Tucson Rally Protests Anti-Immigrant Actions by Arizona Democrat Governor Janet Napolitano

by George Saunders
Photos by Luis Judiz

About sixty defenders of immigrant rights rallied in downtown Tucson on July 11 to protest recent attacks on workers by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. This “liberal Democrat” governor has taken one more step to line up with racist, anti-immigrant forces. In fact, she is stepping to the front of the anti-immigrant line.

Napolitano had announced a few days earlier that, beginning in January 2008, Arizona would start enforcing the toughest “employer sanctions” in the country. The new law that Napolitano supports, HB 2779, will punish businesses that hire undocumented workers by suspending or revoking their business licenses.

Napolitano underlined her message by sending a letter to the leaders of her Democrat Party in Congress, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid. She blamed the Democrat-controlled Congress for not enacting tougher anti-immigrant laws on the federal level. This forced her to act on the state level, she claimed.

The rally protesting Napolitano’s actions was called by the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, the leading immigrant rights organization in southern Arizona. A flyer passed out by Derechos Humanos at the rally stated that “HB 2779 will create a hostile environment for both employers and workers alike…[The] fear of persecution will push more immigrant workers into the shadows…HB 2779 will lead to wholesale abuse, racial profiling, and hostility in Arizona workplaces, ultimately affecting entire Arizona communities.”

Among the groups supporting the rally, besides the May 1st Coalition, were No More Deaths, Tierra y Libertad, Citizens for Border Solutions, and Fundación Mexico.

At the rally Isabel Garcia, the leading spokesperson for Derechos Humanos, denounced the brutal emphasis on enforcement, which denies the humanity of undocumented workers and disregards the economic conditions that compel them to seek jobs in the United States. She spoke out against those groups in the immigrant rights movement who have caved in to the right-wing agenda. We have to stand firm, she said. We have to say “No” to enforcement. End the militarization of the border! Abolish the Border Patrol!

Leilani Clarke, speaking for the May 1st Coalition, also decried the practice of scapegoating and criminalizing immigrants without looking at the causes of immigration. She reviewed the history showing that the U.S. authorities have always imported cheap labor. The most glaring example was slavery, but after centuries of struggle the injustice of slavery was defeated. In the fight for immigrant rights also, “Freedom will be won!”

Eduardo Quintana, a trade union member of the May 1st Coalition, declared, “We’re not going to stand still while working families are raided.” Napolitano, he said, has joined the campaign blaming immigrant workers for all social ills.







Leilani Clarke, above, holding sign. Isabel Garcia is to her left.

All workers have to stick together, Quintana said, whether they are “documented” or not. He cited the months-long fight recently waged by his union, the Machinists, against a company that was making 42 percent profits, the highest in years, and yet was attacking the workers’ standard of living. With support from the community and from workers in other unions, the Machinists were able to win their strike. This shows that when workers and the community are united, we can move mountains.  “The problem is not immigrant workers. The problem is corporate greed.”

Eduardo Quintana

Kelly Gato, of Fundación Mexico, questioned the racist fear of immigrants that is being promoted. What is this fear about? We must recognize that all are fellow human beings, and instead of stigmatizing immigrants, give them dignity.

César Lopez, speaking for Tierra y Libertad, questioned whether Napolitano had “sold out.” When had she ever “bought in” to the cause of human rights and workers’ rights in the first place? The solution is not to support lying politicians but to support grass roots community organizing.

Corinne Bancroft, a volunteer with No More Deaths, expressed disappointment with Governor Napolitano’s actions, which turn human beings into mere objects for police enforcement. She also criticized Napolitano for refusing to recognize the unity and interconnectedness of the Mexican and U.S. economies.

The speaker from Citizens for Border Solutions, based in Bisbee, Arizona, and Naco, Sonora, in Mexico, said that there were “no words to describe what militarization is doing to our border communities.” The high-tech camera towers recently erected in Arivaca, she predicted, will soon be coming to Douglas and Bisbee.  In fact, she warned, the plan is to extend the police-state conditions on the border northward to all of U.S. society.

