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International Socialist Review Issue 43, SeptemberOctober 2005
Vigilantes at the border:
The new war on immigrants
By JUSTIN AKERS
Justin Akers is active in antiwar and cross-border solidarity work. He is the author of “A Draft in the Air?” (ISR 38, November–December 2004), “Farmworkers in the U.S.” (ISR 33, March–April 2004), and “Operation Gatekeeper: Militarizing the Border” (ISR 18, June–July 2001).
PAUSING INTERMITTENTLY under the merciless sun, Cesareo Dominguez desperately scanned the desert near the Arizona border for twenty-one consecutive days. In a well-known migrant corridor, just south of Pima County, his search came to a tragic end when he discovered what he hoped he wouldn’t, the lifeless body of his daughter, Lucresia. She had made a desperate attempt to cross from Mexico without papers, in order to reunite with her husband now living in the United States. She had become distraught since he had not returned home in two years, as stricter border enforcement threatened his apprehension, deportation, and loss of crucial dollars that sustained their family. Lucresia could not survive the thirty-nine-day trip through the heat and desolate terrain, and succumbed anonymously amongst the ocotillo trees. Sixty-five more people would perish in July along the same stretch of the “journey of death” northward.1
On the other side of the same stretch of desert, right-wing vigilante squads calling themselves the Minutemen have begun patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sporting fatigues, a small arsenal, and paramilitary bravado, their migrant hunting expeditions are designed to open a new front of the “war on terrorism” by portraying the “porous border” as a threat to national security and “American culture.”
Meanwhile, their urban equivalents in an organization called Save Our State (S.O.S.) are marching into immigrant communities, sounding the alarms of “foreign invasion,” and decrying the frequency of brown faces in public spaces.
Opposition to the politics of hate and exclusion has not been forthcoming from the Democratic Party. Indeed, though Republicans are often the worst, politicians from both parties have created, both by words and deeds, a climate of hostility to immigrants that has opened the door to more virulent, far-right, anti-immigrant racists. At the same time, however, a grassroots immigrant rights movement is organizing to challenge both the legitimacy and the efficacy of the anti-immigrant groups. The outcome of this struggle will play a role in determining the trajectory of immigration politics in the coming years.
The legal war on immigrants
To understand the emergence of far-right vigilantism, it is necessary to grasp the manifold offensive taking place against immigrants on a national scale. The war on terrorism has set into motion the machinery for a protean restructuring of immigration policy. Beginning with the USA PATRIOT Act and the extra-legal detentions of Arabs and Muslims, policy-makers have also used the opportunity to restructure the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency) and incorporate it into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The repackaging of immigration as a national security issue and the relentless fear-mongering of terror alerts has enabled a broad network of anti-immigrant forces—well-funded political action groups, conservative think tanks, anti-immigration politicians, and a host of far-right activist organizations—to seize the political initiative.2
From above, sweeping anti-immigrant legislation is being cycled through federal and state governments; while from below, reactionary activist groups are mustering the troops to take their message to the streets.
With little debate, Congress recently passed the Real ID Act. Under the pretext of isolating domestic terrorists, the act enables the DHS to establish standards for a national identity card by 2008, by centralizing all state drivers’ license systems into a federal database. Furthermore, it restricts the amnesty process, and gives the DHS free rein over further construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.3
The ID card will effectively eliminate the few vestiges of mobility for the undocumented within the United States. Without IDs, they could not legally drive, fly, take trains, or enter any government building. It would also override the twelve states that currently don’t require proof of citizenship or legal status to get a driver’s license.4
In late June, Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), have introduced the Clear Law Enforcement for criminal Alien Removal Act (CLEAR Act) into both houses of Congress. If passed, the CLEAR Act will allow the nation’s 660,000 law enforcement agents to arrest and detain suspected undocumented immigrants, elevate unauthorized immigration from a civil to criminal offense (punishable by jail terms and fines), crack down on locales that provide sanctuary, and fund the construction of twenty new immigrant detention centers.5
The ripple effect of such politics is spreading through statehouses across the country. Maryland will soon begin cutting off thousands of children of legal as well as undocumented immigrants from health care benefits and may also cut immigrant pregnant women off the state’s health rolls. Virginia recently passed a measure denying the undocumented public benefits, including access to Medicaid, welfare, and local health care services.6
Arizona has set a new standard for the disregard of basic human rights, passing the notorious Proposition 200 last November. The intent of Prop 200 is to deny undocumented immigrants access to all state and local benefits, including public housing, food assistance, college tuition, and employment benefits. The proposition, modeled on California’s Prop 187—which passed in 1994 and was later killed in the courts—ups the ante by holding all state and local officials liable for reporting any undocumented immigrants who may request services. It also makes Arizona the first state in the country to require proof of citizenship to vote.
