Immigrant Rights March, Los Angeles, March 25, 2006. Photograph by Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times.


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.

Further Reading:

Obama’s Immigration Enforcement More Efficient Than Bush’s by Nativo Vigil Lopez, 8/2/09

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4 Responses to U.S. CENSUS

  1. Alfonso says:

    This is a real foolish idea. We’ll find our elementary schools even more severely underfunded when census is unable to properly estimate how many young children will be entering school. Latino dominated neighborhoods and municipalities will lose access to many critical services for a decade. Please, please be responsible and stop spreading this dumb idea. If we want to protest, we should call for a general strike amongst Latinos and our allies, whether citizen or immigrant, documented or undocumented. That would certainly get some attention.

  2. Lisa Pelletier says:

    First, I applaud you, Nativo, not because I necessarily agree with your strategy, but for being courageous enough to come up with a daring solution and for believing that Latin@s are powerful enough to effect a genuine change in the status quo. Because we do need to come up with imaginative and powerful ideas to counter the steady creep of fascism, which generally impacts immigrants before it is felt by anyone else. I understand that your strategy is to focus on states that stand to lose a seat in the House of Representatives if enough people refuse to be counted in the census…so that the governors of those states will pressure Congress to enact CIR (via New America Media).

    Honestly, I think this is a gamble that may not be worth the risk of years of diminished power and opportunities for Latin@s. But I understand your frustration with the Obama administration. Obama has refused to make legally enforceable rule for immigrant detention, expanded the 287(g) program, failed to reverse indefinite detention for asylum seekers, abolish torture or close down the gulag of private (for profit) detention centers. The Obama administration and the Democrats have utterly failed us. So, yes, we need to send this administration a very strong message. I’m just not sure this is the one.

    I’m also concerned that this will divide Latin@s and the pro-migrant community at a time when we need to speak out with one clear, unambiguous voice to say “Basta ya!” That said, I’m willing to hear you out on this. However, you may need to do a better job of addressing people’s concerns…and I hope that you are open to other ideas as well. There is probably not just one solution but many approaches we could take, including growing our movement through boycotts, lobbying and linking up with the Dreamers and our African-American brothers and sisters who have long experience in the struggle for civil rights. I see many signs of hope in the movement the Dreamers are building…it always starts with the students, no? Hollywood is beginning to make films about migrants, so the consciousness is growing around the injustices.

    Finally, we should strive to be respectful of each other – especially those folks who have the courage to dream up unique solutions…because we are in a dire situation in this country and we can’t afford to be divided. In my experience, progressives are a little too good at infighting and shooting down ideas. So, to those who would attack you, I challenge them to come up with a better solution.

  3. Lisa Pelletier says:

    Here’s my proposal: Vote Matt Gonzalez, Van Jones in 2012! Okay, perhaps I’m dreaming…but wouldn’t that be a sweet ticket?! Oh, and a boycott of the Democrats by Latin@s and members of the pro-migrant community. We can start circulating the petitions now to send the Dems the message that we will not vote for a single, bloody Democrat as long as they continue to push policies that demonize immigrants as “criminals” or use their bodies as fodder for the crimmigration–industrial complex. When the Dems catch wind of this — just in time for midterm elections…ay, que lio! Trust me, they will be running scared. Then, as the petitions pour in, they will finally understand that Latin@s and progressives will only vote for honest candidates with real integrity and vision like Matt and Van, who will actually deliver on their promises to restore civil liberties, justice and human rights for everyone, regardless of status. What shall we call this new party? Any suggestions? Well, I guess 2012 is a ways off. But maybe we can start with a campaign to restore civil liberties…and to boycott the Dems with our votes. What do you think?

  4. Richard Alvarado says:

    As for the President, I would just remind of the obvious…there are only 24 hrs. in each day of his 9 month term. These days have been filled with extensive efforts related to the global financial meltdown, healthcare reform for over 250 million American citizens, two wars inherited from the prior administration…and all that is just for starters. So give the guy a break…and some time. Keep the faith and an ever vigilant eye!

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