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Weekly Diaspora: What Homeland Security Looks Like After Bin Laden’s Death

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Nearly a decade ago, America’s War on Terror began as a manhunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But over the next nine years, that anti-terrorism effort evolved into a multi-faceted crusade: birthing a new national security agency, blossoming into two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, institutionalizing the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans and even redefining unauthorized Latin American immigration as—of all things—a national security issue. Now, in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, which elements of that crusade will persist or expand and which—if any—will dissolve?

Muslim Americans celebrate bin Laden’s death…

Following the announcement of bin Laden’s death last Sunday, Americans feverishly rejoiced at the news that a mission actually was accomplished in the War on Terror.  Profoundly, the celebrants included scores of individuals who had unwittingly become targets of that crusade—Pakistani immigrants and American Muslims.

Mohsin Zaheer of Feet in Two Worlds reports that Islamic groups in the United States wasted no time applauding President Barack Obama for Bin Laden’s death, taking the opportunity to distance themselves and Islam from the legacy of the slain terrorist. And while many Americans forget that the 9/11 terror attacks killed nationals from 70 different countries, Zaheer notes that the many immigrants who lost loved ones that day took some comfort in knowing that justice has been done.

But Muslims in the U.S. also had another cause for celebration. Bin Laden’s death coincided with the termination of a grossly discriminatory federal program that has targeted, tracked and deported thousands of immigrants from predominately Muslim countries since 2002. ColorLines.com’s Channing Kennedy describes the program (called NSEERS or the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System) as “one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America” which “functioned like Arizona’s SB 1070, with working-class Muslims as the target.” The Department of Homeland Security has been vague about its reasons for ending the program, but the decision  amounts to a victory for immigrant rights groups that have been protesting the effort since its launch nine years ago.

…but still face an uncertain fate

That said, the fate of Muslims in America is far from rosy. As Seth Freed Wessler notes at ColorLines.com, the Department of Homeland Security continues to target, detain and deport Muslims “in equally insidious, but less formal ways” than the NSEERS program.

Pointing to investigations by “Democracy Now!” and the Washington Monthly, Wessler explains that the Department of Justice “has repeatedly used secret informant-instigators to manufacture terrorist plots” and advocated religious intolerance, racial profiling and harassment in its search for homegrown terrorists. Through these means, the quest for security has degenerated into the systemic persecution of American Muslims and countless other immigrants deemed threats to national security becaue their race, religion or nationality. And that didn’t die with bin Laden.

As recently as last March, in fact, Republican Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans—during which numerous witnesses repeatedly reiterated the dire threat posed by radical Muslims in the U.S. At the time, Behrouz Saba of New America Media noted that the hearing lacked any discussion of U.S. military presence in the Middle East and its impact on radicalization. Rather than critically examine the many ways in which U.S. foreign policy and military conflict breeds the monster it aims to destroy, the hearing instead served to demonize a growing, well-educated and largely law-abiding population of the United States.

The Latin American link

But the War on Terror has deeply impacted other marginalized communities as well. Even the circumstances of bin Laden’s death bears an alleged connection to the frought issue of Latin American immigration to the U.S.—an issue that has, itself, undergone massive scrutiny and regulation following 9/11.

ThinkProgress reports that one of the Navy Seals involved in Bin Laden’s extermination is, purportedly, the son of Mexican migrants. While the veracity of that claim has been contested by some, Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King argues that the rumor nevertheless “raises serious questions around the military’s recruitment of Latino youth, the staggering numbers of Latino war causalities, and the Obama administration’s often contradictory messages on immigration reform.” She continues:

Casualties among Latino soldiers in Iraq rank highest compared to other groups of soldiers of color. Yet while the military actively courts Latino youth and immigrants with one hand, it’s aggressively deporting them and their families with the other.

It’s worth noting that, within the government, the most vocal proponents of the DREAM Act supported the legislation because they expected it to dramatically increase Latino enrollment in the military. While the DREAM Act ultimately died in the Senate, proponents of its military provision are perpetuating a troubling and persistent dichotomy that is only reinforced in the wake of bin Laden’s demise: immigrants are welcome on our battlefields, but not in our neighborhoods.