Buoyed by the success of Prop 200, national anti-immigrant groups and local supporters are now trying to replicate efforts in several more states.7 Open season on immigrants also filters down into the lower echelons of the state apparatus. Recently, a police chief in Hudson, New Hampshire arrested a twenty-one-year-old roofer from Massachusetts, Jorge Mora Ramirez, on suspicion of being in the country without papers. Police Chief W. Garret Chamberlain decided to arrest Mora by charging him under the state’s criminal trespassing statute. A district judge later ruled the practice unconstitutional, but the incident is nevertheless indicative of the political climate.
In 2005, the Border Patrol staged “roving raids,” sweeping up suspected undocumented workers off the streets, out of markets, and off public transport. In San Diego County, officials rescinded a long-standing order that kept the Border Patrol from harassing “suspected undocumented immigrants” in their own communities.8
By engineering an atmosphere of besiegement—where immigrants are demonized in the media and openly decried by a chorus of government officials—the anti-immigration movement seeks to make the issue a litmus test for all politicians, with some eagerly seizing the opportunity.
California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—himself an undocumented immigrant at one point—recently announced his support for “closing the border” and cracking down on immigrants. “Close the borders. Close the borders in California, and all across Mexico and the United States,” he said to the Newspaper Association of America convention in April.9 Further arousing the animosity of many Californians, he went on to praise the actions of the Minutemen, claiming “they’ve done a terrific job.”10 These statements come at a time when his popularity has plummeted to an all-time low of 37 percent and he struggles to reinvent himself.11
Neither Arnold nor his party is alone in playing up his anti-immigration credentials. In mid-August New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, who takes pride in being the nation’s only Hispanic governor, placed the border region of the state under a “state of emergency.” In a statement defending his actions, he declared, “Recent developments have convinced me this action is necessary—including violence directed at law enforcement, damage to property and livestock, increased evidence of drug smuggling, and an increase in the number of undocumented immigrants.”12
In this climate, it is therefore not surprising that border vigilantes have confidently begun armed patrols along the California border. Anti-immigrant hysteria, produced and packaged in a bipartisan way in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, serves as the trumpeter’s call for further action.
As James Gilchrist, an accountant from southern California and founder of the Minuteman Project, posed before the news camera in the simmering Arizona desert and explained his mission to a captive media: “This thing was a dog and pony show designed to bring in the media and get the message out and it worked.” His partner and co-founder of the Minutemen, Chris Simcox, added, “We are showing the government the model for homeland security. If they deployed 10,000 to 15,000 National Guard troops on the border, there would be nowhere else to funnel people.”13
The reorganization of anti-immigrant groupings, conducted under the umbrella of the Minuteman Project, seeks to create “citizens patrols” of the border and capture national attention with the hopes that the government will take stricter measures to curb undocumented immigration.
While they use the Minuteman name to evoke a populist image of “patriotic citizen soldiers,” they are in fact a reconfiguration of existing extreme right-wing, paramilitary formations that have been given new legitimacy in a polarizing environment. Sensing an opportunity to revive their war on immigrants, their leaders have shed their militia movement credentials and have recreated media friendly images. In one interview, James Gilchrist referred to the group as “white Martin Luther Kings” fighting for the civil rights of the native born.14
Their suburban counterparts, such as S.O.S., organize aggressive campaigns of intimidation in immigrant communities and in other urban areas where migrants live and congregate. This includes day-laborer centers and at businesses that cater to an immigrant clientele. By aggressively targeting immigrants and the institutions that serve them, they aim to instill fear, and to expose the tolerance of a “passive government.”
