Across the United States, immigrant rights advocacy groups have been pushing for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), with increasing intensity over the past 16 months. They have worked hard to present this proposed legislation as an essential win for the movement, a unique chance to take a step in the right direction. They have grossly exaggerated the benefits and have consistently misrepresented the provisions of the bill, suggesting the legislation would legalize 11 million people, it would strengthen family unity and decrease deportations. None of this is true, as grassroots migrant justice groups like MDC have amply demonstrated. For the most part immigrant communities have not been duped. Despite their impressive budgets, political backing and media monopoly, and despite the deepening crisis facing migrant communities, large-scale, mass molibizations of the migrant grass-roots has eluded the NGO complex.
In parallel to the push for CIR, there has been a resurgence of protest around ending deportations, which has presented itself as an alternative to the manipulative and politically swarmy reformist movement. Seeming to be youth-lead and defiant of powerful political lobbies, this other movement emerges out of the DREAMer lobby, a powerful national campaign that involves a lot more than the brave young people we see in front of cameras. But is this DREAM 2.0 really an alternative to reformist deception, or a more nuanced, more covert and more difficult to critique manifestation of the same politics?
The NotOneMore campaigns initially demanded an end to deportations for those who would qualify for immigration reform, but by the end of 2013 the explicit reference to CIR became more rare. In the absence of an explicit rejection of CIR, veiled references announcing the annual Not 1 More conference (“Congress continues to deliberate reform, but ICE is not deliberating” as per the website) were paired with pro-reform slogans and chants at the site of the direct actions against ICE headquarters and busses. Bring Them Home seemed to sidestep any clear connection to the reformist movement, focusing instead on the bravery of young people trying to cross the border under refugee -seeking provisions. There is much to discuss about how this campaign deliberately mystifies the legal and bureaucratic realities of the refugee and asylum system, or how the outrage mobilized around these young people implicitly renders of less value the lives of tens of thousands of refugee-seekers who face mandatory detention and expulsion under horrific conditions. There is much to say about how Bring Them Home articulates the problem of asylum by capitalizing on the hysterical media representations of the drug wars as a symptom of Mexican society, deliberately obscuring the connections between narco capitalism, resource extraction and the financial and political interests of the US — in other words, the narco wars as a form of American politics. But we digress: the question here is what does the “youth” movement have to do with CIR? We see more and more choreographed and spectacular actions that coopt what are traditionally autonomous tactics: direct action, hunger strikes and so on. Some of these are overtly pro-CIR, while others do not claim this explicitly. But are these two strands in some way connected?
One way to look at this connection is to consider the ways both capitalize upon, and reproduce, the spectacle of the border.
The spectacular border
The proliferation of staged border images is breathtaking. Images of young people, families, children confronting walls, bars and barbed wire fences are broadcast along with personal narratives through which we glean that they are so very American, just like us. These powerful campaigns work to convince public opinion that migrants are human beings, that is to say they are American in a normative way — they speak English, dream in English, have family members here; they stand out as gringos in Mexico; they are productive members of society and share the aspirations of the US, with which they identify. They are no threat to the stability and prosperity of the nation. They are impossibly brave and heroic, and yet they are relatable because they are productive for capital, law-abiding, just like us.The very real people become actors, playing the part of the worthy or relatable or humanized migrant; the border becomes a prop against which these actors can locate themselves, can demonstrate their presence, their existence — we are here, we are of this place. In their very relatability, the heroic migrants of the border spectacle reproduce specific notions of what and who can be seen as human, as existing. The prop and the actor are bound together in a specific performance of presence and of visibility.
The pressure for all of us who are active in migrant justice struggles is to silence our critique. The enemy is the lunatic right, whereas the NGO movement, and sugar-Daddy democrats, are cast the solution, right? Many of us question the ethical and political directions we see developing in the movement, but our opposition is met with scorn, hostility and occasionally with police presence. But we know this is not the only way people are defining migrant justice, because we see it in our communities: we see workshops and teach-ins, protests and solidarity work , neighborhood defense and anti-policing work.
