Public Terror: Escalating the War on Migrants

War is nothing but a continuation of politics by other means.
— von Clausewitz

Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.
— Mao

Immigration activist Roberto Lovato was there when the Los Angeles Police Department launched its brutal assault on a park full of migrant families with children last week in LA, and this is what he saw and understood. “I saw the LAPD,” he wrote “dragging the immigrants and the entire country into dangerous terrain, a new threshold in the … immigration war raging around the country.”

What he saw was more than an Iraq-style surge; this was an all out escalation, a new strategic plateau in the US government’s War on Migrants.

Javier Rodriguez, an immigration activist with L.A’s March 25th Coalition, called it a “political decision” to “dismantle this [immigrant rights] movement.”

Last year, in 2006, millions of migrant and their allies — their familia — took the streets, giving birth to the most powerful mass movement in the U.S. since the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 70s.

The new movement stunned the US ruling class, drove the deepest of wedges straight into the heart of a seemingly unstoppable neo–con drive toward fascism, exposed the essential brutality and racism at the core of the Republican, neo–con agenda, began the public unraveling of the Bush regime, and opened the door to the stunning exposure, repudiation and defeat of the neo-cons in the House and Senate, who had led the racist charge to make felons of all undocumented migrants — and of anyone who so much as gave a ride to someone undocumented.

And like their counterparts in the 60s era, the reactionaries of today saw the unmistakable outlines of the threat presented by brown resistance to their power and their drive toward a fascistic state. Like the reactionaries of that era, they moved to kill the movement with mass arrests and state intimidation. Only this time, it wasn’t the FBI, COINTELPRO, the murders or imprisonment of Black leaders, or the mass incarceration of Black and other peoples of color that the State relied on. This time, it was the department of Homeland Security, ICE, and a strategy of direct vengeance — the deliberate terrorization of the millions who had taken the streets and who had precipitated the collapse of the neo-fascist juggernaut.

The methodology was not the one the reactionaries used to crush AIM on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in the 70s, or in Guatemala and El Salvador, nations from which many of today’s migrants fled — no death squads yet this year.

Now, rather, the weapons include mass raids on meat packing plants, pre-dawn raids by ICE agents on people’s homes, incarceration in prisons thousands of miles away from lawyers, families and friends, and the terrorization of small children whose parents had been locked away, or who were themselves taken into custody and locked up like felons in federal prisons with their mothers and fathers.

That this year’s pro-migrant demonstrations were dramatically smaller than those last year came as no surprise to the movement’s leadership. Shortly before the pro–migrant demonstrations on May Day this year, Panama Alba, an immigrants’ rights activist with New York’s May 1st Coalition, spoke plainly of the impact of the government’s effort to crush the new movement. “In light of the raids, any migrant who steps into the streets is a hero or heroine,” he said.

But the signal-sending, intimidation and terrorization didn’t stop with secretive raids on people’s homes in the dead of night or on isolated factories and packing plants.

Chicago, the city that set the pace for last year’s massive protests, faced a new reality this year, when, a week before the scheduled mass protests of May 1, ICE carried out its first mass raid in a public place, a shopping mall in the heart of the Mexican American district La Villita, marching into the mall with bullet proof vests and carrying M-16 military assault rifles, shutting down the mall, and holding brown employees and customers alike for questioning at gunpoint, while letting whites go free. A Chicago immigrants rights activist said, “They sat people down on the ground and busted down bathroom doors… Only 12 people were arrested in Chicago, but there were 250 people being held. But people didn’t run away. They were furious and we started protesting immediately.”

