New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Demilitarize the Border

July 09, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Current Events, Devon G. Pena, Politics

Demonstrations Move for Humane Immigration Policies

by Devon G. Peña

On June 27th, the United States Senate approved an amendment to the evolving comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill. The amendment dramatically expands enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border creating what Senator John McCain proudly announced as the greatest border militarization since the Fall of the Berlin Wall.The Arizona Senator did not appear to notice the contradictory irony underlying his statement: The Berlin Wall was finally brought down by people seeking peace and reunification, ending militarization; the Tortilla Curtain keeps going up, promoting conflict and disunity. Does this mean that the human fence consisting of 40,000 border patrol agents is analogous to the East German military border patrol and the Stasi secret police? How is this an accomplishment worthy of a civilized nation?

The $46 billion measure will nearly double the number of border patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000 and greatly expand the deployment of drones. The Senate measure as it is currently formulated will also lead to the construction of an additional 700 miles of border fencing. The amendment was approved by an overwhelming vote of 69 to 29.

Democratic votes were key to the approval of the militarization amendment, which was introduced by Republicans presumably in an effort to motivate other conservative Senators to vote in favor of CIR, which includes a very tough and punitive path to citizenship; see the critical analysis by Peter Schey posted last week.While the Democratic Senators were caving to GOP demands for tough border security, an increasing number of Chicana/o and other Latina/o activists are protesting this seriously repressive turn in the development of the Senate version of the CIR legislation.

Protests started the day before the Senate voted on the amendment when more and more people started to anticipate an even more profound turn to repression in the Senate’s policy-making agenda. On June 25, Fernando García of Austin, Texas was arrested protesting the new ratcheted-up border militarization policy. Please view the YouTube video posted below. Mr. García explains why he engage in a direct action protest and was arrested:

It’s unbelievable; its unprecedented, the decision that was taken by the Democrats and Republicans… This is not the reform that we asked for. Drones; walls; double border patrols; towers; weapons; 47 billion dollars. This is an abomination… It is time to push back; it is time to standout and start denouncing the militarization of America… If you think this is only about border communities, that you are willing to sacrifice border communities, you’re wrong because this is gonna haunt you later on. You want to militarize the border? That is the first step to militarize the whole country… We cannot sacrifice one community for another. So it is time to stand up, it is time to reject the idea that immigration reform and immigrants can only be accepted if they [immigrants] are criminalized.

Six more people were arrested in Austin, Texas on June 27th. They too were protesting the border militarization provisions in Senate Bill 477. The protests are organized by a grassroots organization calling itself Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (a.k.a. RITA). These protests and arrests followed two days in the wake of the first action that led to three other arrests at the Democratic Party headquarters in Dallas; that is the group that included Mr. García. These protests are clearly driven by an upsurge in opposition to the current bill among Chicana/o, Latina/o, and Mexican communities who reject the criminalization of immigrants and the militarization of the border.

Earlier, according to reports from RITA activists who are organizing a “citizenship and accountable enforcement” caravan called Texas4CIR, about 300 protestors flooded 6th Street in Austin just before rush hour. They shut down traffic, blocking cars with giant cardboard fences – representing the border wall. Protestors demonstrated in front of the fence and handed out leaflets with information on the humanitarian crisis of migrant deaths at the border.The Texas4CIR activists released a statement explaining the ethics underlying their protest activities:

Militarization forces migrants into the hands of criminals who promise to get them to the U.S., but who often abuse, exploit or abandon them. Those making the journey alone are pushed into the most dangerous, most remote areas. Falfurrias, Texas is one such area where the number of bodies is overwhelming the small police force there….The protest was a die-in. Think sit-in. With faces painted to represent the hundreds who die in the desert, protestors laid down in front of the cardboard fence and stopped moving or responding to people around them. Police were eventually called and had to carry each limp protestor off the street before arresting them. As protestors staged the die-in, the Senate was taking a vote to pass their immigration reform package. The deal was poisoned Monday with the adoption of the Corker-Hoeven amendment. The amendment represents a concession to the border-enforcement-first crowd and will double Border Patrol ranks, double the border wall, bring 18 border drones and new Black Hawk helicopters plus an array of military weapons and surveillance technology. The deal was touted as a way to get to 70 votes in the Senate. The amendment passed with only 67.

The protests are part of a sustained two-week long statewide caravan for citizenship and accountable enforcement that began in El Paso. Protestors have already marched into offices of John Cornyn and Ted Cruz in Harlingen, San Antonio, and Dallas.  On Wednesday, about 50 people shut down Democratic Party headquarters in Dallas — leading to the arrest of three caravaners. Texas4CIR further states that: “The inclusion of militarization in the immigration reform deal means it is no longer about families and American values” and they compared the U.S.-Mexico border to the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Beyond the protests, what?

The direct action protests being waged in Texas are inspired and inspirational but I believe we all understand that this type of activity by itself will not deter the politicos in Washington, D.C. from enacting a repressive package. Effective social change movements require protest activities and other forms of direct action; this is a principal process for educating the public and creating a narrative of resistance that the wider public acknowledges and accepts. This process is an important part of the resource mobilization that movements must engage if they are to produce the social change desired.

However, the immigrant rights movement also needs to define and clarify a more potent set of policies — not necessarily as alternative legislative proposals but as elements of a broader revolutionary project of social transformation in which communities take charge of their own destinies through autonomous direct action and the development of our own alternative institutions.

More than half of undocumented immigrants are people who entered with a legal visa and overstayed their visit. A growing number of immigrants have legal entry but overstay their limits. This probably means that as the militarization of the border continues to expand, people who wish to come to work here or reunite with families will find other ways of crossing.

The Berlin Wall fell for a reason — it could not contain the aspirations of the people imprisoned and divided by the imposed zone of exclusion. The Tortilla Curtain will also fall, as the U.S. realizes it is wasting tens of billions on a policy that erroneously and unethically criminalizes poor and working class people seeking a better life. They will come; and some day, they will help us bring down this wall. Exploring and developing ideas of how to realize the demilitarization of the border, and our entire society, is the task that awaits our social movements.

Devon G. Peña, Ph.D., is a lifelong activist in the environmental justice and resilient agriculture movements, and is Professor of American Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. His books include Mexican Americans and the Environment: Tierra y Vida (2005) and the edited volume Chicano Culture, Ecology, Politics: Subversive Kin (1998). Dr. Peña is the founding editor of the Environmental & Food Justice blog, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.

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