So we think simple questions need to be asked. Who and what is rendered invisible or non-existent in campaigns that make a spectacle of the border? Whose cannot, must not, be present ? How do these spectacles settle a specific understanding of what the border is, of its very existence as given, as beyond the possibility of not-existing? These may seem like esoteric questions, but they are actually quite practical, because they refer to accountability and consequence.
The other border
There is another US-Mexico border than the one produced through these spectacles. It is a much broader region, encompassing an area of land 100 km north and south of the current international boundary. CIR proposals are centered on the premise that any modification of immigration policy begins with increased militarization in this region. Every other aspect of CIR depends on the implementation of this package of heightened “security measures”. 47 billions for drones and 24 x 7 surveillance and double border walls and tens of thousand extra border patrol agents. The US-Mexico border region is a growth market in the war economy.
There is binational support for CIR, as the grinning presidents reassure us. But forced migration from the margins of empire to the center is not a binational issue. And this is not a binational space. It is occupied land. Today there are 25 Native American nations inhabiting the border region on this side of the fence alone. What we call the border is a complex, unstable and hybrid space. Immigrant rights NGO’s parachute in to stage short-term actions, and want to erase everything that threatens the logic of their campaigns. They roll out operations on top of ancestral Tohono O’odham, Hia C-ed O’odham and Lipan Apache lands, with no accountability to the history or current reality of the border as a space of ongoing occupation and resistance.
Tohono O’odham youth and elders have been confronting border militarization and opposing CIR for years, and although the border cuts across their lands the O’odham perspective seldom figures in debates around the border – see below for two important videos, and an article here
The Gila River Indian community’s struggle against the Loop 202 highway has connected settler occupation with transnational trade corridors and border militarization; check out some amazing literature here and here. Lipan Apache Land Defenders are currently calling for solidarity in their struggle. Resistance is happening in community spaces, at border checkpoints, and through media — but also in the courts and through transnational diplomatic organizations.
We are a no-budget collective in Chicago — but even afar, it is not that difficult to get a tiny bit educated about some of this. The well-funded campaigns that treat the border as a blank space in which only the wall and ideal relatable migrants can appear are not based on ignorance: both overtly reformist and DREAM 2.0 organizing carefully repress any real consideration of the border as indigenous space. Just as the presence of autonomous stateless communities, of informal economies and unregulated movement constitute a threat to the capitalist state, so too the ongoing presence of sovereign indigenous nations — not merely individuals or families, but ways of life, languages, forms of governance and presence in a territory, land claims and practices that far predate the border and that have refused to be disappeared by it — is a threat to the NGO immigrant rights complex.
How is the threat managed or eliminated? Well, this is more complicated and hopefully someone can help figure that one out. We know that displaced migrants are excluded from the state through their inclusion as illegal. And there has been ample evidence of the token inclusion or incorporation of indigenous voices by immigrant rights NGO’s and the white ally industry. There is also an ongoing pattern of the immigrant rights movement equating itself with indigenous resistance, even while furthering settler incursions on indigenous lands. One recent example of this was a national conference in Arizona organized by Puente and Not One More; the organizers partnered with political players who are actively pushing a freeway project that is being resisted by the Gila River Indian community and by O’odham community members. Carrying a banner claiming that immigrant rights represent 500 years of indigenous resistance, these organizations not only failed to mobilize solidarity (a tactical no-brainer if you are going to bring hundreds of people from around the country to a place where there is a live fight going on), but actively bolstered the public image and political capital of a development project directly attacking indigenous lands.
Under the guise of “immigration reform”, “bringing them home” and “ending deportations”, the newest assault on indigenous sovereignty is fully underway. Unless we resist, we are all complicit. It is time we call this shit out.
http://jupiternmarsattack.blogspot.com an O’odham blog with fresh and thoughtful analysis of CIR and the hunger strikes for Not 1 More