This week has seen a devastating blow to civil rights in this country. The passage of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 is a chilling threat to the ideals on which this country rests, the indivisible human rights the Civil Rights Movement labored so long and hard to bring to reality. On April 13, the Arizona legislature passed a bill that requires any state or local official to make a “reasonable attempt … to determine the immigration status” of any individual they come into contact with, and authorizes police officers to arrest that individual without a warrant on “reasonable suspicion” that the person is undocumented. The law does not specify what exactly constitutes “reasonable suspicion,” but nonetheless implicitly allows “citizens [to] bring suit against any official or political entity that enacts policy that ‘restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”
Two days after the bill was passed, 800 officers working across nine agencies descended upon four Arizona communities, ostensibly to “rip this thing out by its roots,” according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. For all the money, time, helicopters, ski masks and weapons that went into this raid, these enforcers of offensive and demeaning laws arrested 47 people, of whom 17 were undocumented while others were mildly, and I hope apologetically, dismissed to their homes.
Yesterday, members of MEChA, Jews for Justice and Fierce Advocates, along with other concerned Yale students, staged a mock raid in the Commons dining hall during peak traffic to raise awareness of the urgent seriousness of the issue. At 12:30, we released our “ICE agents,” who hounded unsuspecting students and demanded to see proof of residency. When students failed to procure the proper documents, we handed them an informative citation that explained that, if this were Arizona, they could have been detained. At 12:45, our leading Sheriff stood on top of a chair and shouted into a megaphone, “This is a raid!” Immediately, our agents rushed to the “undocumented students” we had planted throughout the dining hall, handcuffed them, and pushed them to their knees in the center of the dining hall. One by one, we stood and explained our demonstration through a megaphone held up to our lips. We informed the community of the passage of S.B. 1070 and the subsequent multi-agency raid on our communities in Arizona. Finished, we walked handcuffed and surrounded by ICE agents down Commons’ main aisle to disappear through Morse’s closing walls.
I am incredibly proud that, if only for 15 minutes, we were able to demonstrate to the Yale community the lived reality of our nation’s immigration debate. If you were shaken by the demonstration, then I hope that feeling shocked you into action. The dehumanizing nature of raids sweeps up anyone who does not fit the profile of what an “American” looks like to this or that police officer. I am glad that we were able to share that experience with students who, under the auspices of the Yale Corporation and within the sanctuary walls of our Elm City, would otherwise never experience the implications of our nation’s immigration policies. The border region exists as a distinct cultural terrain that, by its very nature defies static conceptions of citizenship. Around the world, people commute across cities to work; along the border, they must do the same. The U.S. has long recognized this special hemispheric relationship in its inter-American relations, as evidenced by the Monroe Doctrine and its subsequent interpretations, but has long done so in a way that prioritizes the movement of capital and resources at the expense of those deemed unworthy of U.S. citizenship.
I am continually horrified by this country’s efforts to curtail illegal immigration by criminalizing the people who are most affected by this country’s own policies. When the CIA topples democratically elected governments in Latin America and replaces them with U.S.-friendly dictators, where do they expect the people affected by those dictatorships to go? When NAFTA and CAFTA and whatever other “special relationships” allow U.S. corporations to move their jobs to where they can pay cents for the hour and work their laborers to the bone, where do we expect those people to go? The United States’ “immigration problem” is symptomatic of forces greater than the people we are now seeking to punish — it has to do with foreign policy choices made by United States throughout history, preferential trade agreements and political situations in many foreign countries — and its resolution will not come until we realize that. Until then, if the Obama administration refuses to muster a serious examination of the policies behind this immigration problem, then we must demand it at least put an end to racist laws that, in seeking to keep immigrants out, serve only to terrorize communities of color. After all, does our President not realize that if he were 17 and in Arizona, he too would be caught up in a raid and very well arrested for his racial profile and name?
We, as Yale students, have the power to demand that Arizona Governor Brewer veto S.B. 1070, and we have the responsibility to do just that. However, the responsibility to end this crisis rests infinitely heavier on our President’s shoulders.
It was a bittersweet victory for me when President Obama was elected, simultaneously a moment to celebrate the advancement of people of color and a moment to mourn the repeal of same-sex equality measures in California and the utter silence on the subject of immigration throughout the campaigns. Nevertheless, I was proud and full of hope. Never did I expect the president I voted for to unleash and sanction the nativist forces of “Homeland Security” onto my communities. This time, anti-immigrant activists have gone too far. We can no longer accept these domestic acts of terrorism. It is time to reclaim our country and return it to the ideals of liberty and justice our civil rights predecessors have fought so hard to secure.
Elizabeth González is a junior in Trumbull College and a moderator of MEChA de Yale.