“We the People”
El Centro invokes freedom
When Captain Kirk uttered his speech about the US Constitution—some say it’s his best episode-ending soliloquy ever; it sure does rock for its earnest gravitas—it’s to a ragtag bunch of warring post-nuclear types, some brown, some white.
At least one of the devolved, bear-skin-clad bunch is shocked to hear Kirk knows one of their most holy words. The word is “freedom.” It comes into spectacular usage, Kirk pontificates, in a sacred document meant for all “people” of all classes and colors and kinds.
That’s the future my generation imagined, a world where the triumph of our species, reaching out into interstellar space, would be dependent on the spread and acceptance of progressive, democratic principles.
Instead, and only about a quarter of the way to a world nuanced by faster-than-light speed travel, teleportation and food synthesizers, we made a sharp turn to the right.
In 2017, 49 years after Gene Roddenberry filled the mouth of his ship’s captain avatar with the glories of universal democracy and its profound consequences, we the people elected Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States.
Trump’s nationalist agenda is filled with glaring instances of defiance against the democratic advances that many a generation of Americans—from boomers to millennials—saw as a done deal.
Among the most flagrant reversals, the notion of what it means to be an immigrant in America has come into question. Globalization changed the economic dynamics of this nation. Those left behind in former manufacturing centers and their adjacent rural communities—the non-college educated, mostly white, working class who had achieved parity with the their degreed bourgeois counterparts after the second World War—turned their anger and frustration outward. Who were these other people from other places coming for their jobs, for their place in line, for their world?
And so some of them came to see immigrants as the enemy. In particular those who came from the south (a holy land in the mythology we all share en Nuevo Mexico, a place where the year may still be called Xihuitl) were marked as criminals, rapists and usurpers by a presidential candidate whose ability to absorb and reflect the seething resentments of a declining class of Americans became the hallmark of a campaign designed to make “America Great Again.”
Trump called for a wall to be built in the South, called for mass deportations and a return to dependence on industries already made obsolete by globalization and the relentless advance of technology. In a sign of a worsening crisis, the House passed a bill this week that may lead to stricter enforcement and is designed to deny federal law enforcement funding to sanctuary cities.
Lately, the madness the man inspired has come home to roost in the American Southwest. This hub of immigration, economic and cultural exchange between the United States and Latin America, this area that naturally includes New Mexico and Albuquerque.
At local and state governmental levels, discussion began on how to meet aggressive attempts at enforcement by federal agents with legislation designed to shelter, protect and affirm the worthiness of immigrant communities here and across the state. Although affirmative resolutions made their way through local governing bodies, city police procedures enacted by the Berry administration in 2012 remain in place.
But those efforts haven’t done much to quell the growing anxiety and fear in those communities. Stopping the relentless tactics being used by federal agents under the thrall of our great leader will require a committed and sustained effort, say local activists.
Worried that longtime residents will be torn asunder from careers, family and friends, many local immigrants have turned to organizations like Burque’s El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos for clarity, guidance and support as they seek to find out what the word “freedom” really means.
In an effort to understand this developing phenomenon, Weekly Alibi reached out to El Centro and spoke with an organizer to grok her thoughts on how the immigration policies of an isolationist, nationalist rube, borne on the wings of los federales, may continue to play havoc with local culture, custom and law.
Weekly Alibi: As an organizer at El Centro … tell me what you do and how that involves the Albuquerque community.
Marian Méndez-Cera: I’m a civil rights and labor rights organizer. El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos is an immigrant justice organization with at least 4,000 members. We currently administer two programs, a labor defense program and a civil rights program as well. We develop strategies to create support in Albuquerque’s immigrant communities. We fight for our communities’ rights through policy … at the city level, at the state level, even through our association with Albuquerque Public Schools. We want to work collectively to engage and grow consciousness [about the immigrant issue].
What are some of the current issues affecting Albuquerque immigrant communities?
Given the current reality, under this administration, it’s obvious that the target[ing] and persecution are real. Local immigrants know this. They are aware of the impact it has on families. We are trying to work on creating something better. Our organization is interested in something better, programs that will integrate immigrants into this society. The way we are working on that is by working at many different levels in the Albuquerque community.
We’re working with APS to enhance and clarify current policy toward immigrants [to prevent sudden deportation], we’re working at the city level, reaffirming Albuquerque’ status as an immigrant-friendly city, we worked with the County Commission, so that they would confirm their commitment to being an immigrant-friendly county. We’re working to make sure our local governments aren’t working in collaboration with forces that would implement massive deportation programs.
You mentioned the current reality under Trump. As you see it, what is that reality?
At the moment, I will say that the current administration stripped away the enforcement priorities that were implemented by the Obama administration. Instead of targeting individuals with felonies for deportation as their main duty, it’s changed … basically what it is right now is that anyone who’s not a citizen, who is not considered a legal resident, it’s a priority to deport them. That is why the tactics that are being used have had such a dramatic effect on local culture. People are less likely to report crimes in this current situation, they’re afraid of the police.
What sort of tactics have you seen ICE agents using in Albuquerque?
Another difference between this and the previous administration are the tactics being used. Actions that impact families and family safety are definitely something we’re looking closely at, to ensure that there are no human rights violations being committed, that due process is followed.
I’ve read about ICE agents appearing at the county courthouse to arrest immigrants who might be there for any number of other reasons, from minor traffic infractions to felony appearances. What’s that about?
We have heard there are a minimal amount of cases where ICE has targeted people at the court. We’ve also heard of collateral damage from these activities. Basically, what that means is that even if they say they’re going after someone specific, they sweep away anyone else who is nearby.
How is your organization going to halt the implementation of the policies and tactics you’ve described?
The way you go about this is that you advocate for policies that work on constructively integrating immigrants into mainstream society, but also offer stability and safety, during which they can achieve their goals and become citizens. As many others have said and I will reiterate: Their contribution will mean a stronger economy. There will be less crime. We know that we’re able to create justice for our communities; we will be free—stronger and better able to work with other communities here in Albuquerque.