The membership and followers of these exclusively white organizations are comprised of disaffected white-collar workers, middle-class professionals, technical workers, and rural landowners. The movement classically plays on the politics of resentment and scapegoating, deflecting frustration over various ills and perceived slights onto low-paid, oppressed immigrants. For instance, in one interview with the Arizona Republic, Gilchrist said that he was unable to get subsidized housing for his mother because the system was “flooded with requests from illegal aliens. I thought this was the United States of America, for U.S. citizens,” he said. “But I realized slowly it wasn’t. It was for whoever got here by whatever means necessary, whether they were legal or not.”15
More braceros and more border cops
Undocumented workers are an increasing percentage of several important industries. According to a recent Department of Labor survey, they’re a quarter of workers in the meat and poultry industry, 24 percent of dishwashers, and 27 percent of drywall and ceiling tile installers, and up to 25 percent of the construction workforce. Last year, according to a Hew Hispanic Center study, more than one million of the nation’s 2.5 million new jobs went to undocumented workers.16 In short, U.S. capital depends on immigration laws to ensure that immigrant labor remains cheap—but unlike the anti-immigrant activists, they also want it to remain plentiful.
It is therefore indicative that George Bush has responded with disdain to the actions of the Minutemen, while doing nothing to stop them or militate against the legislative barrage against immigrants. Instead, Bush and an alliance of corporations are pushing for a new Temporary Worker Program.
The Bush administration plans to create three-year temporary visas (renewable once) for up to 300,000 workers. More far-reaching than previous guest-worker programs based on agriculture, it would allow for the use of contract labor in every sector of the U.S. economy. Guest-worker programs are ideal for businesses, since they deny workers the right to form or join unions and to participate in the political process. The proposals also exclude the possibility for citizenship for most workers, since they are forced to return to their homeland after the expiration of the contract. Furthermore, the social costs of producing and sustaining guest workers are absorbed by their home country.17
According to journalist David Bacon, “[t]hese proposals incorporate demands by the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition—36 of the U.S.’s largest trade and manufacturers’ associations, headed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”18 He concludes, “[d]espite their claims, there is no great shortage of workers in the United States. There is a shortage of workers at the low wages industry would like to pay.” Membership in the new coalition runs from $50,000 to $250,000, with the funds being channeled into a political campaign that will combine the need for a guest-worker program and tighter border controls.19
As Bush’s Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, explains:
We have to gain full control of our borders to prevent illegal immigration and security breaches….While the pro-Wall Street faction in charge of the political establishment disagrees with the endgame of the Minutemen and their collaborators, they tolerate them and use them for their own purposes: to isolate immigrants in segregated communities and job occupations and to keep anti-immigrant hysteria bubbling so that public opinion remains tilted against the expansion of civil rights for migrant workers.
But gaining control of the border will require something more—reducing the demand for illegal border migration by channeling migrants into regulated legal channels to seek work. I look forward to working with Congress, therefore, this year to improve border security significantly through the President’s proposed Temporary Worker Program.20
The perpetuation of a segregated workforce ensures low wages and high profit margins. Current immigrant laws and patterns of enforcement demonstrate the preponderance of business interests. Sanctions against employers of the undocumented—while on the books—are largely ignored. From 1993 to 2003, the number of arrests at work sites nationwide went from 7,630 to 445. The number of fines dropped from 944 in 1993 to 124 in 2003.21 This illustrates the means by which the costs of migration are pushed onto the workers themselves, while business benefits from their “illegal” status.
Agents routinely arrest workers, not employers. Little concern for punishment allows companies to “self-police” their workers through their citizenship status. It is not uncommon for employers to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) on their own undocumented workers if they try to organize unions. Undocumented workers are channeled into low-wage, non-union sectors of the economy that big business will relentlessly seek to expand through the agency of guest-worker programs and perpetuation of their “illegality.”
Due to this discrepancy, the Minutemen “attack” campaigns are also directed at the Bush administration. Using populist rhetoric, the far-Right is calling the Bush administration lackeys for big business and therefore unwilling to go far enough to protect the borders and native-born workers. Their goal is to use nationalist, xenophobic, and racist appeals to attract disaffected elements in society that not only have no direct economic interest in the exploitation of undocumented workers, but have nothing materially to gain by restricting immigration (see the following article, “Immigration: myth and reality”).
