Testimony given by David Bacon at the People’s Tribunal at the West County Detention Center in Richmond, CA
By David Bacon
48 Hills, 6/4/18
It came from two centuries of colonialism, from the announcement of the Monroe Doctrine, when this government said that it had the right to do as it wanted in all of the countries of Latin America. It came from the wars that turned Puerto Rico and the Philippines into direct colonies over a century ago.
It came from more wars and interventions fought to keep in power those who would willingly ensure the wealth and profits of U.S. corporations, and the misery and poverty of the vast majority of their own countries.
Smedley Butler, a decorated Marine Corp general, told the truth about what he did a century ago:
“I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism,” he said. “I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”
When people in El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras and Haiti tried to change the injustice of this, the U.S. armed rightwing governments that made war on their own people. Sergio Sosa, a combatiente in Guatamala’s civil war who now heads a workers’ center in Omaha, says simply, “You sent the guns and we buried the dead.”
Two million people left El Salvador in the 1980s and crossed the border to the U.S. How many more hundreds of thousands from Guatemala? How many more after the U.S. overthrew Aristide in Haiti? How many from Honduras after Zelaya was forced from office, and the U.S. said nothing while sending arms to the army that uses them still today against Honduran people?
Paola was standing outside the West County Detention Facility, a prison in Richmond, California for 150 to 300 people awaiting deportation, when she got the phone call. She’d been fearing it for days. Florencio, her husband, was in another detention center in Arizona, calling to tell her that la migra (immigration agents) had caught him in the desert, walking north with a dozen others.
Paola (not her real name) hadn’t spoken to Florencio for several weeks, not since the day before he crawled into the luggage compartment of a bus in Puebla in southern Mexico. The bus, he hoped, would take him close to the U.S. border.
It had already been a harrowing journey for himself and Paola’s brother Lorenzo. “After we left Guatemala and crossed the river into Mexico, we wound up in a kind of camp in Chiapas,” Florencio recalls. “There were hundreds of people there.” When the day to leave on the long trip north finally arrived, the coyotes running the camp organized a kind of shape up. It was not that different from the stories told by an earlier generation of migrants, the braceros (contract farm laborers), who remember being herded together at Mexican way stations, inspected and shipped to the border between 1942 and 1964.
by David Bacon, copyright 2018
The American Prospect, February 13, 2018
In San Francisco janitors and other workers support AB 450, a bill to protect workers during immigration raids and enforcement actions.
Labor historian Fred Glass, looking at the impact of immigration on California’s labor movement, notes that many immigrants have arrived in the state with a long history of labor and left-wing activism. Unions have then called on that history and consciousness to aid in organizing drives among janitors, farm workers, hotel housekeepers, and others. “Because the labor movement has understood this fact and designed its efforts around it,” he argues, “California’s unionization rate remains at 16 percent while the national average is 11 percent.” The state has 2.55 million union members, far more than any other.
To union leaders, that’s also one explanation-in addition to the state designating itself as a sanctuary-for the announcement by the Trump administration that it is targeting California for intensive workplace immigration enforcement. “It’s obvious retaliation for California standing up for immigrants,” charges Wei-Ling Huber, president of UNITE HERE Local 2850, the hotel union in the East and North San Francisco Bay Area. “Its purpose is to create a climate of fear among immigrant workers in general, and to attack the unions that have defended them.”
Last fall the state legislature passed a series of bills intended to protect immigrants, especially immigrant workers. One bars police from asking about immigration status and from participating in immigration enforcement actions with federal agents. A second requires warrants before employers can give agents access to workplaces and records of workers’ immigration status.