On Wednesday, June 6, federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a sweep of homes in New Haven, Connecticut. They arrested 33 immigrant workers and set off a series of mass protests calling for the release of detainees and an immediate halt to federal raids. On Saturday, June 16, a mass mobilization of one thousand immigrants and supporters marched through the victimized neighborhood of Fair Haven. We reproduce below the speech that Charlie Fuentes, a student leader with Stop The Raids! — Students of Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.), delivered at the rally. Some revisions were made for publication.
ICE raids are the federal government’s way of telling us that immigrant workers’ voices are not welcome in the immigration debate. This mobilization today marks our re-entry into that debate. We are confronted with a contest of strength: Will ICE disperse the immigrant rights movement and force unfair legislation upon us? Or will we cripple ICE’s ability to terrorize us and remove it from our path to amnesty?
There is an expectation that the reform debated in the Senate would grant a type of amnesty that would stop the raids. But how can we expect Congress to grant us rights that we cannot defend ourselves? What they are prepared to offer us is a bill that expands immigrant prisons, normalizes collaboration between ICE and local police, gives police financial incentives to racially profile suspected immigrants, and shackles immigrant workers in a cycle of bureaucracy and debt, while holding out legalization for a select few. This bill will leave millions of workers ineligible for legalization and vulnerable to the vastly improved repressive apparatus.
Their guest-worker program promises to strip undocumented workers of precious means of self-defense like anonymity and job mobility. It is designed to incarcerate the base of our movement, legislate the enslavement of an entire generation of workers, and drive down wages and conditions for all.
We have already shown that street protest is the source of our power to alter the Congressional debate. Prior to May Day 2006, the word “legalization” was not in Congress’s vocabulary. Now we need to teach them the meaning of the word “amnesty.” Congress will only ratify the gains that we present as an unavoidable reality.
The fights to defend each other against the raids and win a general amnesty are one and the same. A raid protested is a movement strengthened. Let this thrilling experience today give rise to new initiatives for self-defense in the immigrant community. We already have informal networks in place in our neighborhoods to warn each other about raids. A more effective plan for self-defense is thus within our reach.
Our movement is not ready to accept the terms of surrender in the Senate reform. A real victory for all immigrants is a reform that makes them invulnerable to ICE attacks. Such a victory is possible. Each step that we take as a movement united in the streets is a step towards amnesty. And amnesty is the true victory. Stop the Raids! Amnesty now! Si se puede!
Charlie Fuentes is a student activist with Stop The Raids! – Students of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.