In May, these forces gathered in Las Vegas to call for stricter immigration legislation including a campaign to prosecute businesses that hire the undocumented. Speakers at the event included Barbara Coe, a co-author of California’s Proposition 187, which sought to deny some public benefits to illegal immigrants; James Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project; Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.); and relatives of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Other speakers included several law enforcement agents, and Michael Cutler, a former INS agent. At times chants broke out at the rally, including “send them home,” referring to the movement’s desire for a national deportation campaign.22
Minuteman leaders have also spoken before the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus (CIRC) of the U.S. Congress. Seventy-one members of the House of Representatives (sixty-nine Republicans and two Democrats) comprise CIRC, which explicitly supports the Minuteman Project. Led by Congressman Tancredo, who recently proposed precision bombing of Islamic holy sites in retaliation for attacks in Western cities, the caucus aims to use the Minutemen to take their agenda to “middle-American” voters.23
Their campaign to use immigration to pull politics to the right is succeeding. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), who is said to be considering a run for governor, says of the Minuteman Project, “these people have shown a commitment and a caring that should be acknowledged here in the United States Senate.”24
The border hysteria has moved so far into the mainstream that the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Robert C. Bonner, recently announced that his agency would like to incorporate Minutemen-like vigilante groups into joint actions with the Border Patrol. While later backing off the idea, forty-seven members of Congress introduced House Bill 3622 to establish a Border Protection Corps, which encourages “volunteer militant-vigilante-policemen in cities throughout the U.S. with the objective of reporting undocumented immigrants to collaborate with federal, state and local authorities.”25 Whether a proposal for what are essentially legalized armed paramilitary groups is implemented or not, this constitutes a green light to the armed vigilantes to step up their activity and organizing. Statements and proposals like these give confidence to most extreme components of the new movement—Nazis, the Klan, and other home-grown fascist groups eager to re-enter the mainstream.
Old racism in a new bottle
While their leaders unctuously sport a refined image in front of the cameras, denying that the movement is racist, border vigilantes can barely contain themselves for long. During the inaugural incursion along the Arizona border, Gilchrist let slip what really bothers him about immigrants from Mexico. “It’s a silent Trojan horse invasion that is eroding our culture,” he told reporters.26
Coined the “new racism” by sociologists, the exclusion of certain groups (non-Anglo, non-European cultures being the prime targets) on the basis of culture is perceived as a socially acceptable means to communicate racism without violating the changing linguistic norms in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.27
Further indicators of racism are derived from more obvious factors. The Minuteman Project, framing its devotion to the cause of national security, chooses to ignore the Canadian border and its sparsely protected seventy-nine points of entry, and instead bleats about Mexico’s thirty-seven heavily monitored points of entry. There is, moreover, no hue and cry over the presence of undocumented white workers in the U.S. from countries like Poland.
Others are less obtuse about their disdain for immigrants. The Web site for Save Our State says, “And there you stand and watch, paralyzed by fear, as your community is ravaged by the illegal alien invasion and turned into a Third World cesspool.28 The bluster of economics, terrorism, and patriotism fold into open animosity towards immigrants. Joe Turner, the founder of S.O.S., describes the aim of the anti-immigrant movement
This idea is predicated on a singular notion that Americans are fed up with illegal immigration and want to get involved with an outfit that is serious.… Eventually, we are going to have an activist presence that will intimidate and strike fear into our opponents’ hearts. Not only because we will have the troop strength to evoke fear, but because of the manner in which we are active. We take our battles to the streets...something no other organization in the movement has ever done with any consistency or persistence.29The open contempt and the insinuation of the need for violence against immigrants have provided the opening for active participation of fascist elements. Expressing his desire to take more direct action, James Garret, a “tactical officer” for the Arizona Minutemen, lamented to journalist Peter Lauffer, “We need a revolution [because] my government precludes me from fighting the Mexicans.”30 A member of the California Minutemen, James Chase, urged his followers to come prepared to the July 16 patrol in Campo, California and bring “machetes, stun guns and baseball bats.” This was urged in order “to protect our people against the monster, should they appear.”31
Groups adopting the Minutemen mantra are springing up all over, some openly espousing fascist ideology. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the participation of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in Minuteman activities in Arizona. Two days before the staged actions, Alliance pamphlets were distributed across the Minutemen base town of Tombstone, Arizona, calling for extreme measures against immigrants.