And, in Los Angeles, the storm center of the national struggle for migrant’s rights, the LAPD, under the leadership of the nation’s “top cop,” Republican police chief William Bratton, made another strategic intervention aimed at nationwide intimidation of the new movement; a brutal, no holds barred, clearly premeditated, tight and highly disciplined police assault on an entirely peaceful gathering of migrant families with children — hundreds of children — in MacArthur Park, an assault involving some 600 cops who struck pedestrians with moving motorcycles, and who, while marching in close formation, fired uncounted volumes of tear gas and volley after volley of rubber bullets from “less lethal weapons,” shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, waiting on cue and in unison for the crowd before them to retreat, while viciously clubbing journalists, smashing cameras, and striking anyone else they could strike with repeated blows from batons. Seventy people were injured and sent to hospitals. Despite LAPD claims that the attack was in reaction to having been pelted with plastic water bottles and rocks by young “agitators”, and despite the hundreds of police present, not a single arrest was made. While the young people did, very bravely, hold a protective line between the cops and the families under attack — taking the brunt of police violence on their own bodies, the assault on the migrant families was in no way “provoked,” any more than the ICE raid in the Chicago mall was provoked.

The LAPD assault has been compared to the infamous and racist repression unleashed by police chief Bull Conner of Birmingham, Alabama against the Civil Rights movement when the Old South was still the Old South. African American writer Anthony Abdullah Samad says of Bratton, “He’ll never be able to explain away the rubber bullets hitting women and children. No more than Bull Connor could justify turning fire hoses and dogs on women and children in Birmingham in 1963.”

But the whole point was to incite widespread terror and intimidation. That’s precisely why no one — not children, not journalists, not pregnant women — was spared from the onslaught. Far from the LAPD being once again “exposed” as the nation’s most brutal pigs, the worldwide media coverage, especially and intensely concentrated on Spanish language TV in the U.S., was a public relations coup of a high order for those bent on striking fear and crushing any further resistance to pre-dawn raids, the plans for massive construction of new immigration prisons, the further incarceration of children in a Texas-style Guantanamo, or the even more massive raids and mass deportations to come.

The powers that be could not have picked a more chilling place from which to have signaled their brutal message to the pro migrant movement. LA has the largest population of migrants in the nation, and a Chicano mayor and political establishment with a level of power unrivalled by Brown people anywhere in the nation -– no where else in the US can migrant populations expect the kind of sympathy and support that is ostensibly available in LA. But LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a “rising star” of the Democratic Party, rode last year in a Pacific Palisades parade that included in its official entourage a contingent from the “Minuteman Project,” and kept his political distance as police stormed the South Central Farm, brutally uprooting supporters of the many migrant families who had grown their food there until faced with eviction in a shady deal that involved secret deals and City Council improprieties.

The Mayor, after facing intense criticism for his appearance at last year’s million-plus march in downtown LA, arranged to be out of town for this year’s march.

This year, it was only after criticism of the LAPD reached a red hot crescendo that the Mayor returned from a trip abroad on “city business” to denounce the LAPD attack as a human rights violation, and to attempt to quell any mass “unrest” that might be brewing.

LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, in the meantime, is having none of the Mayor’s human rights rhetoric. Two high ranking LAPD officers have been reassigned, while Bratton has pointed to “tactical errors,” falsely implying the cops were “out of control” rather than fulfilling a strategic political imperative of the Bush regime. But the cops were not out of control, this was no police riot; the police were acting with discipline on direct orders from Bratton’s Deputy Chiefs, making it clear that the planning for the police assault occurred at the highest levels, in all probability in meetings with Bratton himself, who has strong ties to the Department of “Homeland Security,” and who has been mentioned as a potential candidate to head the DHS under George W. Bush.

Were Bratton to land that post, he would not only head up the government’s internal spying program, but would be the ultimate head of ICE, and responsible for carrying out Homeland Security’s “Operation Endgame”, with its objective of raiding, rounding up, imprisoning and deporting millions of migrants.

On May 1, at MacArthur Park, Bratton may have proven himself “fit” for just such a vile job.

In the meantime, if legislation now before Congress is approved, local police, including the LAPD, would have the authority, and funding from the Department of Homeland Security to carry out public raids in areas where migrants concentrate; to act as local enforcers of national laws on immigration, to help carry out the mass deportations of brown people that Operation Endgame implies. That’s the plan. That’s the trajectory. Conversely, if no legislation is passed this year, and no moratorium on raids is declared, Operation Endgame remains the official policy of the DHS and ICE. In the absence of any other plan, Bush’s raids can only intensify, and do so with the aim of fulfilling the goals of Endgame; it will be the only policy on the books.

