THE WAR AT HOME
Within hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center, President Bush
appeared on national television to offer his first promise to the
American public: e will smoke these barbarians out of their caves.î A
cleansing was in order. The world was to be decontaminated of every last
trace of Islamic fundamentalism. Yes, a nation that is ruptured and
speechless in the wake of terror can still find comfort in a trustworthy
colonial logic: cleanse, decontaminate.
We braced ourselves for the very worst. Hundreds of reported incidents
of brutal beatings of Arab, South Asian, and multinational Muslims
flowed in. Before long, we learned of the first, second, and then third
racist killings. Bush vaguely told the American public to ìcut it out.î
But in reality the president was fast making good on his extraordinary
promise of a permanent war at home linked to the war abroad.
In the name of fighting terrorism, Bush is expanding and redirecting the
ongoing attacks on people of color. A qualitative shift has taken place
wherein the prison industrial complex is being reorganized to fully
serve the war program. Two changes stand out: positioning immigrants at
the forefront of racist state violence and increased control of law
enforcement by the federal government. These changes pose grave new
dangers. But they also provide opportunities for deepening and unifying
struggles for racial justice and immigrant rights.
IMMIGRANT IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Prior to September 11, state violence was often viewed through the lens
of the African American experience. Post September 11, immigrants are
the new face of racial profiling, racist laws, and deprivation of civil
liberties. As the state and some of the public have quickly make Arabs
and South Asians new targets of racism, can we incorporate these new
racialized groups into a more inclusive vision of racial justice?
Today the language and imagery are ìterrorist,î ìimmigrant,î and ìArab,î
but the infrastructure established in the process is a potent source of
increased racism and repression against all peoples of color and indeed
all who live in the U.S. The fight for immigrant rights must become a
centerpiece of efforts to build a broad national front to reverse Bushís
attempt to permanently deprive all people of color of civil and
Police chiefs from around the country who, only a year ago, were being
scrutinized by the Department of Justice for their ìracial profilingî of
African Americans are now being summoned by Attorney General Ashcroft to
ìinterviewî tens of thousands of immigrants merely because they are of
Middle Eastern descent. Meanwhile, INS detention centers, many of them
run by private prison corporations, function as todayís internment
The INS has become a lead enforcement agency in the nation. With an
already exponentially growing budget, the INS has been transformed into
two agencies, one to deal with ìservicesî and the other to focus on
The Bureau of Immigration Enforcement (BIE) will oversee border patrol,
detention centers, and deportation proceedings, as well as the new forms
of immigrant policing already occurring in the interior. In addition,
the INS added the names of more than 300,000 immigrants scheduled for
deportation to the FBIís criminal database. Thus, state violenceóin the
form of policing, detention, and prisonsóhas become a crucial political
arena for the immigrant rights movement. The immigrant rights movement
can ill-afford to view state violence as peripheral to its longtime core
issue, legalization of the undocumented.
Indeed, the USA-PATRIOT Act stripped away much of the protection
formerly provided by legalization. Under the act, all non-citizens,
documented or not, are deemed potential terrorists and subject to the
newly expanded powers of local and state police, the FBI, and INS.
Before September 11, a green-card holder could get a traffic ticket, pay
a fine, and their case was closed. Today, that same person can be
racially profiled, stopped, turned over to the FBI and INS, and detained
for up to six months without being charged with any crime or violation.
They may be deprived of attorney-client confidentiality and, if brought
to court, convicted by secret evidence. The ìwar at homeî has shifted
the dividing line from documented vs. undocumented to citizen vs.
This may create division among people of color along citizenship lines.
But the extensive history of violence against African Americans proved
long ago that citizenship for people of color is never bulletproof.
Thus, the ìwar at homeî also provides a strong basis for unity among
immigrants, citizens of color, and indigenous peoples in the fight
against the prison industrial complex. It is critical that the racial
justice and immigrant rights movements seize this opportunity.
Prior to September 11, there was anecdotal evidence of collusion among
the different law enforcement agencies, and local anti-police brutality
struggles had framed racism as a central factor in shaping policing
policies and practices in the U.S. Now such collusion is official policy
and is being institutionalized at a rapid pace.
The Bush administration has erected entirely new national policing
institutions like Homeland Security, federalized airport security, and
military tribunals. Congress has passed the draconian USA-PATRIOT Act,
which gravely undermines the rights of Americans, especially
non-citizens, and frees law enforcement to broaden and deepen spying,
harassment, imprisonment, and sentencing.
The administration is unburdening the FBI and the CIA of former
constraints and refocusing them away from traditional crimes to
political ìcrimesî and spying. It is eliminating the already woefully
weak guidelines against political spying and harassment that were
erected after the exposure of COINTELPROóthe program that undermined the
black liberation movements of the 60s and 70s. And bureaucratic barriers
between and among different agenciesólocal police, state police, FBI,
INS, and CIAóare being reduced or eliminated. The Bush Administration
has made it clear that it plans to create a nationally unified and
politicized policing command.
Prior to September 11, struggles against police brutality had been most
effective on the local level in raising public consciousness of
institutionalized racism and engendering small reforms, such as civilian
review boards. This is because local police departments are controlled
by local governments, not by states or the national government. This
localism was an important obstacle to creating a national movement
against police brutality. Even major political explosions, like the
riots following the Rodney King verdict or the street actions after the
Amadou Diallo case in New York, remained largely localized.
Now that Bush has seized increased national control over policing
policies, the fight against various elements of the prison industrial
complex can and must be linked into a national movement.
The immigrant rights and racial justice movements face a critical
juncture. With the advent of the ìwar on terrorism,î immigrant rights
and anti-racist violence organizing can no longer be thought of as
separate spheres within the broader social justice movement.
The immigrant rights movement must give increased priority to the issue
of state violence. And the fight against the prison industrial
complexówhile correct in the view that prisons serve as a means of
confining and/or disappearing a generation of black and brown youthómust
include in its analysis the pivotal role immigrants play in the
expansion of the big business of law enforcement and prisons.
There is much to be shared between those who have been taking on border
patrol and INS raids, and those who have been fighting urban police. And
both are now indelibly linked to the fight against the Bush
administrationís program of permanent war at home and abroad.
Jane Bai and Eric Tang work with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities in
New York city.