Human rights groups also documented the participation of such racists as Joe McCutchen, a member of the white supremacist organization Council of Conservative Citizens. Preparing for the border action, he told his supporters of the immigrants they were there to hunt, “They’ve got tuberculosis, leprosy. I mean, you don’t even want to touch them unless you’re wearing gloves. So why the hell should we pay our taxes to cure them?” One participant, summarized his relationship to the Minuteman Project in the following way:
We understand why Gilchrist and [project co-organizer Chris] Simcox have to talk all this P.C. crap. It’s all about playing to the media. That’s fine. While we’re here, it’s their game and we’ll play by their rules. Once Minuteman’s over, though, we might just have to come back and do our own thing.32Neo-Nazi organizations have also appeared at S.O.S. rallies in California. At a July 16 protest against immigrants at the Laguna Day Laborers Center in Orange County, members of the National Vanguard turned out mixing with other S.O.S. members, carrying an S.O.S. banner and openly unfurling Nazi flags.33 While some members were alarmed at their presence, S.O.S. founder Joe Turner chastised those who sought to disassociate themselves, stating:
So, if you are in [S.O.S.]...accept this reality [of Nazis being at our events]. If you cannot accept this reality or feel uncomfortable about it, then it is time for you to bow out and move on to another organization. No hard feelings. No grudges.34It is not a coincidence that the appearance of the Minutemen parallels a general increase of hate crimes against Latinos across the United States. Across the South, for instance, there has been a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activity increasingly directed at Latino immigrants.35 Concealing their former identities under the now acceptable Minuteman label, Klan and Nazi groups are finding a new lease on life, and a new target to direct their hate and violence.
Under these circumstances, they can recruit more opportunistic politicians at the top, eager to exploit the circumstances for political capital, and they will also attract more followers at the grassroots level eager to take physical action in order to solve the “immigrant problem.” As one racist cited on a neo-Nazi Web site, “this is a movement every WN [white nationalist] should support and be active in. It moves in our direction even as it does not even acknowledge, or even know, that the WN movement exists. Anti-alien activism is a no-loose [sic] for WN.”36
The appearance and growth of far-right hate groups in the present and future will depend how immigrant rights activists respond. Left unchallenged, they present a façade of power and can further perpetuate a climate of hate and fear.
The complicit Democrats
Many have pinned their hopes on liberal politicians in the Democratic Party, in the hope that electoral politics can serve as a corrective to counter to the confident Right.
But the Democrats have, if anything, contributed to the climate of hate and fear. New Mexico’s Democratic governor, as mentioned, has declared martial law on the state’s border. Conservative Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Diane Feinstein have tried to outflank the Republicans to the right on the issue by appearing more willing to “crack down” on undocumented workers. The most formidable anti-immigrant institution, Operation Gatekeeper, enacted by the Clinton administration in 1994, is directly responsible for both the deaths of over 3,200 migrant workers in the last ten years and the current clamor to expand the border wall even further.
California Senator Diane Feinstein has championed strict border controls for most of her career.37 Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party’s current hopeful for the presidency in 2008, has moved so far to the right on immigration, the conservative Washington Times accused her of “staking out a position on illegal immigration that is more conservative than President Bush, a strategy that supporters and detractors alike see as a way for the New York Democrat to shake the ‘liberal’ label and appeal to traditionally Republican states.”38 In an interview on WABC radio, she said: “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants,” and in an interview on Fox News accused Bush of not doing enough to “protect our borders and ports”39—a common refrain from Democrats’ seeking to establish that Bush is lax on “homeland security.”
Liberal party stalwarts like Ted Kennedy have also weighed in on immigration—to provide bipartisan support for Bush’s guest-worker program. Kennedy, along with Republican Senator John McCain, have introduced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005. The bill extends the power of the Department of Homeland Security to further expand border closure and “to establish and carry out demonstration programs to strengthen communication, information sharing, technology, security, intelligence benefits, and enforcement activities that will protect the border without diminishing trade and commerce.” It further provides for 400,000 guest workers (100,000 more than the Bush proposal), a concession to big business’s growing appetite for low-cost and disempowered labor.40
Liberals and Latino politicians within the Democratic Party are nevertheless unwilling to break ranks and go against the party’s overall direction. Antonio Villaraigosa, the recently-elected mayor of Los Angeles, avoided any discussion of immigration during his campaign. While claiming support for immigrants’ rights (he is the son of undocumented workers), he also admonished continued unauthorized immigration, stating, “We have every right to enforce our [immigration] laws.… I believe in a great America we should always enforce them, while observing the civil rights of people.”41
As even the pretext of principled opposition vaporizes, liberals are employing the most flaccid ways to counter the Right. The liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, recently produced a study entitled “Deporting the undocumented: A cost assessment.” Promoting allegiance to “fiscal responsibility,” as opposed to human rights, the study discourages mass deportations because it would cost a staggering $41 billion a year.42
This rightward slide at the level of official politics on the issue of immigrant rights means that activists have had to build their own opposition from the grassroots to beat back the corrosive ideology of hate and scapegoating that is perpetuated by Minutemen and their enthusiasts in the media, the statehouses, and in Congress.
