We speak with Magdalano Rose-Avila, the executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project about the Minuteman Project, comparing street gangs to al Qaeda, Homeland Security and much more. [includes rush transcript]
Three volunteers from the so-called Minutemen Project patrolling the Arizona border for undocumented immigrants are being investigated after a man told authorities he was held against his will and forced to pose for a picture holding a T-shirt with a mocking slogan.
According to law enforcement officials, the 26-year-old Mexican man told agents he was physically restrained and forced to hold a shirt while his picture was taken and he was videotaped. The shirt read: “Bryan Barton caught an illegal alien and all I got was this T-shirt.”
- Magdalano Rose-Avila , executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project based in Seattle.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined in our studio right now by Magdalano Rose-Avila. He is the executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, based in Seattle. He has come to Denver — Boulder, University of Colorado, Boulder, for the week-long conference that is culminating today, the week-long conference called “Conference on World Affairs.” We welcome you to Democracy Now!
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Then you head off to an Amnesty International conference on immigration in Austin.
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: In Austin, Texas, Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for joining us on the way to the airport. Talk about the Minuteman Project?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, I think that it’s kind of incredible that American citizens can go to the border, many of them armed, and intervene in what is a legal process between the Border Patrol and undocumented immigrants that are coming here. This case with Mr. Barton and his friends doing this, this is ludicrous. They should never have been allowed to detain this man. That was against the regulations, against what they said they were going to do. But it is part of what we believe is an inflamed environment, almost racist, against immigrants, that they think that they’re at the border to stop undocumented workers, al Qaeda and who knows what else by sitting in their campers. Their stopping this individual is just a preview of worse things that could happen.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to be done?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: I think they should get them out of there right away. Second, is I think we need to educate people about the immigrant issue, and what the issues really are, and why this country is dependent on immigrants, why we couldn’t live without them and how we must have immigration reform in order to deal with the problem. But right now, having U.S. citizens who think they’re doing right but are doing wrong, is going to cause more problems than it’s going to help in the issue. We call it the 'clash of the undocumented', undocumented immigrants and undocumented border patrol agents.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think immigrants are so important in this country?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, we have a history. Our history is immigrant. There are many jobs in this country that American workers don’t want to take. The economies around the world where we have invested moneys and put Maquilladores and everything, that haven’t functioned well, those countries’ economics are in ruin or their politics are in ruin, they come to this country to work. If you took all of the immigrants away who are undocumented across the United States, crops wouldn’t be harvested, restaurants would close, car washes would close, people would lose their nannies, their gardeners, it is part of the economic system of America. To deny that is wrong. Even Senator McCain has said we need immigrant workers.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the media’s role in this?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, I think the media and some politicians, including Tom Tancredo here of Colorado, have gone off the deep end, because they’re starting to say that the immigrants are the problems for America right now, and some of them, including CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Fox News in particular, have been out beating the drum against the immigrants, blaming the immigrants for everything, and not having a factual news-based program where you can present both sides. They blame the immigrants without having a defense of the immigrants. And they’re just trying to tell us, just like when we had Pete Wilson and 187, that the immigrants were the problems for the economics of California. And it’s wrong. Right now they’re trying to say because of Homeland Security, that the immigrants may be bringing weapons of mass destruction, may be bringing other things across the border, and President Fox has said there is no al Qaeda in Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of al Qaeda, and particularly somehow linking al Qaeda with a Salvadoran gang. Can you talk about that? You’ve spent many years in El Salvador working with gangs.
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Right, and I was the founder of Homies Unidos, that continues to work with gangs in El Salvador and Los Angeles, both with what they call MS-13 (La Mara Salvatrucha), Calle 18 (18th Street) and to say — you know, gangs are an issue. They’re a phenomenon that was created by the wars in Central America and people fleeing up here. That’s what created them, and then we deported them, and they started gangs in Central America. But to think that al Qaeda would get the most identifiable group of immigrants and ask them to bring rocket launchers and weapons of mass destruction — I can just see a bunch of homies, you know, home boys and home girls, saying, “Hola rey! Do you have your rocket launcher? Let’s bring it across the border,” with their baggy pants, their tattoos, shaved heads. It is not happening. That is a shell game that they are doing. They arrested 103 gang members in this country to say they’re doing something about terrorists. They couldn’t find the weapons of mass destruction, that’s a lie. They’ll never find gang members associated with al Qaeda, that’s a lie, and it should stop today,
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the gangs? Who are they?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, the gangs are youth that came to this country with their parents when they were small children. In order to survive while their parents were working two or three jobs, school systems couldn’t handle Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, so they went to the streets. They had to join gangs to survive. They go back to when they’re deported to their countries and they start to survive. They set up a network that is sort of like an alternate society. Society won’t fit them in, then they create the gangs. Most gang members, when we surveyed them in 1996, said they would prefer to get a job, get an education and leave violence, but unless society responds, both on this side of the border and in Latin America, we will not be able to resolve the issue. The issue is: If we don’t take care of youth, they’re going to join an alternate society. We knew that from the 1960s, and we know that from the gang culture. They are youth who have lost an opportunity to become an integral part of society. And, yes, there is violence in there. Yes, there are some drugs, but when you look around violence in the United States, Central American drugs, there is more drugs and violence outside of the gangs than inside of the gangs, and gang members can change. I know that.