The attacks in LA and Chicago were by no means random, and by no means local in their meaning or impact. The neo-con powers that be brought forth their latest “surge” in the War on Migrants and the Chicano community, and signaled with unmistakable clarity their intent to crush the movement that has cost them so much and that has threatened the stability of their rule.

The Bush escalation of the War on Migrants, and the plan to bring police into the battle at a national level — a move backed by Republicans and Democrats alike — means that from the standpoint of the white power elite of the US, despite the rhetoric of one wing of the pro migrant movement, “we are not America” — que “NO somos America.” It means that the white power elite views migrants as a dangerous force for political instability and for undermining the white cultural dominance of the US. It means that migrants and the pro migrant movement are the targets of America, no matter how many US flags are waved, how much English is spoken, or how much profit is provided for the exploiters.

And the vulnerability of the system, its open embarrassment at being exposed for it brutal machinations, its efforts to cover its tracks, means that it is only resistance and exposure that the system fears, and that only resistance and exposure will cause it to back down from draconian measures, just as it south to distance itself from the openly fascistic Sensenbrenner bill in 2006.

The resistance can take many forms — barrio Migra Watch/ Ojo a la Migra committees, the continuing establishment of Sanctuary cities and Sanctuary churches, the planning of escape routes and the setting up of defense committees in factories and other workplaces — and marches, many more marches, to demand the end of raids and deportations, the firing of LAPD Chief Bratton, full legalization of all, and the end to the exploitation of Latin American and other third world economies by US finance capital. Without such open and defiant resistance, the system will concede nothing, and the future will hold nothing other than more brutality, more raids, more vigilantes like the Minutemen, more destroyed families, and a more openly racist culture ruled with the iron fist from the Right.

Leslie Radford is a correspondent for Aztlan Electronic News and L.A. Indymedia. She can be reached at:"> Juan Santos is a Los Angeles based writer and editor. His work can be read at The Fourth World. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Leslie Radford and Juan Santos.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Daniel Dearborn said on May 12th, 2007 at 2:31pm #

    3 facts remain regardless of one’s take on the issues of human rights.
    1) Millions of “migrants” are in the US illegally. 2) these millions of “migrants” aka “illegal aliens” drastically lower the standard of living in the US and are costings state governments billions of dollars in education and medical costs. 3) the vast majority of workers pay little or no taxes that actually make it to state and federal coffers. And the vast majority of those that due pay are in the lowest tax brackets are are often receiving more in benefits than they pay in taxes.

    The problem of illegal aliens (criminals under US law) has been intentionally clouded by the race card by those on both sides of the issue. Ultimately the American worker is caught in the middle. This is of course by design. The motive is corporate profits and focusing US worker discontent on anyone other than the perpetrators. From my perspective the pro corporate perpetrators are way ahead.

  2. Leslie Radford said on May 13th, 2007 at 5:49pm #

    Several recent studies dispute Mr. Dearborn’s purported facts and various other myths about recent immigrants. I refer readers to the 2005 study “The Impact of Immigration on the California Economy” (, which concludes that immigrant children are accommodating their environment nicely, especially in their use of English–only 4% are Spanish-dominant.

    I suggest also reviewing the 2007 Immigration Policy Center’s “The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates Among Native and Foreign-Born Men” (, which concludes “incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated.”

    And most germane to Mr. Dearborn’s argument, there’s the Public Policy Institute of California’s 2007 study, “How Immigrants Affect California Employment and Wages” ( which states unequivocally, “the influx of immigrants increased the average real wages of native workers in California by 4 percent.”

    As to his conclusion, the answer is clear: legalization. When these workers can openly compete for wages, unionize, and demand health and safety protections, the corporation will no longer be profiting by blackmailing those kept in “their place” by phrases like “illegal alien.”

  3. juan santos said on May 14th, 2007 at 1:06am #

    The “facts” Daniel Dearborn cites rest on historically false assumptions.

    Here is a different set of premises, premises grounded in historical, cultural and economic reality.