In closing the rally, Isabel Garcia, questioned the Arizona state authorities for wasting the taxpayers’ money by bringing out a totally disproportionate police presence of a hundred or more at this rally.

She ended by repeating: “We will continue the fight to abolish the Border Patrol and all border enforcement. No more agents! No more cameras!”

Some Background on Napolitano

Janet Napolitano was elected governor of Arizona a few years ago as a supposed “friend of labor.” Among those who came to Arizona and campaigned for her was Linda Chavez-Thompson, one of the top three leaders of the AFL-CIO.

(The president of the AFL-CIO is John Sweeney; the vice president, Richard Trumka. A special new post was created, a third top office of the AFL-CIO, to accommodate Linda Chavez-Thompson, previously a high-ranking leader of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees—AFSCME.)

But we are talking about Janet, the “friend of labor,” not Linda, the labor “leader” who campaigned for Janet.

A couple of years ago Janet Napolitano, the liberal Democrat who was elected in such an unlikely victory in this long-time conservative Republican state, showed her true colors. Lining up with the so-called Minutemen opponents of human rights for immigrants, Janet sent the National Guard to back up and assist the Border Patrol along the frontier with Mexico. In fact, a small group of Minutemen carried a sign last year showing their solidarity with Napolitano. It said something like, “That’s Right, Janet, You Send the National Guard, We’ll Bring the Reserves.”

Now Napolitano has gone a step further as she joins in with the policies of militarization and police enforcement that have become the preferred choice for the politicians and pooh-bahs of the U.S. ruling elite in regard to the Mexican border.

As Isabel Garcia pointed out, Arizona has often served as a steppingstone for politicians toward more “brilliant careers” on the national level.

Take the example of Bruce Babbitt, also a Democrat governor of Arizona. He showed his true colors by sending in the National Guard and state police to break the strike of copper mine workers in 1983–84. As a reward he was made secretary of the Department of the Interior in that wonderful “friend of labor” Clinton administration, which brought us NAFTA and Operation Gatekeeeper, the beginning of border militarization that drove immigrants away from the San Diego area, pushing them to the dangerous desert areas of Arizona, where thousands have died since the 1990s trying to cross over to the promised land of job opportunities.

The record of these Democrat Party “friends of labor” is clear enough by now, isn’t it? As Malcolm X said, the Democrats are like the crafty, guileful racist fox compared to the openly racist Republican wolf.  Malcolm advised African Americans to register Independent, not to sign up with either of the “boss man” parties. Malcolm was killed before he was able to organize an Independent Black Political Party, as he probably would have. But his idea of organizing Independent of the bosses’ political parties lives on after him.

Text of Speech by Leilani Clarke of the May 1st Coalition

Two wrongs have never made a right.

Yet Napolitano calls out Congress’s failure on comprehensive immigration reform only to then enact a failure herself.

HB 2779 is creating criminal rhetoric out of the most basic human need: being able to put food on the table for your family.

You have to deal with the underlying labor issue.

Napolitano feels that dealing with business matters is getting to the root of the truth on immigration, but again, she's wrong.

The only way to have true comprehensive immigration reform is to ask why immigration is happening in the first place, why millions of people are forced out of their homelands. And to connect the dots that we try so hard to keep hidden—maybe it all has something to do with this nation’s role in mass corporate globalization.

To all of a sudden—now, in the year 2007—promote the idea of trying to disrupt the use of cheap human labor, when this country itself was built on the use of cheap labor, is a farce. A rude joke, if nothing else.

That’s exactly what happened in the old southern plantations. The slaves became too abundant in number, and the white slave owners began to fear their growth, eventually forced to cave in to the idea of that blasted freedom, which will always be well behind profit and business in American priorities.

But freedom was won.

And that is what will happen here too.

So have as much “comprehensive” reform as you wish, throw out as many House bills and Senate bills as you want—they will always fail.

History will repeat itself and freedom will be won once again.

It’s set in stone, that’s human progress.