AMY GOODMAN: MS-13, how did they get their name?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Mara Salvatrucha
AMY GOODMAN: Which means?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Mara is a word they use in El Salvador for “a gathering.” So if me, you and another person, we’re a mara, a group of people, but now they use it for gangs. Salva means like “to save” or “from Salvador,” the name of the country, and trucha means that you’ve got it all together, you’re cool. So La Mara Salvatrucha was a response to 18th Street. So originally it was all Salvadorans, now they have everything. There’s Koreans in there in L.A., there’s African Americans. There’s Anglos in Mara Salvatrucha, and 13, for those who don’t know and, you know, the State Department doesn’t know this, we sort of divide California. Nortenos and Sudenos, Sudenos meaning southern gang members, and 13 represent — means you’re from the southern part of the state.
AMY GOODMAN: And the tattoos on the faces?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, the tattoos is the way you — you know, not everybody can publish a book and talk about the history. So one is you do the tattoos to create your own history. If you look at a gang member’s tattoos across their body, across their face, first thing that they put is the tattoo of their gang so that they say I’m proud of being who I am. Then if you look down their chest or their arms, you begin to see when they were incarcerated, when they lost their favorite friend, when their mother died, their father died, because nobody else is recording their history. That’s what the tattoos — the tattoos are a living history for gang members. I can tell you from working with Mara Salvatrucha in El Salvador and L.A. and Calle 18 (18th Street), these people want a chance to have a better life. And I think that America can give it to them.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Magdalano Rose-Avila, who is the Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Right Project. Now that’s based in Seattle. You worked in Los Angeles. You worked in El Salvador. Why did you go to Seattle?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Seattle, because it was an opportunity for me to enter the immigration debate. And I had been involved in immigration in 1974 when we started immigration work out of Los Angeles with CASA and Bert Corona in the early days, and I saw Northwest Immigrant Rights as one of the leading voices on behalf of immigrants, progressive immigrant policies, and I saw this as the premier issue three years ago, and a year and a half ago I was able to go and work, and I think that I was right. This is a debate that we have to have, an issue that we have to struggle with at this point in our history.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Homeland Security. Homeland Security contracts out a for-profit prison in Tacoma, Washington. Who is being put in these detention facilities?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Primarily undocumented immigrants, but people from all over. What they’re trying to do is: We have set up all these detentions, and we have a detention center that right now is housing 500. It will go up to 1,000 pretty soon. What they’re doing is they’re doing all these roundups of brown people. They start first with the Muslims, the Sikhs, then go to the Latinos. You round them up and you put them in, and then you say, “We’re making America safer, because we got rid of all of your dishwashers, all of your field workers.” And the employers are getting a little bit angry. It really isn’t resolving the issue. As long as there is disparity, people are going to come here. Right now is what we’re doing, because we’re on a fast track, arrest people, get them out before we can get them an attorney, people do not have a defense. So many people are being deported today who have a right to be here. We have two cases that we documented, where U.S. citizens have been deported, and that is wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Who?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: I don’t remember the names, but we have the cases in the office. But we have one guy who is still in Mexico until we resolve his issue, and another guy who was deported and just came back. It wouldn’t be fair to them to give their names out in a public forum until we resolve their immigration cases.
AMY GOODMAN: Somalis are also a target in Seattle. How are the different ethnic groups, different groups of people from different countries, working together on this issue?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, Northwest Immigrant Rights with Hate Free Zone, Amnesty —
AMY GOODMAN: What is Hate Free Zone?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Hate Free Zone is an organization that grew out of 9/11, run by a wonderful woman, Pramila Jayapal. They grew out of the response to defend the Sikhs and the Muslims, the Somalis, everyone who is being targeted by the government and by hate crimes. They started working on it. Right now, unfortunately we’re having a number of Somalis across the country being sent back to Somalia, to a place normally we don’t send people back, when a government doesn’t exist. Somalia doesn’t have a functioning government. But this government, because we’ve targeted Islamic people, we are going to send them back en masse to their country because their documents are not in order.
AMY GOODMAN: When I met you last night, Aleno, you were talking about — talking with the authorities about who they round up. Can you share that story?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Well, yeah, because, you know, every time that we would see them that they would round up people of color, and in the State of Washington, California, Arizona, it was mostly Latinos, so I asked them, why weren’t they rounding up in our part of the world some of the Eastern Europeans, the Russians and, in particular, the Canadians who are undocumented. They said, “We can’t identify them.” So I said well, just go to downtown Seattle and hang around where the Anglo-looking people are, and when they, in their language, say something like, “How are you doing, eh?” which the Canadians do, then arrest those people and arrest everyone around them until they can prove that they have proper documents. They said, “No, that is racial profiling.” And I said, “Well, what are you doing to us?” Just because we’re brown, and we have cases all over the country where immigration stops you just because you have a dark skin. And that’s wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that there is any light at the end of the tunnel?
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Yes, I do. Because of programs like this and people who are having forums to talk about immigrant rights and human rights. People should remember, just as in Germany, if you are silent when they attack Jews, there’s going to be nobody to defend you when your turn comes around. Right now they’re attacking gang members and immigrants. You know what? You’re going to be next. The people have to become educated about immigration, the PATRIOT Act, and I think people are doing that
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Magdalano Rose-Avila. We were just in Seattle, but today, here we are in Denver, Colorado, as you head out to Austin for an Amnesty conference and I thank you very much for joining us.
MAGDALANO ROSE-AVILA: Thank you for having us.
AMY GOODMAN: Magdalano Rose-Avila is the Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.