LOS ANGELES - While other immigrant rights organizations were getting bogged down in DACA paperwork1--many of them charging for the service--the DREAMers, never content to rest on their laurels despite their enormous accomplishment, realized the necessity of advancing the movement. Over ten years of organizing has made them masters of political strategy, timing being their forte. And last Thursday was no exception.
While the nation's attention was on the farcical Democratic National Convention, with the party of the donkey pandering to Latinx voters by taking credit for the deferred action policy for DREAM-eligible youth, the deportations continue. One of the main ways the undocumented are deported is out of county jails, where they are held when accused of minor offenses, and deported even prior to having been convicted. And while Joe Arpaio may be today's answer to Bull Connor and a perpetual thorn in the side of justice movements for his outspoken racism, Los Angeles County's Sheriff Lee Baca has deported many more people than Maricopa's, (about half of the 80,000 deported from California this year) and has done so much more quietly.
He broke his silence, however, shortly after the long-fought-for TRUST act reached Governor Brown's desk. TRUST, if signed into law, would allow local authorities more control over who they hold in their detention facilities. Rather than honoring all ICE holds requested through the controversial "Secure Communities" data sharing deportation program, (referred to as SCOMM by immigrant rights activists) California sheriffs and police chiefs with jails would be able to save taxpayer money by releasing those accused of only minor offenses. Baca, however, took the alarming position of declaring not just his opposition to TRUST, but in a move reminiscent of the nullification and interposition policies of Southern politicians in the civil rights era, announcing that he would refuse to honor the law if signed by Brown.
The strategy was simple: A traditional civil disobedience action to shut down traffic in the area around Men's Central--where detainee abuse has been rampant, prompting lawsuits and promises of the facility's closure--to draw attention to TRUST, challenge SCOMM, and hold Obama to his word for his prosecutorial discretion policies.
Things became somewhat complicated, however, due to the conduct of law enforcement. While DREAMers held the intersection, protected by their allies, traffic continued to circulate around the edges of the occupied intersection. Firefighters arrived to direct traffic. One of them backed into a photographer, nearly knocking her down. She urged him not to push her, and attempted to reclaim her space in order to document what was going on. He again displaced her, causing a small dispute. We later learned that the firefighter filed assault charges on the woman, accusing her of having pushed him.
In another incident, one vehicle, turning down Bauchet Street, was blocked by protesters. Apologetically, we explained that the street was closed. "I need to get to work!" she screamed. Without any regard for the people standing in front of her vehicle, she advanced the mini SUV into the crowd. "That's assault with a deadly weapon," one protester told her. (Often, law enforcement opens fire on individuals simply for continuing to drive or for not stopping quickly enough during stops. When these victims survive, they are often charged with assault with a deadly weapon (the vehicle) and/or assault on an officer.) Having no other choice, protesters relented and allowed the vehicle through. The aggressor later appeared on the front line of deputies in a sheriff's uniform.
Most of the rest of the protest went according to plan. DREAMers, including some who are ineligible for deferred action, gave testimony in the middle of the street. At a certain point, the order was given to clear the street to allow for the planned arrests. About 30 LAPD officers wearing plastic face shields rushed in from their staging area and formed a circle around the sitting DREAMers. This was supplemented by an outer circle of Baca's deputies. One-by-one, they were handcuffed and led away, to the cheers and sobs of their supporters, now congregated on the sidewalk.
After the arrests, a few more words were shared by the coordinators of the action, and invitations were made to upcoming actions, including the annual march against police brutality on October 22.
Despite the DREAMers' bold action, TRUST remains on Brown's desk unsigned, SCOMM remains in place in Los Angeles, Men's Central remains open, and genuine respect for the human rights of migrants and immigrants remains distant from the platform of any party. But history, even just recent history, has shown that it is precisely this type of militancy that is most effective for advancing social justice.
1. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is the Obama administration's policy, announced June 15, 2012, to allow DREAM-eligible youth under thirty who have been in the US for at least five years and have either graduated from high school or are currently enrolled in school to apply for "deferred action," or a sort of protection from deportation, which, if their application is approved, would last for two years. Approval would also allow applicants to request work permits, which would also make them eligible for driver's licenses in most states.
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