The new immigrant rights movement
While the Right rallies their troops, and the liberal “opposition” blends into the background, another social force is entering the national stage: a new immigrant rights movement. Organizing in neighborhoods, public parks, and coffee shops across the Southwest are coalitions with names like Gente Unida (The People United), La Tierra Es De Todos (This Land Belongs to All), and Deporten La Migra (Deport The Border Patrol).
Made up of human rights activists, Chicano and Latino organizations, socialists, and others, these coalitions represent the early stages of a working-class response to the assault on their communities, and the best hope of rebuilding a national immigrant rights movement that was gaining momentum before 9/11.
As the Arizona Minutemen captured the national spotlight in April, they were able to present themselves as a unified, national movement, acting on behalf of U.S. public opinion. Devouring it whole, media reports transmitted across the country, presenting the Minutemen as “concerned citizens.” As their “operations” and motives went unchallenged, they were able to create a political opening for themselves and opportunist politicians eager to take up the baton of their cause to the national arena.
The effectiveness of this strategy led activists to draw an important conclusion about how to organize a counter-campaign. Armando Navarro, veteran human rights activist and scholar, gave expression to the emerging consensus, “We have to be prepared much better and with a capacity to create a critical mass when these events take place.”43
Some remain divided on the question of tactics. For instance, many believe that the Minutemen are a “nuisance” that “should simply be ignored.” Others have argued that cultural and community events, far removed from the actions of anti-immigrant activists, are the best way to counter their racism.
A growing segment of activists, however, are learning the value of confronting hate groups, to both undermine their confidence and delegitimize their activities. Activists are also beginning to recognize the need to reach out to the broader community. Uniting labor unions, church groups, immigrant communities, and other progressive organizations, along with appeals to sympathetic media and Spanish-language outlets will be key to turning out large numbers to join together in struggle. Small victories today are key to building a mass movement for the challenges ahead.
In the aftermath of the Arizona patrols, members of S.O.S., beaming with confidence, tried to replicate success by taking their message to the Latino community of Baldwin Park in Los Angeles. Their goal: removal of a sculpture by a popular Chicana artist that honors the area’s Mexican and Native American history and culture. By going into the community and projecting a confident image of confrontation with the “illegal invaders,” S.O.S. seeks to grow its base and attract more to their cause of “driving immigrants out.”
To the dismay of the twenty S.O.S. members, more than 500 activists and community members confronted them in defense of their monument and community. The confidence of S.O.S. quickly deflated. S.O.S. members, clamoring for protection, were forced to flee the community with a police escort. S.O.S. protest participant, Randy Selenak, told the Los Angeles Times that going to the Latino suburb of Los Angeles was “like going into a lion’s den. I just want to get out of here in one piece.”44
Buoyed by the praise that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lavished on the Arizona Minutemen, a California faction of the group set up their own armed patrols. In July, the Border Patrol Auxiliary (BPA) brought a motley assortment of armed vigilantes to the small rural town of Campo, just east of San Diego. Instead of having a media field day, left unchallenged to pose and pontificate, the vigilantes were met by more than 200 pro-immigrant activists who shadowed their every move, chanting “racists go home!” and “brothers, sisters, you have nothing to fear, immigrants are welcome here!”
Scurrying out under the cover of darkness, BPA leader James Chase and his heavily armed minions once attempted to apprehend border-crossers. Activists in four-wheel drive vehicles shadowed them with floodlights and loud music. These tactics proved to be successful, disrupting the “covert” actions and demoralizing many volunteers, who trickled away one by one through the night.
Frustrated, the self-proclaimed “peaceful citizens” threatened some activists with violence. On a videotape made by one group of counter-protesters, the vigilantes can be heard saying, “You come down here and you will be engaged in a firefight.”45 James Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen Project, turned out in a show of solidarity. Visibly shaken by the counter-protest and confrontational actions of the activists, he issued and urgent communiqué to his followers:
Reinforcements are needed in Campo, Ca. immediately to support Jim Chase’s California Minutemen!… We witnessed the literal seige [sic] of VFW Post #2080 by about 60 belligerant [sic], death-threatening anti-Americans twice during that day…. Be warned that the roving gangs of adversaries engaging the California Minutemen WILL physically attack you if they outnumber you. I repeat, they WILL physically attack you…. One California Minuteman volunteer, Jim Woods, was physically assaulted by a gang of ten of Navarro’s thugs as he sat in his car alone at a border outpost…. Stay in groups, and stay LEGALLY armed with pepper spray...tasers...etc. Sidearms are legal in certain areas in Campo.46Despite the frantic hyperbole, activists were unarmed and there were no arrests as a result of the confrontations. It was the challenge presented by masses of people to both expose their ideology and disrupt their activities that shook their confidence.
