Executive action: Obama’s welcome to the white nation!

First read this important shortpiece from Alex Soto about the ways immigrant and indigenous communities are being intentionally divided and pitted against each other

On November 20, Obama began unveiling the new stage of the grand bargain: increased enforcement against the many in exchange for probationary and temporary relief for the few. The “criminals” are the target, we are told, not hard working would-be Americans who are productive for the “security and prosperity of the nation”. This is by now familiar, so much so that it is accepted by the mainstream immigrant rights movement as “inevitable” or as a fact on the ground, a reality that one has to accept when formulating a “realistic” and “winnable” fight.  With that in mind, there is great cheering – it is a victory, they say, and we must push for more!!

We wait for the details of the “relief” program, spectacularly withheld so our drool is suspended and we are distracted from other things like the repression of resistance in Ferguson for example, or the atrocities of the US-backed war on drugs in Mexico, or the struggles around extraction and trade routes on indigenous lands, and we cannot see, should not see, what any of these things have to do with each other.  The spectacle drags on, as it is meant to do, and drags us with it.

So let’s talk about what are a few elements of this grand bargain we are supposed to be cheering for.

Increased enforcement

While the president’s patriotic and wooing rhetoric is supposed to have us transfixed on the “benefits”, the entire maneuver is predicated upon increased enforcement – everything hinges upon this first component.

  1. expanding border militarization means an all out assault on the sovereignty of the Tohono O’odham nation, whose lands are crossed by the border. But there are 24 other sovereign indigenous territories that are hidden by the designation of “border region”. Impaired movement, interruption of life ways, language, ceremony and economy,  shootings and surveillance, the imposition of a military occupation upon indigenous peoples continues and intensifies — the frontier is to be “secured” in the interests of the settler nation. It is articulated as a necessary precondition, the necessary price to pay, the ground zero of the great bargain. In this we are all expected to be accomplices. If you haven’t heard about sovereign nations inhabiting the place Obama calls the border region, it is because you were not meant to, because they are not supposed to be there, their very existence and continuity is an unspeakable threat. Billions of dollars continue to go towards managing this threat.  Not coincidentally, there is resistance on O’odham lands – to both border militarization and transnational trade routes.  Anti-colonial solidarity, or what folks like to call red-brown solidarity, would be a huge liability at this time, especially given the fact that a great number of migrants from the Americas are indigenous themselves and have direct experiences of anticolonial insurrections south of the border.
  2. Increased punitive measures for the “ineligibles”, all those cast as “unworthy” immigrants by the ever-changing rules of the immigration management machine – more surveillance, more sanctions, intensified climate of criminalization of migrants who are the vast majority present in the US at this time. Expansion of the enforcement apparatus means increased ability for the state to render precarious and exploitable migrants who are already suffering under extreme conditions. It also means consolidating a capacity to provide disposable labor, and non-persons for an expanding economy of containment. Win-win for big corporate interests – from agro-industry to the military and prison economies.
  3. Increased criminalization against all future migrants – the now-familiar bargain that pits immigrants already present against all those who migrate after us, that binds our sense of false security to their suffering and dehumanization. The intention here is not just to diminish us by teaching us how to cheer for the deaths and suffering of our sisters; it is to safeguard transnational economic and political policies intended to displace millions in the years to come. This was initially perfected by Regan, whose Amnesty measures did not come out of a love of immigrants. Amnesty was at the time a way to appear to appease migrants already present while building a border wall against all those displaced by NAFTA. “Amnesty” was an essential component of selling and militarizing NAFTA domestically,  ensuring that the millions who were displaced by US interests and policies abroad would be illegalized upon arrival, and building the mechanisms for their captivity. What are the current US-backed trade agreements and maneuvers at the global level that require and motivate a new form of this bargain – one far inferior than even the right wing lunatics were offering just a few decades ago? To begin answering this, may need to look at the TPP, at global climate crisis, and the intensification of primary accumulation in the Americas, Africa and the Middle East.
  4. The intensification of the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” migration, in the context of a frenzy of fearmongering of the threat of  “violence” or narco-tafficking or ISIS or terrorism or ebola spilling over through the southern borer. The doctrine of the security state continues the War on Drugs – which has nothing to do with securing peace or keeping people safe from violence, and is instead a cover imposing US hegemony and crushing popular resistance both here and abroad. The normalization of the “security state” is an important component of the larger project by which social movements are attacked, managed or preemptively bought off, and by which populations can be made disposable or redundant in the interests of profit maximization. The War on Drugs links us, as do our efforts to rise up against it — Ayotzinapa and Ferguson are bound together more tightly than we may as yet know.

