It has been difficult in the last few days to escape the frantic images of noxious smoke, muffled cries and panic at the U.S.-Mexico border. By now, it is well understood that the U.S. deliberately closed its borders to desperate people seeking asylum. Those people continue to live precariously in tent cities under threat from right-wing attack and Mexican government harassment. Furthermore, when an unarmed group of men, women and children attempted to cross the border in protest at the cruelty of their treatment, U.S. border agents repeatedly fired tear gas into the crowd.
Right-wing media in the U.S. has attempted, in rather nauseating fashion, to portray this event as some sort of tactical assault on the U.S. — presumably in the same way a drowning man clinging to the side of a boat represents a sort of piracy.
Many have seen through this flimsy attempt to scapegoat refugees, the majority of whom are victims of a crisis that the U.S. helped create. Gatherings have popped up across the U.S. to show support for the asylum-seekers. One of them took place last night in Madison, when a group of students and community members — lead by several on campus groups including the International Socialist Organization, MEChA, the Young Democratic Socialists of America and Indivisible Madison — gathered at Library Mall as a public demonstration of solidarity. Speeches and calls to action were made, and then the group dispersed, shivering in the late November night.
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It brings to mind the protests of this summer, where hundreds gathered in Madison to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity and the policy of child separation at the border. The anger, the passion and the commendable outrage was as palpable then as it is now.
Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to recount what happened — nationally and in Madison — between those sweltering summer marches and now. The policy of child-separation, which stoked much of the summer’s anti-ICE organizing, has been walked-back in letter, though in effect not much has changed. Immigrants without documentation are still being picked up and detained practically indefinitely — the only speedy outcome being a deportation.
In Madison, the situation has actually grown worse as the year has rolled on. In September, ICE agents abducted 20 people in Dane County, devastating families and panicking communities. Worse, there is now a permanent ICE presence in Madison, making future raids almost inevitable. Parenthetically, let’s not forget that when those ICE raids were happening, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval’s main objection was that they didn’t give him a heads-up first. Hurray to progressive policing.
Quite simply, it must be said that not enough has been done by the people of Madison to push ICE and the apparatus of border enforcement out of the city. In surveying the immigrant right’s movement since this summer, one can see that the largest mobilizations have been reactive in nature.
First, the major protests this summer were a reaction to ICE activity, and in the case of the largest one, just a reaction to one particularly cruel aspect of immigration policy. Second, the community mobilization during the ICE raids was a scramble to counter well-coordinated, well-planned raids by ICE officers. Lastly, Tuesday’s rally was of course a reaction to the scenes in Tijuana. There have been no major actions that have sought to roll back the apparatus of intimidation — and it must be said, effective ethnic cleansing — that has only fortified its presence in Madison.
This is not for lack of targets or motivation. The fact that Madison has a permanent ICE officer is absolutely unacceptable and their permanent removal should be the first priority for the immigration rights movement in Madison. The turnout for these protests proves that there is energy for such a campaign. The destructive nature of our foreign policy, combined with our militarized border, mean that the sort of brutality seen Sunday is not going anywhere. The rallies that come in reply will continue to be inconsequential and post hoc, if a durable campaign to push the border-terror complex out of Madison is not mounted.
The words of the abolitionist John Brown ring true more than a century and a half later — “These men are all talk — what is needed is action. Action!”
Sam Palmer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in biology.