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David Bacon: Grassroots communities take matters into their own hands in the absence of Congressional action on immigration reform.

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

This week, immigrants rights advocates and business interests [incompr.] are continuing to push Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform. Our next guest argues that in the absence of such reform, local communities using direct action against deportation and law enforcement is spreading.

Now joining us is David Bacon. He’s an award-winning photojournalist, author, and immigrant rights activist who has spent over 20 years as a labor organizer. His most recent book is The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration.

Thank you so much for joining us, David.


NOOR: So, David, you’ve done some really interesting and excellent reporting on what exactly communities and activists are doing on their own to address issues like deportation, which are really tearing many communities apart. The Obama administration will have deported more than 2 million people this year.

BACON: That’s right. That’s right. Well, I think that the resistance to deportations is–first of all, it’s very old in this country. Actually, people have been fighting deportations for a very long time, because deportations have been going on. It’s not just the Obama administration. The year that the United States deported the largest number of people, over 1 million people, essentially: 1954. So there have been movements to oppose this for as long as the deportations have been there.

And in the more recent past, I think that people are looking to the example of the DREAMers, those young people who were brought to the United States when they were children and who have been fighting for their right to remain in the United States and to gain some kind of legal status. They were successful in actually forcing the Obama administration to change its deportation policy right before the last election and to allow them to apply for what is called deferred action–in other words, to defer their deportation for at least two years on recognizing that, first of all, that they were brought to the United States as children, where they really had no alternative but to come with their parents, and that they have been very productive members of society by going to school, by working, by essentially doing what we expect people in this country to do. And that deferred action is affecting as many as 800,000 people, potentially, because these deportations are still going on–and you mentioned the 2 million figure. Last year, the Obama administration deported 409,000 people, and it’s been at about that rate for the last five years.

There’s a desire by people to stop the use of deportation as being the prime method of immigration enforcement, and, consequently, people are using a variety of different tactics to do it. The latest one is actually sitting down in front of the buses that are taking people away. This happened in Phoenix. It happened in San Francisco.

In Tucson, where there was a–where Tucson police stopped a car that was carrying immigrants–they stopped it supposedly for having a broken tail light. That’s a frequent police excuse for pulling over a car full of people that they actually want to question about their immigration status. That’s what the new law in Arizona allows for, this 1070 law. The police stopped the car and began questioning people. They did it in front of a church which is quite well known in Tucson for immigrant rights activism, and, consequently, people in the church came out of the church. They began questioning the police. The police called more police. They called the immigration agents. Eventually, they started firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the people who were questioning those deportations, siccing dogs on them. The people who were coming out of the church, they surrounded the car that was carrying people for deportation. So, you know, this sort of shows that even a spontaneous, unplanned level of resistance, in which people are basically sick and tired of being deported, and also the police being used to move those deportations forward–.

In California, the state legislature just recently passed a law called the Trust Act, which essentially says that the police should not continue detaining people who they’re not intending to charge with any crime and then turn them over to the immigration service for possible investigation and possible deportation. That act of the legislature, a bill sponsored by Tom Ammiano, is in response to a growing movement in churches and unions and community organizations throughout California, in which people are trying to find some means of slowing down, at least, if not stopping this deportation rate.

So this is really going on in many states around the country. And given congressional inaction, I expect that it’s–this movement is going to get larger.

NOOR: So, David, on October 5, you know, I was down in D.C. I witnessed around 200 people get arrested in an act of civil disobedience to call on an end to deportations and to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. What is going to be the Obama administration’s response to this?

BACON: Well, in terms of the end to deportation, the Obama administration has said that they can’t and won’t stop the wave of enforcement that’s going on, been going on for the last five years. In reality, though, the administration does have the ability to decide how it wants to enforce immigration law. That’s exactly what they did do in the case of the DREAMers. So the administration does have this power. It’s a question of whether or not they’re going to respond to political pressure and the pressure of communities in action outside of Washington to do this.

So the strategy of those people who are trying to stop the deportations is essentially to build a movement in the streets that is strong enough to get the administration to do what they say that they don’t want to do right now.

But all of the–a lot of immigration enforcement depends on the particular tactics and strategies that any given administration decides to use. They have many of them at their disposal. And so the Obama administration has chosen to use this deportation tactic and chosen to use the local police as being sort of a dragnet to pull people into the criminal justice system, and then to turn them over to the immigration authorities as a way of finding, essentially, the people that are going to lead to 400,000 deportations a year.

But they could decide to, for instance, end the cooperation between immigration agents and the police, which is one of the flashpoints for this kind of protest, and simply charge immigration agents themselves with enforcing immigration law. That in itself would reduce the number of deportations. And then they could–instead of using this sort of mass deportation approach, they could choose to look at the individual cases of people in a much more individual way to determine whether people essentially should be deported from the United States on a case-by-case basis.

NOOR: David Bacon, thank you so much for joining us.

BACON: My pleasure.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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David Bacon is an award-winning photojournalist, author, and immigrant rights activist who has spent over twenty years as a labor organizer. He is an associate editor at Pacific News Service, and writes for TruthOut, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. Bacon covers issues of labor, immigration and international politics. He is the author of The Children of NAFTA, Communities without Borders, Illegal People and Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. His most recent book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration.