. "I was very impressed that there was that kind of response [to Prop 187]. We used that as a lesson," says Ortiz, who was one of the main organizers of marches of 30,000 and 70,000 people, some of the largest marches ever in a state with a storied progressive past.

Ortiz was not caught off guard by the movimiento. "I'm happy to be alive to see this shift," she states from one of Voces's three offices in Wisconsin, "but I'm not at all surprised. We've been building up networks of people over many years."

She and other activists point to years of service and advocacy on behalf of immigrants, which built up good will and trust in the community, as being defining factors in the ability to rally people into political action.

Founded in Austin, Texas, with a mission to build solidarity between US and Mexican maquiladora workers following the signing of the NAFTA accords in nearby San Antonio in 1994, Voces de la Frontera embodies a local-global sensibility. Ortiz started the Milwaukee Voces in November 2001 in response to the growing needs of Milwaukee's fast-growing Latino immigrant population. Like the settlement houses and mutual aid societies and other organizations that supported German and other white European immigrant workers of previous, more progressive eras in Wisconsin and elsewhere, Voces provides a critical support structure for the mostly Mexican and Central American workers in the agricultural, hotel and restaurant, construction and manufacturing industries in HR 4437 country.

Sensenbrenner "wants to leave a legacy. So did McCarthy. Immigrants in Wisconsin know his hypocrisy better than anyone," says Ortiz, whose German and Mexican immigrant heritage portends the not-so-distant future of once wholly white Wisconsin. "He is encroaching on his own base. Dairy farmers in his own district are revolting because he's attacking their economic base. This can't last in the long term," she says, as if eyeing developments in post-Prop 187 California, where short-term anti-immigrant backlash led to a longer-term movement that gave Los Angeles its first Latino (and progressive) mayor--and gave the movimiento a vision of its potential.

Like organizers in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities, Ortiz and Voces have built strong and deep relationships with the local Spanish-language media. But they're also keenly aware of who's leading the charge. "We had lists of more than 4,000 workers before the radio stations or Sensenbrenner came into the picture," Ortiz explains.

As they continue to organize and lobby around the immigration debate in Congress, around the inevitable backlash at the local and state levels and around a more proactive agenda, Ortiz and many of the other leaders of the immigrant rights movement are keeping their eyes on a larger prize, beyond the issue of immigration. "We're going to change this country," she says, adding, "We've gained public sympathy for immigrants. We've gained recognition and power, and we are an inspiration to the larger movement for change." She is especially motivated when she describes the effect of the movimiento on the generations to come. Like the "Hmong students who went to a Sensenbrenner town hall meeting in South Alice [a Milwaukee suburb] and chanted 'Si se puede, Si se puede' at him." Asked if the backlash will damage the movimiento, Ortiz responds, "In the long run this will make us stronger and build our movement."

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