In another demonstration of how confrontation has shaken their confidence, the founder of S.O.S. recently admitted the fragmentation of the group in the face of such tactics. After his group was driven out of an immigrant community, he stated:
I have been seething with anger since the rally, analyzing and thinking about how to proceed with this organization.… After repeated contacts between myself…and the police department in which we strongly asked for our group to be separated from the opposition…. They allowed the socialists/anarchists to scream, blow whistles and blare bullhorns in our ears. Literally, an inch from our ears. They allowed them to yell in our faces...within inches, so that spittle flew into our face. They allowed the opposition to jostle us on the sidewalk…. It worked to some degree as some members could not locate our scattered group and proceeded to return home instead of facing the rabid opposition by themselves.47In another victory for the movement, officials in Carlsbad, California (a small coastal town north of San Diego) cancelled a forum and rally entitled “The Illegal Immigration Crisis” scheduled to be held in a local high school and aiming to bring together leaders of the Minutemen with local, state, and congressional sympathizers. Explaining why it was cancelled, school superintendent John Roach cited the surge of the immigrant rights movement and its challenge to the legitimacy of anti-immigrant hate speech. “Based on my understanding of the recent events in Garden Grove, Baldwin Park, and Campo [where anti-immigrant activists were confronted], it is my belief that the event…planned poses exactly such a risk.”48
As activist Yasser Giron concluded, “Demonstrations and pickets are an effective way of confronting these groups. Not only do they bring attention to this type of hate, but they also show these racists that they cannot go anywhere unopposed. It was beautiful to see activists and community members unified on this issue, against racism.”49
Sentiment against the growing climate of hate is also fulminating on a larger scale.
In early July, 40,000 people marched in Chicago for immigrant rights and to protest an announcement by the Minutemen that they plan to start a chapter in Chicago. Carrying signs that read “Minutemen are Human Rights Violators” and “We Want Recognition as Workers—We are Not Terrorists,” the diverse crowd of marchers demonstrated the potential to build a mass movement to keep hate groups out of our communities and to build the momentum towards a national immigrant rights movement.50 These kinds of large public protests are essential if we are to build the numbers, and the confidence, that comes from standing up and counting our forces. If organized properly, we are many and they are few.
Activists have begun to present their own solution to the “immigration crisis.” The popular slogan, “Queremos un mundo sin fronteras” (We want a world without borders!) demonstrates the recognition of the need for a solution that puts human and workers’ rights first. The prevalence of anti-immigrant racism is the result of disastrous border policies, restrictive immigration laws that segregate workers, and the general assault on the rights and conditions of all working people in the United States.
By dismantling Operation Gatekeeper and allowing the free movement of labor across the border, we end the tragic cycle of death happening on a daily basis, and the dangerous industry of smuggling. By granting amnesty for all of the undocumented and equal rights for all working in the U.S. (regardless of national origin), we eliminate the basis for mass exploitation by big business. It is within these struggles that we lay the basis for another world, one where groups like the Minutemen and their protagonists in the corridors of power, will be swept into the trash can of history.
1 Richard Marosi, “Death and deliverance,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2005.
2 For an informative breakdown of the anti-immigrant Right see Tom Barry, “The politics and ideologies of the anti-immigration forces,” Counterpunch.org, June 25/26, 2005.
3 Michael Kunzelman, “U.S. judge raps congressmen over deportation act,” Boston Globe, July 13, 2005.
4 Deborah Barfield Berry,“The coming battle over immigration,” Newsday, May 11, 2005.
5 For more on the legislation go to the Web site http://www.numbersusa.com/hottopic/clearact.html.
6 Alan Elsner, “Lawmakers seek to crack down on undocumented immigrants,” Reuters, June 24, 2005.
7 Yvonne Wingett, “Prop 200 spurs efforts nationwide,” Arizona Republic, January 24, 2005.
8 Gregory Alan Gross, “Roving patrols by border agents net 300 arrests, stir controversy,” San Diego Union Tribune, June 15, 2004.
9 Carla Marinucci, “‘Close the borders,’ Schwarzenegger says,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2005.
10 Marinucci and Mark Martin, “Schwarzenegger condemns sign: Praises Minutemen and immigration reform movement,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2005.
