It’s become apparent that the Bush administration, since the defeat last year of immigration-reform legislation, has completely capitulated to the GOP’s rising nativist element. As Frank Sharry remarked in our discussion last Sunday:
Once comprehensive immigration reform failed last year, the Bush Administration said fuck it, we are going to do everything the anti-immigrant crowd has wanted us to do. We’ll do more raids, more fugitive teams roaming immigrant neighborhoods, more social security records checks, and more cooperation with local police to detain and deport those arrested on traffic violations. And they did it to punish the business community for not supporting the legislation. But the folks really feeling it are immigrants, not employers. Of the arrests and convictions related to immigration violations, some 98% are against immigrants working and living in the U.S. illegally and only 2% are against employers engaged in illegal hiring.
The result, predictably, has been a rising sense of fear in the Latino community, and it is hardly groundless. There have been stories circulating — not yet confirmed — of ICE agents following school buses and circling around HeadStart centers, making parents fearful of taking their kids to school. The fear is so intense that now the mere presence of ICE agents in the general vicinity of a school — as in Oakland the other day — is enough to create a panic.
The nativists, of course, will argue (as did Mark Krikorian at NRO the other day) that this is overall a good thing — that is, as he puts it, "attrition through enforcement is working." Another way of putting it, as Sharry does, is calling it what it is: "non-violent ethnic cleansing."
The problem, however, is that it isn’t just illegal immigrants who are feeling the weight of the ICE’s heavy boot. Legal immigrants, particularly Latinos, are feeling it too.
Roberto Lovato has a dynamite piece in The Nation describing this:
From the living room of the battered trailer she and her mother call home, Mancha described what happened when she came out of the shower that morning. "My mother went out, and I was alone," she said. "I was getting ready for school, getting dressed, when I heard this noise. I thought it was my mother coming back." She went on in the Tex-Mex Spanish-inflected Georgia accent now heard throughout Dixie: "Some people were slamming car doors outside the trailer. I heard footsteps and then a loud boom and then somebody screaming, asking if we were ‘illegals,’ ‘Mexicans.’ These big men were standing in my living room holding guns. One man blocked my doorway. Another guy grabbed a gun on his side. I freaked out. ‘Oh, my God!’ I yelled."
As more than twenty Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents surrounded the trailer, said Mancha, agents inside interrogated her. They asked her where her mother was; they wanted to know if her mother was "Mexican" and whether she had "papers" or a green card. They told her they were looking for "illegals." After about five minutes of interrogation, the agents–who, according to the women’s lawyer, Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed no warrants and had neither probable cause nor consent to enter the home–simply left. They left in all likelihood because Mancha and her mother didn’t fit the profile of the workers at the nearby Crider poultry plant, who had been targeted by the raid in nearby Stilwell. They were the wrong kind of "Mexicans"; they were US citizens.
And as Lovato explains, the regime of anti-Latino law enforcement is taking place at not just the federal level, but the local and state levels as well. And then there are the extralegal "citizen" threats, ranging from the Minutemen to the Klan:
In fact, the surge in Latino migration (the Southeast is home to the fastest-growing Latino population in the United States) is moving many of the institutions and actors responsible for enforcing Jim Crow to resurrect and reconfigure themselves in line with new demographics. Along with the almost daily arrests, raids and home invasions by federal, state and other authorities, newly resurgent civilian groups like the Ku Klux Klan, in addition to more than 144 new "nativist extremist" groups and 300 anti-immigrant organizations born in the past three years, mostly based in the South, are harassing immigrants as a way to grow their ranks.
Meanwhile, a legal regime of distinctions between the rights of undocumented immigrants and citizens has emerged and is being continually refined and expanded. A 2006 Georgia law denies undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses. Federal laws that allowed local and state authorities to pursue blacks under the Fugitive Slave Act appear to be the model for the Bush Administration’s Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ACCESS) program, which allows states to deputize law enforcement officials to chase, detain, arrest and jail the undocumented. Georgia’s lowest-paid workers, the undocumented, now occupy a separate, unequal and clandestine place that has made it increasingly difficult for them to work, rent homes or attend school.
As Sharry says, Americans are sooner or later going to have to come to terms with the choice we face: deporting 12 million people, or making citizens of them. The former choice, as we are now seeing, is likely to produce an America that is more police state than open democracy. If we pursue that course, it will be an America we will no longer recognize.