Under a white tent on the Francisco de Miranda Air Force Base in the La Carlota neighborhood of this Venezuelan metropolis, immigrant leaders from all over the hemisphere debated and discussed immigration policies, critiquing the obsession with national security that has warped the debate over reform and laying out their alternative visions. Filling the sultry, jet fuel-infused air on the base with Caribbean, Colombian, Brazilian Portuguese and other accents, speaker after speaker denounced the social exclusion faced by immigrants–and immigrant advocates–from Alaska to Patagonia. And more than a few railed against El Muro de la Muerte (the Wall of Death), which has already killed thousands–and will kill thousands more if the US Congress passes the Sensenbrenner immigration bill. The bill, which has set off alarms in immigrant communities, would make it a crime (rather than a civil violation) to be undocumented or to offer aid to the undocumented. It would also turn local police into enforcers of immigration law and extend the Wall of Death along 700 miles of the US-Mexican border.
On the sidelines, Chris Jimenez squirmed and grimaced, preparing to lash out at the Sixth World Social Forum (Foro) here in Caracas. He fidgeted as colleagues sitting beneath the giant tent housing the panel on “Migration Policy, Discrimination and Xenophobia” described how immigration policy in countries like Costa Rica, Ecuador and even liberal-left Brazil is starting to resemble the militarized and racist policy of the United States. Finally, Jimenez, an immigrants-rights activist with the American Friends Service Committee, stood up and described the two-front war he and others face behind the Muro. “We’re fighting the Minutemen at the border in California. We also have to deal with racism within our movement,” he declared. And then, as if pointing to some invisible figure standing next to him, he added, “None of the whites who spoke on behalf of the US delegation at the opening ceremonies of the Foro remembered to mention the more than 35 million immigrants in the United States.”
Though Jimenez and other immigrant advocates spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the myopia, limits and dangers of US immigration policy, the bulk of their time at the Foro was reserved for a more transcendental matter: how to globalize the debate around and practice of immigration policy. Jimenez and more than thirty immigrant leaders descended on the Foro with a mission to link their US struggle to a resurgent, insurgent Latin American left that is electing presidents (think of the recent inauguration of indigenous leader Evo Morales in Bolivia and the election of Chile’s first socialist woman President, Michelle Bachelet), defeating US-sponsored free-trade agreements and calling for integración desde abajo (integration from below) as the way to solve immigration and other issues in the hemisphere.