Longform

Lemons: SB 1070 Civil Disobedience Must Escalate

Today in America, one in four Latino voters knows someone in deportation proceedings.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court don't care.

What else can be concluded from their questions and comments during oral arguments over Senate Bill 1070, Arizona's notorious stab at ethnic cleansing?

And Latinos shouldn't expect any succor from our deporter-in-chief, President Barack Obama.

Recently, Obama told a Univisión reporter that he hoped to tackle comprehensive immigration reform in the first year of his second term.

Obama made that exact promise in 2008, for the first year of his first term. It didn't happen.

Instead, four years of Obama has meant 1.5 million individuals deported, about the same number sent away by his Republican predecessor during his eight years in office.

In other words, it is time for a ride in the souped-up DeLorean back to the 1950s, but instead of blacks relegated to second-class status, it will be browns.

If the Supreme Court rules as many predict and upholds 1070, anyone who even resembles a Latino in states adopting similar statutes better get used to the third degree.


The president has the power to halt all deportations by executive fiat. A recent letter to Obama signed by more than 90 immigration law professors detailed how he legally could do this on behalf of students who would benefit from proposed DREAM Act legislation.

But our prevaricating POTUS will not issue any such executive order. He doesn't need to politically.

Meanwhile, the president's opponent, Mitt Romney, has signed off on "self-deportation," the equivalent to 1070's stated intent of "attrition through enforcement."

As generous with the lip service as Obama is, he doesn't have to care. With Romney as the only alternative, Latinos have no choice but to vote for Obama.

Indeed, the president's immigration policies look like a fulfillment of Operation Endgame, a notorious (and supposedly defunct) plan hatched after 9/11 by ICE's Office of Detention and Removal, setting as its "golden measure of success" the removal of "all removable aliens" by 2012.

We're off by a few years, but the goal remains the same. Another term for Obama means four more years of massive deportations, and all the family disruption, human tragedy, and unjust incarceration that accompanies them.

So if the Supreme Court heads in the direction it seems to be heading later this month, the question for immigrants and their advocates and allies becomes: How do we make the political establishment care?

The answer? Make it pay, through disruption, rebellion, and resistance.

That combination of anger and action built to a crescendo during 2010. But U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton's injunction against the most offensive parts of 1070 on July 28 of that year hit the pause button.

On July 29, because groups inside and outside Arizona had mobilized and organized for the day 1070 was scheduled to go into effect, massive civil disobedience created public chaos.

Leading up to that day had been numerous acts of protest and demonstration: marches, rallies, students chaining themselves to the Arizona Capitol building, as well as acts of defiance organized by smaller groups.

Scores were arrested and jailed for taking over streets, disobeying police orders, and locking their arms together in PVC pipe, a move known as the "sleeping dragon."

Perhaps the boldest action was taken by six activists who occupied the U.S. Border Patrol's offices at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. In a sleeping dragon, with U-shaped bicycle locks joining their necks, the activists refused to move, leaving the Border Patrol helpless to respond.

For pro-immigrant activist Alex Soto, a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation and half of hip-hop duo Shining Soul, the action was a means of striking back at an enemy that effectively occupies O'odham land in southern Arizona, where Border Patrol vehicles are as common as cactus.

"They're already escalating," Soto says of the increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. "I understand the necessity [of working for change by registering more Latino voters, for instance]. On the other hand, anger is not bad."

SB 1070 is just one way immigrants are criminalized, Soto says.

The Border Patrol he rails against operates in 100-mile swaths of what the American Civil Liberties Union refers to as "constitution-free zones" extending from the border.

Within these zones, the Border Patrol sets up checkpoints, operates unmanned drones, and patrols public transportation, all the while subjecting non-Anglos to heightened scrutiny.

Then there's ICE, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (as is the Border Patrol).

ICE administers the government's Orwellian "Secure Communities" program, which operates in jails nationwide and is supposed to check the immigration statuses of all those incarcerated.

But Latinos are run through at higher rates than non-Latinos. So far, 3,600 American citizens have been wrongly arrested.

ICE has begun to phase out its 287(g) program, which cross-deputizes local law enforcement as federal immigration agents. None other than Sheriff Joe Arpaio once maintained the largest 287(g) force in the nation.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons