Artwork by Ricardo Levins Morales

Why We Support Immigrant Rights

Around 100 years ago, the tragedy of the Mexican Revolution unfolded in Ciudad Juarez with explosions and gunfire that could be heard across the river in El Paso, Texas. There, U.S. businessmen and weapons traders observed with interest the fratricide over land and self-determination. Detached from the human suffering, they supplied both sides with money, weapons and munitions. Today, spectacular myths circulate in the U.S. media about the smugglers of humans and drugs, who take up camp in residents’ backyards, shooting at them and eating their house pets. News reports describe a wave of violence overflowing the border and creating a “state of siege” in U.S. cities. It would be more accurately characterized as part of the historic continuum of “free trade”: The United States imports drugs and cheap labor from Latin America and exports Wal-Mart, ATT/Verizon call centers and other maquiladoras (sweat shops seeking non-union labor).

Reminiscent of 1910, the United States continues to supply both sides in a deadly conflict. We export thousands of assault rifles, grenade launchers and other military equipment, which, unfortunately, fall into the hands of the narco-traffickers so they can ply their deadly trade. According to the State Department, the United Stats assists Mexican police forces through the multi year $1.4 billion Merida Initiative. In exchange for U.S. support, Mexico has been a faithful partner in the implementation of NAFTA and CAFTA, “free trade” agreements that strongly link the Mexican economy with the U.S. business cycle, including the economic slowdown. As a result, Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 3.3% in 2007 and 1.3% in 2008 and contracted by 6.5% in 2009. One conservative estimate holds that 40 million Mexicans live in poverty and about 10 million do not have enough to eat.

The tragic irony is that the people of Arizona, indeed all the U.S. border states and their Mexican counterparts, are victims of the same system of exploitation. But it’s the Mexican side of the border that is witness to the worst atrocities in this hemisphere with hundreds of young women kidnapped, raped and murdered in Ciudad Juarez, where the drug war claims more than 2,000 lives yearly. The Los Angeles Times estimates 22,700 drug-war deaths since President Calderon declared war on the traffickers in 2007. On June 17, the Mexican President implored a joint session of the U.S. Congress to ban assault weapons, stating that his security forces have seized tens of thousands of them that they have traced to the United States. President Obama told Calderon last year that reviving the ban would be difficult to accomplish politically.

The National Foundation for American Policy published a brief in May, 2010, “Death at the Border” which states, “The absence of a way to enter the United States legally to work has contributed to more than 4,000 men, women and children dying while attempting to cross to America since 1998. Alarmingly, immigrant deaths increased in 2009 at a time when illegal entry fell significantly.” It also states, “The loss of life will almost certainly continue unless more paths are open to work legally in the United States.” It concludes that “strong evidence exists that the current ‘enforcement-only’ policy has strengthened criminal gangs, providing a profitable line of business for Mexican criminal enterprises.”

As long as the dirty work played itself out on the other side of the river, it was tolerable, but in recent months, racist border activists and the media have sensationalized a handful of incidents, attempting to rouse the uninformed against immigration reform. In fact, statistics of crime in almost every border city between California and Texas have declined in recent years, placing them among the safest cities in the country. For example, Tim Wadsworth, a sociologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder, conducted a recent study and concluded that “cities with the largest immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in homicide and robbery during the same time period.” The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2009 shows that violent crime–murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault–is down in Arizona for the third year in a row. Phoenix, San Diego, El Paso and Austin have among the nation’s lowest crime rates.

Certain crimes continue unabated, but it is immigrants who are suffering from this violence, as they are increasingly becoming victims of kidnappings and assaults. Many are held hostage by the coyotes who brought them across and decided that the risks and costs of doing business have suddenly increased. Add to this context the recent killings of unarmed immigrants at the hands of the Border Patrol, and it is clear that one of the greatest acts of injustice is the deliberate misinformation and incitement of public sentiment against innocent immigrants. Anti-immigrant reaction and violence is driven by complex issues and myths; some as basic as pure racism, others more complex such as job insecurity or the unfounded fears over the coming “Brown Vote.” Whether through ignorance or intent; the time has come to say Basta: Enough!

*****

The Comite Primero de Mayo continues to seek uniform implementation of a just impound policy by the Fresno Police Department. The Comite will also present a resolution regarding Immigration Reform and condemnation of Arizona’s SB 1070 to the Fresno City Council. The date is to be determined. For information, please contact 559-341-4556, 407-0206, 237-6459 or 499-1178.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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