In 2006 the sleeping giant awoke as a result of an anti-immigrant measure. Now in 2010, the enforcement-heavy Sensenbrenner Bill H.R. 4437 has been resurrected through SB1070, the new Arizona immigration law.
I recall how in 2006, one of the biggest things contested about H.R.4437 was the criminalization of “harboring” an undocumented person. This element has remained unaffected by Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling.
This poses a great burden to immigrant families that are frequently mixed with citizens, legal residents, and undocumented residents. Imagine the local police taking you to jail for inviting your brother or parents to have dinner with you in your house. It also criminalizes humanitarian aid, which means that raids could be conducted in food banks and churches.
There’s more: any individual whose actions could imply the interest of employment without documentation is also criminalized, putting many people of color at risk of harassment as a result of racial profiling. If that isn’t enough, precious resources from local police could be wastefully diverted into enforcing these outrageous laws, or any citizen could sue local police for «not doing their job».
Many have called the partial injunction a victory, however, I would beg to differ. A few years ago the whole country stopped because similar measures could become law nationally. Why should we be satisfied with something that sets us back to a place we fought vigorously to avoid?
The SB1070 threat is still real as it continues to spread through the US like a virus. More than 17 states have introduced or will introduce similar measures. None of us are saved from this threat to our civil and human rights and at the break of such a crisis, the community in Arizona did not falter. They have raised their voices loud and their chants made it to most American television sets. The great display of love and defiance has been contagious and powerful to witness.
I had the honor of watching history in the making as brave women and men blocked jails and streets so Sheriff Arpaio would not conduct his raids there. I saw an army of policemen carrying military-like guns, taking the protesters one by one.
I was also there when one of Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies arrested Salvador Reza from Puente in retaliation for his leadership in the community. At one point, I got the opportunity to approach Sheriff Arpaio amid his arrest spree, and I asked whether or not he would be interested in arresting me, after declaring to the media that anybody without proper immigration documentation would face certain arrest in Maricopa county. Yet, once again, he refused to arrest me, contradicting himself in public. He wouldn’t arrest me, despite the fact that he was on his way to conduct more raids where he planned to detain more people like me; human beings that have done nothing but to work hard for a better country.
The various contradictions in Arizona mirror what’s happening nationally. It has become obvious that our Congress and President’s lack of leadership on the immigration debate will only drag onward in Washington, DC. As racist comments such as “let me see your green card” become socially acceptable and immigration continues to be a political football our country will continue to take a turn that defies its own principles of justice and fairness. Politically it has become an “open season” on immigrants and our families. They play games with the lives of more than 10 million people for their personal gain and the worst part is that we allow them to do it.
National leaders from the immigrant rights movements allow compromises in so-called beneficial legislation with people like Senator Graham- SC despite the fact that he is talking about taking away birth right citizenship in the US. How can we trust such approaches and processes? We have a complacent Democratic party and an opportunist Republican party that attacks our community for the sake of votes.
As we watch the political and social sphere become more and more volatile, we cannot sell ourselves cheap. If there’s one thing I learned from the civil rights movement, it is discipline and perseverance. The immigrant rights struggle is against one of the oldest cancers in American society- racism. We are part of a battle for dignity that goes beyond our borders, to our countries of origin when revolutionary men and women fought for their independence, or when a child in a developing nation wakes up hungry and goes to sleep in the same state. Our struggle transcends ourselves and even what our shortsighted selves can see. We are part of a movement that will change the history of this country and consequently redefine the concept of human rights if we fight with dignity. What I witnessed in Phoenix was the closest to what I would like to see our struggle become.
When I arrived in Phoenix, I did not know what to expect except a determined community ready to fight back the oppressive forces that continuously push them down. But I did not have any idea what that would mean. I woke up just now on my flight back to Miami and I lived through so much in the last 5 days that it feels like I’m waking up from a surreal dream. However, as you have seen on your television sets the dreamlike world that I just left was real, too real! Memories came flooding back, like the conversation I had with a young caucasian man in Phoenix that did not understand the concept of white privilege, and my conversations with Chris Newman, one of the plaintiff attorneys in the lawsuit against SB1070. We spoke late into the night as we worked hard to stay awake hour after hour to wait for people who had been arrested during the civil disobedience actions to return,. Many call Arizona ground zero but I like to see it as a place where people as sweet as Dulce, a local organizer and a DREAM Act student, who was once forced to live in fear, have been liberated through the power of love. The fight is not over but I have no doubt that if we follow the example of our friends from Arizona, our country can take a turn towards positive change despite all odds.