YouTube video

With legislation popping up all over the country targeting immigrant
groups, a national movement is forming to fight back. In one example in
the video, Arizona bans ethnic studies, in spite of the fact that the state’s
own superintendent is clueless on Chicano history. In response, students
of a popular Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson organize and
blockade their high school to stop superintendent from entering.

Produced by Jesse Freeston.

Story Transcript

JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER [VOICEOVER], TRNN: Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama visited an elementary school in the DC suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland. She was there to promote her anti-obesity campaign, but the concerns of a second grader transformed the event from a staged photo op to a brief glimpse into reality.


STUDENT: My mom said that�I think that she�she says that Barack Obama’s taking everybody away that doesn’t has papers.

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah. Well, that’s something that we have to work on, right, to make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exactly right.

STUDENT: But my mom doesn’t have papers.

M. OBAMA: Yeah. Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that.


FREESTON: The moment highlighted the fact that deportations of workers without documents has gone up under the Obama administration. And memos leaked to The Washington Post from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, show quotas calling for an even sharper increase. On Thursday, Washington, DC, played host to a community discussion entitled “From Arizona to DC: Immigrant Rights Are Civil Rights”.

WENDY RAMIREZ, EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: Civil rights means equal access to opportunity. And whether it would mean when we’re talking about immigration reform, that’s what really it’s about. It’s equal access to opportunity. And that’s why immigrant rights is civil rights.

LINDA LEAKS, EMPOWER, DC: Stop the terrorizing raids that tears family apart. Can you just visualize children in daycare? Parents have been taken off, and they’re left there in daycare or they’re left there in schools because somebody have come in and taken their family.

FREESTON: During his campaign, candidate Obama gained the trust of many immigrants and their allies by demonstrating awareness of their concerns and promising to address them.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: The system isn’t working when communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that’s happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it. And I am here today to make you this promise: I will be a president who stands with you and fights for you and walks with you every single step of the way.

FREESTON: But as president, he has taken to speaking of immigration as a security issue, not a civil rights issue. The White House web page on civil rights has no mention of immigrants, while the page on immigration says that immigration policy should be driven by, quote, “… what is in the economic interest of the United States and … the best interest of the American worker.” There is no mention of the problems he described so clearly as a candidate.

RONAL MAYORGA, INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISTS ORGANIZATION: So the Obama administration actually has no plan in sight to reform our broken immigrant system, in part because the Democrats are more concerned about winning primary elections and keeping their seats in Congress.

GUSTAVO ANDRADE, CASA DE MARYLAND: A lot of people were saying that, no, you know what? We shouldn’t fight for immigration reform. It’s not the right time. It’s too hard. We’re too close to an election year. We cannot win. Nine months ago, we were in rooms talking about doing civil disobedience, and other immigrants rights leaders were looking at us like we had eight heads or something. You know, 200 immigrant workers in front of DHS calling on Obama the day before the State of the Union Address to follow through with his promise. Following that, March 21, and all of a sudden something like a quarter of a million people on the Mall to get somebody’s attention.

FREESTON: President Obama addressed the crowd on the National Mall that day in a two-minute prerecorded video.

B. OBAMA: You know as well as I do that this won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. But if we work together across ethnic, state, and party lines, we can build a future worthy of our history as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.

FREESTON: With the nation recoiling from the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070, activists in DC raised the stakes on May 1. Thirty-five were arrested in front of the White House for demanding Obama sign an executive order stopping all deportations and take leadership in the fight for meaningful immigration reform. Among the arrested were Chicago Congressman Luis Guti�rrez.

ANDRADE: We cannot be, as a movement, in a position where we’re following these elected leaders, right? It’s embarrassing that the immigrants rights movement right now is being led by one congressman from Illinois, Luis Guti�rrez. We should be pushing them. We shouldn’t be following them. Right? They shouldn’t be the ones ahead of us getting arrested. We should be pushing them. And the goal behind that really wasn’t to be a one-off action. The goal was to unleash a wave of civil disobedience throughout the country, and I think you’re starting to see that.

FREESTON: Occupations, sit-ins, marches, and other actions have taken off across the US. In Seattle, for example, hundreds of protesters blocked access to government immigration offices before occupying numerous key intersections. But the focal point for organizing remains Arizona. In one of numerous actions, five youths staged a sit-in in Senator John McCain’s office to demand the passage of the Dream Act. The bill would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the US as minors. Among other things, this would allow such youths to be eligible for in-state college tuition fees. Four of the five protesters are undocumented immigrants, and in a sign of unity among current civil rights struggles, four of the five are gay and lesbian. [movie trailer clip] The racial profiling law SB 1070 continues to bring about new forms of activism in the state, including a wide range of economic and cultural boycotts and artistic activism [music video clip] such as this collaboration of 13 Arizona-based hip-hop artists for a remake of Public Enemy’s “By The Time I Get To Arizona”. But it’s not just the racial profiling law SB 1070 that has put Arizona at the forefront. Governor Jan Brewer recently signed in a bill banning ethnic studies in public schools. The law is aimed at eliminating a popular Mexican-American studies program in the city of Tucson. The champion of the law is Arizona school superintendent Tom Horne, who defended himself on CNN in a debate with Georgetown sociology professor and author Michael Eric Dyson.


