Immigrant Rights March, Los Angeles, March 25, 2006. Photograph by Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times.
U.S. CENSUS — WHY I WON’T COOPERATE
by Nativo Vigil Lopez
After thirty years of dutifully cooperating with the census count, and even enthusiastically promoting and organizing for a successful enumeration in 1990 and 2000, I have decided this year to sit it out and not comply with the federal law. I do so very conscious of the implications of such noncooperation and noncompliance, but this is more than just a statement of protest; not a whim nor a lark.
I am driven to this conclusion by the immorality of our federal government, and too many state and local jurisdictions, in relation to its treatment of my brethen – family members, both immediate and extended into a community of millions, whose immigration status has yet to be resolved favorably for them by way of a fair and humane immigration reform. The promise and prospect of such legislation has been put off once again – justice delayed – by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party leadership. And in the interim an enforcement-only policy and practice has been implemented by the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. This is certainly not the HOPE that was held out to us, nor the CHANGE that was promised by candidate Obama during the tough fought presidential campaign wherein the Latino electorate played a pivotal role in locking down important swing states for the young U.S. Senator.
I suppose the first bad omen came with the cabinet- level appointment of Secretary Napolitano, the former Democratic governor of Arizona who signed into law the toughest state-sponsored employer sanctions law; repeatedly coveted Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, nationally infamous for both his anti-immigrant antics and practices (currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for alleged racial profiling); and her numerous calls for the deployment of national troops along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the same person that Obama named as his personal liasion directing the “dialogue” between the White House and the congressional leadership for the purpose of fashioning immigration legislation. It sounds like the fox has been let loose in the chicken coop. There is now absolutely no pretense to expect an immigration bill that could come close to being fair or humane. The current enforcement-only approach augurs poorly for any such illusion.
In reality, enforcement of the onerous side of the immigration laws by Obama and Napolitano has been more efficient, sweeping, effective, and pervasive than even under George W. and all the previous presidents combined since the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized three million undocumented persons, and also enacted into law employer sanctions.
During the month of September the largest clothing manufacturing company in the U.S. based in Los Angeles, California, American Apparel, will be forced to terminate 1,800 employees as a result of an I-9 audit of its personnel, a function of employer sanctions. The social impact of the Obama approach to demonstrate to the general electorate that he is “serious” about enforcement touches 10,000 souls alone in the Los Angeles region. And, this is only the beginning. In July, Napolitano reported that DHS would target 650 profiled companies throughout the nation with I-9 audits in the succeeding twelve months. The immediate impact will be devastating on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of immigrant families.
The Obama “hard-line” enforcement-only pursuit of immigrants must be met with a counter-vailing response that brings to the fore the political character of the policy, but also demonstrates its immorality and objectionable nature to millions of immigrant families and their U.S. citizen and permanent resident relatives, and Americans generally who find favor with immigration reform in poll after poll.
Refusing to cooperate with the U.S. census count is a political act of noncooperation and noncompliance in the best of Gandhian tradition conducted for the purpose of pressuring the political regime that pursues the persecution of immigrants on a daily basis at all nexus of social connection. This action seeks to dissociate ourselves from this repugnant and immoral policy, which strikes at the heart of the immigrant family.
The immediate objective of this tactic is to secure a moratorium of the current policy. Second, the medium- range objective is to win a fair and humane immigration reform, which results in legalizing the estimated 12-15 million persons without authorized status, but also overhauls other areas of the law – including the repeal of employer sanctions and mothballing the e-verify program. Third, and most importantly, the campaign is designed to raise the civic awareness and political consiousness of the immigrant community and its family members – irrespective of status – with regard to their own inherent power as contributing members of society in all its dimensions, and express the same in an organized concerted way to send a message of disfavor with the president and the leadership in the U.S. Congress.
At a time when the federal government is spending millions of dollars to insure a “full count” and especially reach into the cracks and shadows of social life to enumerate the hardest to reach individuals, noncooperation and noncompliance appears as the greatest leverage available to immigrants in their own pursuit of fairness and justice. It is the equivalent of a vote abstention for those who do not have the right to vote – their vote of no-confidence. Immigrants will send a clear message to Mr. Obama that they will not step out of the shadow only to be counted by the census enumerators and then be told to step back in the shadow when it comes to benefits, services, and rights. Their resounding demand is – before you count you must legalize us! This will be their clearest expression of political power.
Nativo Vigil Lopez is the President of the Mexican American Political Association.
This piece was first disseminated as part of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) newsletter, 9/23/09.