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Commentary :: Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : War and Militarism
The Case of Elvira Arellano
20 Aug 2006
It's no wonder, then, that news of Elvira's heroic defiance of the government's deportation order has spread through the US immigrant communities like wildfire, or that she is compared with Rosa Parks, whose civil disobedience of the unjust Jim Crow segregation laws in 1955 sparked a year-long boycott by working-class black women of the Montgomery, Alabama buses, bringing the city's transit system to its knees and igniting the struggle for black civil rights nationwide.
The Case of Elvira Arellano
by Fred Bergen
August 20, 2006

Who is Elvira?

Within one week, Elvira Arellano, a former aircraft cleaner at Chicago's O'Hare airport, has become a symbol and rallying point in the struggle against the racist regime of terror and persecution against immigrants. Elvira, a 31 year old Mexican woman and mother of Saul, 7 years old, first came to the United States in 1997, but was arrested and deported to Mexico. She returned the same year, living in Oregon and then moving to Chicago in 2000, where she got a job at O'Hare.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks provided the "homeland security" pretext for a racist, union-busting campaign within the United States, just as they gave the government the opportunity it needed to launch its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Elvira was caught in a federal raid on the workers at O'Hare airport, accused of working with a false social security number, fired from her job, and ordered deported to Mexico.

But Elvira has refused to go quietly. She helped to found United Latino Family, a reform group that opposes the the government's inhumane breaking up of families in the course of deportations, in 2002 after she was fired from O'Hare. La Familia Latina Unida organized, and Elvira took part in, a hunger strike starting last mother's day, May 10, to draw attention to the suffering of "mixed-status" families that are broken up by deportations and raids. Determined to remain in the US with her son, she refused the summons to an immigration court on Tuesday, August 8. The federal authorities issued a warrant for her arrest, and on August 15, she sought refuge in the Adalberto United Methodist church in the mainly Puerto Rican Chicago neighborhood of Humboldt Park.

A case of political persecution, and a racist attack against all immigrants and all workers

Across the US, an estimated eleven million undocumented immigrant workers struggle for existence on the margins of society, using false social security numbers or other precarious arrangements to get low-paying jobs. If they were to stop work, either through a strike or through firings and deportations on a truly comprehensive scale, it would paralyze major US industries, and the effects on the US economy would be catastrophic. The impressive effect of the strike on May Day, 2006, which shut down major corporations and agricultural regions for the day, only hinted at the tremendous social power of latin@ and other immigrant workers, chiefly because the May Day effort was boycotted by the cowardly and treacherous union bureaucrats and their allies in the immigrants' rights movement.

The problems with Elvira's social security number and immigration status were an excuse to isolate a woman who had become a union activist at the airport, and a spokesperson for the immigrants' rights movement, involved in the union-sponsored "Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride" of 2003, just as "Homeland Security" after the September 11 attacks has been a pretext for an official government campaign to discipline the US working class into accepting the roll-back their union and democratic rights that US banks and businesses need to impose in order to compete with their imperialist rivals in Europe and Japan.

A symbol of resistance against the migra's racist reign of terror

In March of 2004, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), the new name for the Immigration and Naturalization Service after it was reorganized as part of the Department of Homeland Security, published its "Operation Endgame" strategy, the government bureaucrat's chilling vision of a "final solution" for estimated the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. "We must strive for a 100% removal rate", declares the BICE's Director of Removal, Anthony Tangeman, in the cover memo of the Endgame report.

By the year 2001, there were an estimated 20,000 undocumented immigrants detained by the US government. After the 2001 terrorist attacks and the merging of the INS into Homeland Security, immigration hearings were closed to the public, and immigrants are now allowed to be jailed indefinitely without charges in "emergency" situations. The ICE's Office of Detention and Removal reports that it imprisoned 230,000 people in its 2003 fiscal year, and deported over 140,000 people. And the government is planning ahead: the National Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 calls for the construction of four new immigration prisons capable of holding 40,000 more inmates. Victims of racial profiling by cops at traffic stops have their immigration status checked as a humiliating matter of routine, deportations by the immigration authorities have risen to 383 per day, and the militarization of border patrols initiated by President Clinton's "Operation Gatekeeper" in 1994 has caused the completely avoidable deaths of 3,000 immigrants, who risk exposure to the harsh desert environment of the US southwest, and persecution by vigilante gangs of racist maniacs like the Minutemen, in order to cross the border into the US.