Probation as a reward/enslavement/terror:

  1. Expanding and normalizing  DACA – once understood as a last resort for people facing immanent deportation, Deferred Action is set up as a discretionary policy that allows government agents to decide they will postpone (defer) your deportation (that is the “action that is being referred to). It is no law that guarantees the agents cannot detain, deport or otherwise capture a person, nor it is a status that recognizes someone’s rights in front of the law. It is merely a practice of enforcement agencies that currently organizes when people will be deported – certain categories now, others (those granted Deferred Action), later.  With DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the fundamental nature of Deferred Action became obscured and deceptively resold to us as a benefit – it became advertised as a reward that young people who are lucky enough to be “eligible”, but who are not under any kind of deportation proceedings, should voluntarily turn themselves in for. In a cynical maneuver, young people were offered the chance to initiate their deportation at a later date, in exchange for temporary and probational benefits like a working permit. The experiment was not meant with revolt, but rather aggressively promoted by DREAM ACTors and the corresponding NGO’s, much in the way a new poison might be advertised as a yummy snack –down the road, over time, ingesting it is sure to inflict massive damage, but for now it looks good it smells good and we stand to benefit from selling it.
  2. New forms of probationary non-status inspired by DACA  for parents of residents and citizens.
  3. Using presidential powers to enslave and terrorize people. The president can order forms of real relief from deportation for those already in captivity, The president can order a Moratorium on Deportations, which would still be a temporary first step. Instead, he choses to use his powers in a form that will ensure entire populations become entirely dependent on the presidential win of the democratic party. Once something like DACA is instituted as executive action, any president or DHS secretary can undo this program and begin deporting people who are the beneficiaries of this “program”. DACA is not merely slow poison – it is a contract of enslavement.

The presidency possesses formidable, grotesque levels of power, as we learned from George W Bush’s wanton rule. Obama is no less powerful and wanton. He has, however, decided to use the full might of this power in a much more slick and nuanced way. Under the guise of “relief”, this presidency continues to perfect a machine of divide and conquer that ensures different populations can be kept dependent, pitted against each other and acquiescing to their own destruction.

Finally, the very nature of this unveiling parallels – and is coincidental with – the dragged-out psychological warfare that is the grand jury announcement in Ferguson, and the moralizing US stance on the “violence in Mexico”.  This is no coincidence, nor it is a detail. At stake historically is not only rendering the “immigrant” category as an army in the interests of the white settler state. At stake is ensuring that immigrants turn against each other to undermine and sabotage the possibilities for resisting criminalization and displacement/disposession at the root. At stake is ensuring that millions of bodies be imported while keeping out the social movements and autonomous self-governing practices they could be bringing with them.  Recent migrants from the Americas are used to self-organizing, conducting assemblies, burning cop cars, demanding free education, resisting reforms; the security of the United States demands they assimilate into obedient subjects who must prove their productivity for capital. But at stake too is the continuation of the racial order, the racialization of migrants as white and the perpetuation of the anti-Blackness that is as foundational to the nature of this society as is indian removal.  Anti-blackness permeates not only immigration policy and the debate around immigration reform but also the orientation of the immigrant rights NGO complex.