It’s comforting, albeit naïve, to believe that Osama bin Laden’s death will cap a decade of military conflict and draw a torturously long anti-terrorism crusade to a close. More likely, our multiple wars will persist longer than they should, and our domestic security apparatus will continue targeting the most vulnerable members of our society under the misguided notion that such enforcement strengthens rather than divides us.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: No Sleep ‘Till March on Washington

10:03 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

This Sunday, tens of thousands of people plan to march on the National Mall in Washington, DC in an effort to persuade Congress and the Obama administration to tackle immigration reform in 2010. More than 700 buses are bringing an estimated 100,000 supporters to the nation’s capital for the March for America. Participants are hoping to show strength in numbers on the ground, and flex muscle on Capitol Hill as well.

Advocacy groups are organizing countless phone banks and Congressional office visits to encourage lawmakers to support a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States.

On top of that, immigrant rights supporters are eager to note that President Barack Obama promised to overhaul the immigration system during his campaign, and said that immigration reform would be a “top priority in my first year as President of the United States of America.” But now that year has passed, and with Congress still deadlocked on health care and economic issues, reform supporters just can’t wait any longer.

While an immigration reform bill has been proposed in the House of Representatives, the same can’t be said for the Senate. If the Senate fails to propose a reform bill this Spring, it won’t be on the agenda for 2010 either. With elections at the end of the year, there’s an aura of uncertainty over how possible it will be to pass reform after that, since the resulting congress could be more conservative.

Keeping a promise

For Obama and the Democratic lawmakers, keeping the promise of immigration reform could be essential to their political future. As Feministing noted this week, “the March is meant to send a message to Congress: immigration reform cannot wait. It’s also a message to President Obama to keep good on his word and push immigration reform.”

Obama’s promise to reform the immigration system helped earn him 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, exit polls show. Latinos—who make up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest growing minority in the nation–also delivered Democratic victories in states like Colorado, Florida, and Ohio during that same year.

But with 81 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States originating from Latin America, a failure to take action on immigration reform could prove disastrous for Democrats and the White House. Numerous polls show that Latino voters want immigration reform, in part because nearly 9 million people in the country live in “mixed-homes,” where some family members are documented and others are not, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In a story about the upcoming march, TPMDC reports that “organizers of the rally have a simple retort for Democrats: pass reform now, or lose Latino support in November.” The news site quotes march organizer Gabe Gonzalez, who expresses frustration with the slow movement on immigration reform. "I cannot tell you how angry and outraged people are," she says. "I have conversations with my progressive friends and they’re always surprised at how visceral it is."

About-face

On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative politicians who do not have a reputation for embracing immigration reform are trying to change course. The population of Latino voters will only continue to grow as children of undocumented immigrants reach voting age. Both Republicans and Democrats are fighting to secure that demographic as a reliable voting bloc.

In 2003, 63 percent of the 4.3 million children born to undocumented parents in the U.S. were citizens. By 2008, there were 5.5 million children in the same situation and 73 percent of them were born in the country. This new generation signifies what could be a significant political shift as Latinos continue to gain prominence and influence in the U.S.

There is a rift on the right when it comes to immigration, as AlterNet explains. “One segment of the Republican Party completely understands that critical political fact. They understand that to compete successfully in the future — on a national scale — they must be able to contest for a sizeable segment of the Hispanic vote. … But there is another group of Republicans who want to use immigration as wedge issue to win short-term political advantage among anxious voters who think of Latinos as threats to their culture, their tax dollars, and their jobs.”

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks notes that both sides of the immigration argument are very passionate. “You got a lot of people in the country saying ‘Aw, we need a border fence, and the damn immigrants are taking our jobs, etc.,’” he says. “On the other side you have people who are in favor of immigration, making it into some sort of sane system.”

Although reform supporters are hopeful that a bill will be proposed in the Senate this Spring, whether it will have a wide bipartisan backing remains to be seen. But with changing demographics and an organized movement for reform, passing immigration reform would empower a reliable–and organized–voting block that is growing more significant by each election. In the end, it could change the political climate of the United States for generations to come.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.