    1. Virtually all migrants from south of the US border are of indigenous descent. They are neither “illegal” nor “aliens.” To the contrary, they are, by definitions Native to this hemisphere. The only “aliens” here are the white colonial settlers and their descendants. The majority of Mexicans are of Uto -Aztecan descent, an umbrella that includes the Hopi, Comanche, Ute, Paiute, Yaqui, Tarahumara, (Rara’muri) Huichol, and other groups from what are, for now, Mexico and the USA. The Uto-Aztecans originated in an area near what is now the Arizona / New Mexico border, within the current boundaries of the US, and spread outward from there, into a range extending from Nicaragua into Idaho.

    2. Who you calling “Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?

    3. The State Daniel Dearborn upholds is an illegitimate white colonial settler regime founded on genocide, land theft, slavery and broken treaties. It is an “Illegal” State, a rogue imperial oppressor state. The US, as such, has no right to exist, much less to enforce its laws on the Native people of these lands or their descendants, any more than white South Africans had any right o exclude or oppress Africans under Apartheid.

    4. The impoverishment of the Third World is made in the USA. Like all other so-called “Americans,” Daniel Dearborn materially profits from the impoverishment of “Latin” America. They starve so that he may eat well.

    The penetration of Third World economies by US capital povides the US with super-profits that drive the main gears of the US economy, dramatically raising the living standards for all who live here. Daniel Dearborn wants to be free to enjoy the fruits of this exploitation and never have to lay eyes on those, in their millions, who are displaced by it. Just like any other oppressor.

  4. Daniel Dearborn said on May 17th, 2007 at 11:51am #


    To address the “facts” from the “studies” cited by rebuttle number one. I can only say consider the source. Every souce quoted has an agenda and a bais. For every study you offer from a “pro” immigration group I can counter with one from an “anti” immigration group. But simply put common sense (as well as many studies) make it difficult to believe that hiring labor at miminum and below the prevaling wage somehow increases real wages. The reason illegal workers are employeed is in fact because they are cheaper.

    Regarding response number 2; quite simply I do not respond to racist attacks. In no way shape or form were my comments racist. The entire point of my comments were that race is NOT the primary issue. Simple economics is. And Juan anyone who comes to America illegally is in fact as a point of law a criminal. It has nothing to do with being of a specific race, creed, color or religion.

  5. Leslie said on May 17th, 2007 at 3:09pm #

    One last note for Mr. Dearborn, since it seems he has run out of fresh arguments.

    I urge discerning readers here to draw their own conclusions about the sources: compare the Public Policy Institute of California to the Federation of American Immigration Reform, or the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy to NumbersUSA, or even the Immigration Policy Center to the Center for Immigration Studies. Look at the breadth of interests, the statistical and methodological approaches, and which organizations open up their methodology and sources for scrutiny, and which just rattle off figures from gawd-knows-where.

    There’s a lesson or two in these about the generalizations we all hear about migrants, who’s putting them out, and how the myths we think we know–those “common sense” ideas Mr. Dearborn relies on–shape up against facts. And about who has the shrillest media campaign.

    The PPIC study, in particular, is a genuine myth-buster. It summarizes, “Native workers benefit because they are able to specialize in more productive work. The results are consistent with other national-level research showing that immigrants have little if any effect on the wages of low-skilled natives and benefit high-skilled natives.” The real economics of (undeniably undervalued) migrant labor in this is well worth the read.

    Notably, Mr. Dearborn doesn’t challenge my conclusion and remedy, legalization, for which I thank him.

    Before I leave this discussion with Mr. Dearborn, let me add that Mr. Dearborn’s remark “In no way shape or form were my comments racist,” is a distraction: no one has said he is a racist. He might be, maybe he isn’t, but no one has said so yet. I have argued the economics with him; Mr. Santos has taken up the history and culture. Mr. Dearborn demands the discussion be about economics, but offers only one new and very weak argument–legal absolutism–and nothing more about economics. He refuses to discuss history and culture. And now he’s telling you that someone has said he is racist. I don’t see how continuing down this path will advance the debate.