Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Immigration dodgeball

Immigration is in the national spotlight again as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, formerly the INS) busted IFCO, the nation's largest pallet company and filed criminal charges not just against the undocumented workers, but also against the chief officers. It's all a part of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's (yeah, the guy who fucked up Katrina relief) new strategy to curb undocumented immigration:

"Employers and workers alike should be on notice that the status quo has changed," Chertoff said. "These enforcement actions demonstrate that this department has no patience for employers who tolerate or perpetuate a shadow economy."

The Soto case is the first criminal prosecution of an employer on immigration charges in the Western District of Texas, which includes El Paso, in seven or eight years, said officials with the U.S. attorney's office.

Chertoff said Thursday that criminal convictions of employers rose from 46 in 2004 to 127 last year, and he credited his new strategy for the increase. In the past year, immigration enforcement agents have brought up criminal charges against employers of undocumented immigrants and seized their assets, instead of assessing administrative fines. - El Paso Times

Although it's rare for ICE to go after employers themselves (they usually try to penalize the undocumented workers), I can't say that this is a huge improvement.

Yes, I think that the employers should be faulted for creating repressive worksite conditions that include intimidation and loss of pay as well as respect.

But it's hard to see what is clearly Chertoff's return shot at the massive immigration protests that happened in 140 cities as an improvement or overall good for la causa. The way I see it, Chertoff is engaged in a up-the-ante, call-your-bluff game with immigrants and their advocates - you show your nationwide power through demonstrations, I bust nationwide companies for hiring undocumenteds the week after next.

After all, part of the difficulty in mobilizing for these events is the legitimate fear that standing up for your beliefs by attending a rally instead of showing up for work will cost you your job. As we saw with April 10th and other rallies, this has already happened.

So the message it sends to symnpathetic employers who did allow their workers leave time to attend rallies is "Don't fuck with the ICE, if we catch your employees quoted in an article, we'll come for you." And the message it sends to undocumented immigrants is: "Come into the light so we can hunt you down. We're even going after employers, you think you can hide from us?"

This kind of enforcement is pretty much guaranteed to send honest, hardworking people even deeper into the shadows, where they will not be able to seek medical care (hard enough as it is already without recent Medicaid changes)

Furthermore, May 1st has been designated as a followup action to April 10th. It's supposed to be a national boycott day - against school, work, and buying anything. It's great except. . .

It's splitting the immigration coalitions - sorry, we're too loosely affiliated to be called that, how about "networks" - apart. Some more mainstream and entrenched immigrant rights groups worry (understandably) that a nationwide boycott sends the wrong message, that immigrants don't want to work, send their kids to school, or buy American products.

I support the right of the grassroots to pick your tactics, and to run with them. In this case though, I wish we could speak with some kind of united voice. Either everybody do it, or nobody do it. We look frail and fragmented this way. And we might be slightly fragmented, but we're far from frail.

I suppose it's inevitable that there are internal disagreements within movements, and that sectarianism comes into play. After all, the civil rights movement had various rallying figures including Dr. King, Jr., Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X (and their associated organizations.) I suspect in the end all the players in the immigrant rights movement will plot out separate-ish strategies. I just wish the dissolution wasn't so soon, although past experience should harden me to expect less and have quicker splits. My question is: how do you return a sharp, fast blow and win when half your team is sitting out and the other side ups their numbers?

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