It's no wonder, then, that news of Elvira's heroic defiance of the government's deportation order has spread through the US immigrant communities like wildfire, or that she is compared with Rosa Parks, whose civil disobedience of the unjust Jim Crow segregation laws in 1955 sparked a year-long boycott by working-class black women of the Montgomery, Alabama buses, bringing the city's transit system to its knees and igniting the struggle for black civil rights nationwide.

Once again, the Democrats show that they are enemies of the workers

The response to the government's bipartisan anti-immigrant campaign by the union bureaucrats and reformist organizations that largely boycotted the May 1 strike for immigrants rights has been to cynically try to round up the votes of immigrants and their supporters for the same Democratic politicians who have been calling for raids, round-ups, and deportations of immigrants. The reformist March 10 coalition in Chicago, naively seen by many as a "progressive" element in the immigrants' rights movement even though it refused to endorse the May 1 strike, proposes that defenders of Elvira Arellano call and fax Illinois senators Barack Obama and Richard Durbin, both Democrats, and ask them to pass legislation specifically granting amnesty to Elvira. Furthermore, the legislation would reduce the quota of allowed visas from Mexico by one person, to "allow" for Elvira! In other words, while Elvira clearly wants to use her case to rally the movement for immigrants rights, her reformist "supporters" want to disarm the popular outrage that has been generated by her case without changing the racist law one bit! The reformists are not even promoting a reform: they are shamelessly protecting the racist status quo.

For their part, the heartless, racist Democrats have turned the reformists' demand for "comprehensive immigration reform", formulated so as to mean absolutely nothing and offend not a single capitalist politician, against Elvira and the immigration reformers who are campaigning to defend her! Exuding well-practiced political hypocrisy, senator Durbin washed his hands of Elvira's fate by declaring, "It is an unfortunate truth that scores of people are in the same situation as Elvira and her family. We cannot fix the injustices of this system with private bills; only comprehensive immigration reform can permanently remedy this situation."

This is the party that the labor bureaucrats and immigration reformists will be campaigning for in the coming election. No amount of prayer vigils, lobbying, or marches for reform will change the fact that the Democrats are a party of the capitalist class, a class that will stop at nothing to maintain the system of racist oppression that provides them with a politically confused, divided working class that is ready for the most intensive exploitation. Do the reformers really think that the same politicians who regularly sign off on billion-dollar war budgets, without flinching at atrocities from the rape of Fallujah to the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib, Bagram air base, and Guantanamo bay, will make an exception for Elvira if enough people call their offices?

The workers can turn back the racist attack

As Working Class Emancipation said in its leaflet for the emergency demonstration on Monday, Aug. 21 to defend Elvira Arellano, "Only the massive, independent, and united action of the working class can stop the 21st century slave-catchers of the migra from terrorizing our immigrant sisters and brothers." The May 1 strike showed that the working class, because it has the power to paralyze every industry by withdrawing its labor, can make the bosses pay an unbearable price for their oppressive regime.
Already, the government agents are showing signs that they fear an explosion of outrage if they raid the Adalberto church to kidnap Elvira. On August 18, the major media reported unnamed immigration officials who denied that they had plans to raid the church. Although we should not give the same lying federal cops who assassinated Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in his sleep in 1969 in Chicago an ounce of credibility, the government's false "reassurance" that they intend to treat Elvira Arellano just like the half million other immigrants who they persecute points out both that they are recoiling in fear at the potency of Elvira's resistance, and that the immigrants' rights movement, if it is to succeed, must break with the reformists and the capitalist parties and carry out the struggle for full citizenship rights for all immigrants to its only possible solution: a massive working class-led revolt to bring down the racist regime of the exploiters and oppressors, expropriate the banks and industries that are the source of their power, and build a society that respects the democratic rights of all people.
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