On Monday, as the sky darkened over LA, I stood across the street from the Metropolitan Detention Center with my friends Tania and Valeska Cañas, a couple dozen musicians, and a couple dozen more activists and supporters and media and decent human beings there to serenade with solidarity the immigrants detained inside the building and facing deportation.
Image by NDLON
It’s a weekly event — CHANT DOWN THE WALLS — through which NDLON
, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Latino musicians in LA County show up on Monday evenings with music and dance and solidarity. An angry or earnest protest can make a point, but the men locked up inside the building at Alameda and Aliso know very little joy. And so, NDLON brings music, like the brass and woodwinds of Banda la Arrazadora
and the norteño sound of Dueto las Voces del Rancho
Voces del Rancho backed by Banda la Arrazadora; photo by Valeska Cañas
From the narrow slits that serve as windows, the detained men wave and signal down to the street with flashlights.
It felt right to be there with Tania and Valeska. They were born in El Salvador. As children, during their country’s civil war, they along with their parents were granted refugee status and resettled in Australia. Today, Tania, theater artist and Ph.D. candidate, also works for RISE, the first refugee and asylum seeker organization in Australia to be run and governed by refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees themselves. That means viewing “those who seek assistance as members and participants, not ‘clients’.” They proclaim: Nothing about us without us. How perfect to see the same slogan on posters outside the LA detention facility along with the words NUESTRA LUCHA/NUESTRA VOZ. (OUR STRUGGLE/OUR VOICE)
Tania and me; photo by Valeska Cañas
and how perfect that we listened and danced to the sound of Los Jornaleros del Norte
, musicians who do indeed work as day laborers.
It isn’t Monday tonight, but NDLON will be back at the Metropolitan Detention Center to watch the President’s speech and chant down the walls once more.
For years under Clinton, eight dark years under Bush, and six unforgivable Obama years I’ve watched millions of decent people deported from this country, families torn apart, US-citizen children traumatized and thrown into poverty. President Obama has talked and talked about taking executive action to bring about a more humane immigration policy in the face of Republican refusal to move on legislation. But as he talked, he had more people arrested, detained, abused–I have been inside detention centers and “abuse” is no exaggeration–and then deported than any other president. Did he really believe this tough-guy act would inspire Republicans to cooperate with him? He had to know better. This rampage through our communities accomplished nothing but the cruel destruction of so many lives.
Giving temporary status to at least some of the so-called DREAMers who were brought here as children was one small step. (The requirements were complicated enough to exclude many young people, as was the pricetag on processing the papers.)
Now as we wait to hear if President Obama is finally going to allow more hardworking, contributing members of our society to come out from the shadows, I have to repeat in translation and in paraphrase the words of NDLON Director Pablo Alvarado:
President Obama is about to announce an executive action on immigration. We want him to use his authority under the Constitution and under the law to bring about a fair policy. So far, it’s all rumors and we don’t know who will be included and who will be excluded by what he decides. But even as we celebrate for those who will be included, let us commit ourselves to the others, that we will continue using our voices and our influence until all the hardworking immigrants have rights.
So, the President’s speech:
Some immigrant activists are happy but I’m not impressed. So, enforcement will prioritize deporting “felons, not families”–which is what he’s been saying for years even while ordinary law-abiding parents continued to be detained and deported–except when activists rushed to support people in specific cases. Undocumented immigrants who’ve lived here at least five years and have children who are either US citizens or legal residents can register with the government, pay fines and taxes, and be temporarily protected from deportation. (Of course, undocumented people have been paying taxes all along.) Childless people who’ve contributed to this country get no relief. LGBT immigrants will rarely be able to benefit. Even the parents of DREAMers won’t be eligible under this program, if it ever gets off the ground. And what happens with a new administration? People will have identified themselves to a government that may well turn hostile. In the meantime, though, they can get work permits which, among other things, means less exploitation. This really isn’t much of a gift to the immigrant community, but that isn’t stopping the violent, almost obscene response from some Republican mouthpieces. (check out angry loudmouth Jonathan Wilcox, who used to write speeches for anti-immigrant former CA governor Pete Wilson)
And more money — lots more money– for border patrol and security….Don’t we have more important matters to address with our limited resources?
The struggle continues.