TOM HORNE, ARIZ. SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: And we should be teaching these kids that this is the land of opportunity, and if they work hard they can achieve their dreams, and not teach them that they’re oppressed. I’ve been fighting for this law for 40 years, and this is among my most deeply held beliefs. I mentioned to you being on the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his speech. I believe very deeply that people are individuals. They are not exemplars of the race they were born into. And this race-obsessed philosophy that your other guest is expounding that’s going on in Tucson is wrong for the American public schools.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROF. SOCIOLOGY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It’s not race-obsessed. First of all, you repeated that same statement earlier, so it’s a great line, but the reality is Martin Luther King Jr. said the whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundation of this nation until the negro and others have granted his full citizenship rights. He talked about the bitter legacy of white supremacy before he began to talk about that dream. And then he said that in America, it’s an ideal toward which we should strive, but in the meantime we should adjust to the reality that we have some negative realities that we should adjust to and that we should address. And I think that Martin Luther King Jr. cannot be used to justify xenophobic and racist passions that are dressed up as desires to reform the curriculum. If you have been demoralized and degraded and your history has not been taught, why should we have to have a special class for Chicano studies? Why doesn’t the larger curriculum deal with the�

HORNE: We don’t have to.

DYSON: �let me tell you�deal with the profound and sophisticated contributions of Chicano people to American society? Once that happens�wait a minute. Let me say that once that happens [inaudible] once that�once that�.

HORNE: We have that in our standards. We have that in our standards. All the kids have to learn that.


FREESTON: While the kids might have to learn that, apparently the superintendent doesn’t. In February testimony supporting the banning of ethnic studies, Horne demonstrated an insulting misunderstanding of elementary Chicano history.

HORNE: Ethnic studies were brought to my attention when a lady named Dolores Huerta gave a speech at the Tucson high school. She was a former girlfriend of C�sar Ch�vez.

FREESTON: Dolores Huerta has never been romantically linked to Ch�vez. Had Superintendent Horne attended the program he wants to get rid of, he might have learned that Dolores Huerta was cofounder, alongside C�sar Ch�vez, of the United Farm Workers and a key organizer of the illustrious 5-year-long Delano grape strike. With their Mexican-American studies program on the chopping block, Arizona youths went into action, making a human chain to block access to a Tucson high school, thereby forcing Superintendent Horne to cancel a meeting scheduled for that afternoon.

DEMONSTRATOR: He claims that we teach racial chauvinism, that we are anti-American, and we preach hatred towards whites, and he says all these hateful things about our classes. And it’s ironic, because how many times has he stepped foot in our classes? Nobody really asked themselves that. So, really, it’s all just a myth, and people run on that myth.

FREESTON: People are taking local action in DC as well, against collaboration between local police forces and immigration authorities, such as these carried out under Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program.

RAMIREZ: We’ve been fighting for a while now to fight this program called Secure Communities. You know, “secure”, it implies security in a community, but it’s completely the opposite. So we found out in November that the chief of police signed an agreement with ICE. Now, the reason why we’re so concerned with this is because in DC it’s pre-conviction. So what this means is that if someone is arrested, your fingerprints are going to be sent to ICE, and ICE is going to check in the databases to see if this person is here with papers or without papers.

FREESTON: This report from Seattle’s KOMO 4 News demonstrates the danger of both pre-conviction profiling and of politicians promoting stereotypes of dangerous immigrants.


REPORTER, KOMO-TV: Police detained three people, including a Hispanic man, in their hunt for possible armed robbery suspects. Now, look at the man on the right lying face down without handcuffs and not under arrest. Listen to what one officer says.

POLICE OFFICER (SUBTITLED): You got me? I’m going to beat the f****** Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?

REPORTER: Seconds later, the man moves his hand, appearing to wipe his eye. The officer kicks him in the head as he wipes his boot on his hand. A female officer stomps on his leg. Police realize they detained the wrong man, lift him up, and let him go. The video does not show a medic arriving on scene, even though the man has cuts on his face and appears to have trouble walking.


FREESTON: Research by the Immigration Policy Center cast doubt on the link between illegal immigration and crime in the US. Between 1994 and 2005, the population of undocumented people in the US is believed to have doubled to 12 million. During that same period, Department of Justice figures show that the violent crime rate dropped by 32.4 percent, and the property crime rate dropped by 26.4 percent. For activists like Andrare, the politicians and others who treat immigration as a security issue are distracting us from the human dimension of the problem.

ANDRARE: There’s no arguing with a second grader, right? At the end of the day this is what it’s about. You know? “My mom doesn’t have papers.” And what’s going to happen? You know? And there’s no�like, there’s nothing more to say. Like, we don’t have to be convincing people that we’re right. We just have to fight it and just impose our power on them. [music video clip]

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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