11 “Governor’s approval rating plummets,” Associated Press, June 21, 2005.
12 “Richardson declares border emergency to free up funds,” Associated Press, August 12, 2005.
13 David Kelly, “Border watchers capture their prey—the media,” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2005.
15 Joe Anthony, “Vigilantes patrol U.S. border: The politics of the Minuteman Project,” World Socialist Web site, May 20, 2005, available online at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/
16 Statistics drawn from Brian Grow, Adrienne Carter, Roger O. Crockett in Chicago and Geri Smith in Mexico City, “Embracing Illegals,” BusinessWeek, July 18, 2005, available online at http://businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_29/b3943001
17 For a discussion of the proposals, see Justin Akers, “Why Bush’s immigration reform is a fraud,” Socialist Worker, January 16, 2004.
18 David Bacon, “Talking points on guest workers,” Truthout, July 6, 2005, available online at http://www.truthout.org/issues_05/
19 Peter Wallsten and Nicole Gaouette, “President George Bush to build immigration reform coalition to court Hispanics,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2005.
20 “Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Department Of Homeland Security at the Commonwealth Club, Santa Clara, California,” July 28, 2005, available online at http://www.dhs.gov/
21 Anna Gorman, “Employers of illegal immigrants face little risk of penalty,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2005.
22 Jennifer Delson and Anna Gorman, “Immigrant activists gather,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2005.
23 See Steven K. Paulsen, “Hispanic, Islamic groups want Tancredo out,” Associated Press, July 26, 2005.
24 Greg Moses, “Vigilante wedge,” Texas Civil Rights Review, May 4, 2005.
25 Eduardo Juarez, “The future looks ominous for immigrants,” El Diario/La Prensa, August 4, 2005.
27 Anthony Giddens, Richard Mitchell, et al., Introduction to Sociology (New York: WW Norton, 2003), overview available online at http://www.wwnorton.com/giddens4/chapters/chapter11/welcome.htm.
28 See “About Save Our State,” available online at http://
29 Sarah Knopp, “Racist network of right-wingers,” Socialist Worker, July 8, 2005.
30 Peter Lauffer, Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border (Ivan R. Dee: Chicago, 2004), 118.
31 Quoted in Leslie Berestein, “Border watchers to gather tomorrow,” Union-Tribune, July 15, 2005.
32 “Nazis, racists join Minutemen Project,” Southern Poverty Law Center, April 22, 2005.
33 To see the photo evidence, go to http://sandiego.indymedia.org/
en/2005/07/110247.shtml. Also see Susan Gill Vardon and Elizabeth Brotherton, “Day labor site protested,” Orange County Register, July 31, 2005.
34 Excerpted from a Web discussion posted on the S.O.S. Web site.
35 Bill Poovey, “Hispanics new target of hate groups,” Associated Press, July 29, 2005.
36 “Immigration protesters joined by neo-Nazi’s in California,” Southern Poverty Law Center.
37 Diane Feinstein has been a fierce advocate of immigration restrictions even before 9/11. Read the various proposals she has supported, available online at http://migration.ucdavis.edu/
38 Charles Hurt, “Hillary goes conservative on immigration,” Washington Times, December 13, 2004.
40 Full discussion of the proposal can be found on the Web site of the American Immigration Lawyers Association at http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=16719.
41 Patrick McGreevy, “Latinos, flexing political muscle, come of age in LA,” Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2005.
42 Darryl Fears, “$41 billion cost projected to remove illegal entrants,” Washington Post, July 26, 2005.
43 Brock N. Meeks, “Minutemen opposition organizes resistance,” MSNBC, June 15, 2005.
44 Yasser Giron, “Driving out the bigots,” Socialist Worker, May 20, 2005.
45 Lance Newman, “Protesters challenge vigilantes,” Socialist Worker, July 22, 2005.
46 Quoted from an e-mail circulated to the Minuteman listserv, July 18, 2005, available online at http://www.alipac.us/modules.
47 Excerpted from a forum posted on the S.O.S. Web site.
48 Phillip K. Ireland, “Carlsbad schools chief cancels forum on -immigration,” North County Times, August 4, 2005.
49 Bruce Cooley, “Protesters run over by bigot in L.A.,” Socialist Worker, June 3, 2005.
50 Elizabeth Lalasz, “40,000 march against Minutemen in Chicago,” Socialist Worker, July 22, 2005.