Thursday, July 23, 2009

Opposition builds in the borderlands, from the checkpoints to the wall: Who participates, who sits on their hands

by Jon Riley

Day by day news seems to grow worse from Arizona's southern border. The federal government's plans for increased militarization and technological policing is outpacing the ability of immigrant advocates, critics of the policies, and all of us who want the total abolition of the border to fight back.

I took a day trip with some of our allies from the O'odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective down to Green Valley, a farming town in southern Arizona that rests 40 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border line. Our intent was to travel down south to hear and observe the American Civil Liberty Union's (ACLU) forum on the constitutionality of the border patrol checkpoints and the "100 mile constitution free zone," to get some perspective on the situation.

Phoenix Class War Council has been particularly interested in the dissent coming from Green Valley, as well as near-by city Tubac, in regards to the temporary border patrol checkpoints becoming permanent stations. In addition to the discontent from further south, there's been the development of an anti-checkpoint movement from groups in the Valley, most notable would be the Ron Paul supporters from and 4409. These groups have created a series of videos documenting their protests of the check point on the Interstate 8. There are considerable differences between the two groups and their motivations in challenging the checkpoints which I'll explore below.

A renewed white citizen activism in Arizona is the legacy of the anti-immigrant groups that have dominated the debate on immigration, policing, and movement controls in state politics for much of this decade. These groups, which range from special interest groups influencing public policy to vigilante formations patrolling the border, essentially fought for a total militarization of the borderlands by criminalizing nearly every aspect of daily life for undocumented workers. Their victories were won though the polls, legislation, and in the streets. They galvanized white working people, who feared an erosion of their "way of life" and privileges, into giving the state carte blanche to terrorize communities of color in the hunt for "illegals." What's happening in Green Valley/Tubac is a sign that the anti-immigrant fervor had gone too far, even for those who support "securing the border," or the more reactionary "deport them all" line. One thing seemed clear from the comments at the ACLU gathering, many residents yearn for the days when the border patrol stayed down at the border.

Many of the residents who came to the ACLU forum last Thursday (as well as the previous night's community meeting in Tubac, which we did not attend) vocalized their frustration with the growing presence of the border patrol outside of the realm of enforcing border security and detaining migrants. Many that spoke at the forum described the border patrol as a general crime-fighting tool for the state that not only hunted and detained migrants, but that also acted as an auxiliary police force, carrying out dubious searches on Green Valley and Tubac residents' vehicles with drug-sniffing dogs. Other complaints revolved around the checkpoints pushing smugglers and "illegals" into the towns along the interstate. In addition, many at the forum saw the check points as invasive to the 4th amendment right defending against search and seizure, as well as their ability to move freely.

A hard line group of residents there were not only vocal in their support of the border patrol. In addition to interrupting the legal advice from the ACLU lawyers, they also yelled at other residents who supported excessive border security, but who did not support the border patrol checkpoints. This had a polarizing effect on the discussion, making any criticism of the border patrol as an institution nearly impossible. The only exception was when our O'odham comrades spoke. They were the only speakers not talked over or shouted down by the pro-checkpoint radicals.

Like the Camerafraud and 4409 groups, the anti-checkpoint sentiment at the Green Valley meetings came from a nearly entirely white audience. While sharing his own story of racial profiling by the border patrol, one Latino man ended his talk by noting the almost complete absence of any people of color at the forum, and how valuable their perspectives would be when shared with the other attendees.

Camerafraud and 4409 have made their names from their presence in the streets and on the internet, largely as a result of their participation in the anti-speed camera movement in the Phoenix metro area. Camerafraud has functioned as an organizing umbrella for a core of activists with backgrounds in the constitutionalist and Ron Paul grassroots presidential campaign a couple of years back. 4409 has produced a number of videos on the speeding and red light cameras, and more recently on the anti-checkpoint protest.

They recently demonstrated against the checkpoints a few weeks after a Tempe pastor posted a video on youtube describing his violent arrest at a border patrol checkpoint on the I-8 after he refused to comply with the standard citizenship question on the grounds of the 4th amendment. Unfortunately, in a more recent video post, Shelton, one of the members of 4409, defends the anti-checkpoint protests, but seems to be making his case on his heels, at times saying that the protest wasn't about "Mexicans, or illegals, or any of that," but that it was instead a demonstration in defense of the 4th amendment. He also makes the case that the checkpoints are not actually intended to find "illegals," rather they exist as a means for the state to "condition the American people to accept this kind of invasion of their privacy." He goes on to remind viewers that, of course, he opposes illegal immigration -- he just wants the border patrol at the border, not miles inland asking drivers their citizenship status, or with expanded police powers to detain drivers for non-citizenship related investigations.

I agree with the core arguments of 4409 and the citizen formations in southern Arizona, perhaps summarized best by this: that the temporary checkpoints are clearly a threat to a freedom loving person's ability to move as they please, and that potential permanent stations will continue to represent a gross privacy intrusion by police agencies. However, our commonalities end there. Despite their differences, the anti-checkpoint crowd maintain a pathetic position best described by one Green Valley forum attendee's t-shirt slogan: "Secure the border at the border."

Our O'odham friends managed to subvert this dialogue in Green Valley by talking about two things neither the constitutionalists from Phoenix, or the residents of Green Valley are discussing: the effect the militarization and surveillance has had on the area's indigenous people and people of color. Being a people who transcend the border line, the Tohono O'odham are separated from their relatives and the preservation of their way of life by the border wall . Some of the crowd scoffed at their words, but many others seemed in awe, as if the entire language of the border debate had changed in an instant. Could this be a tiny victory? Can we count on the big talk of the pro-militarization and pro-checkpoint residents to continue to drown out the moderate and dissenting voices?

We at PCWC see it like this: we believe in the free movement of people, all people. We oppose all controls on migration, be it a border wall, a checkpoint, or a retinal scan and a passport. As long as these white groups opposing the checkpoint offer no aid or solidarity to communities of color who are also suffering from the growing policing in the region (in a much greater and total manner than the residents of Green Valley or Tubac, or the constitutional activists of 4409), then these movements are in essence fighting for the freedom of mobility for white people alone. Meanwhile the racial profiling, the border patrol invasions of Tohono O'odham villages, and the oppression of the border wall will persist for others. Yet, the possibility of these communities and activist groups finding commonality, and even creating a spirit of solidarity, with the indigenous people of the borderlands creates many more potentialities for freedom, and perhaps could even give way to a social force that could undermine the ideology that allows the border wall and the accompanying controls to grow by the day.

We will continue to explore the contradictions that exist in the white responses to the checkpoints and to find the possible points of congruence that their position shares with those indigenous and communities of color who are struggling through the daily terror that the checkpoints and border controls present. We believe that these forces have the ability to challenge state power independently, but that this will have little consequence as long as the social and political order remains dominated by white groups that continue to deny the humanity of the folks on the reservation, and those on the other side of the border just so that white folks can maintain their privilege to travel without the same intrusion from the authorities.

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