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The Supreme Court's SB1070 decision: When losers claim victory and victors are too used to losing

0615-obama-Dream-Act-stall full 600To be part of the immigrant rights movement is to really understand loss and losing in the deepest sense. Attending some sort of funeral, having friends and family that are in this country one day and permanently exiled the next, watching parents break down in tears in the last five minutes of a detention center visit and asking yourself, "is that really legal" multiple times after documenting an ICE raid are all collateral consequences of a broken system and the fight against it. I even get tired of repeating the same, still relevant points, about an emerging apartheid state in articles I write every couple of years, because things always seem to get predictably worse.

But understanding loss doesn't always translate into understanding victory, possibly because very few things in the immigrant rights movement ever feel like a complete victory. As I often say, some of our most dramatic victories typically mean stopping worse things from happening to our friends and families.

This sort of explains the split personalities many of my friends in the immigrant rights movement developed over the past couple of weeks while describing what the hell is happening in the world of US immigration policy. Nearly two weeks ago, the President announced that he would act in his executive authority to suspend the deportation of over 800,000 DREAM Act-eligible undocumented young people, putting them in a case-by-case review process that may allow them to get work permits to work legally. The first thing I thought as I woke up to emails (yes I slept late that day) that contained "ground breaking announcement," "President" and "immigration" in the same message was, " how many damn ground breaking immigration announcements can the President make in one term while still not fixing what is really broken?" I almost swore that if I saw one more email with the words "sweeping changes" in it, I would throw my phone out the window.

It wasn't until I got calls from friends that would clearly benefit from those changes that the cynical side of me took a semi-back seat (check our radio show on the topic here). Similarly on Monday, the Supreme Court came out with its long awaited decision on four components of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law. Needless to say, virtually every press outlet got the decision wrong. The court essential declared three of the four main provisions from the SB 1070 decisively unconstitutional. The clearest read on this can be found on the SCOTUS blogs (which most journalists apparently don't read) here . One section of the law, which enables local cops to demand papers from anyone they suspect of being undocumented, was temporarily allowed to stand by the Court. What this means is that the lower court injunction briefly blocking that piece of the law from being enforced was lifted.

What it practically means in states like Arizona is that police officers are now given a little more leeway to pull over US citizens, like they did to a Mexican-American truck driver in 2010, who they "reasonably" believe are doing "illegal immigrant-y stuff," harass them, demand their passport, and arrest them illegally...at least until the Supreme Court hopefully realizes that some of that stuff should probably be declared unconstitutional too. But while the "show me your papers" provision is still intact, the larger fight to prove that the entire spirit of Arizona's SB 1070 is morally, ethically, economically and constitutionally bankrupt won one major battle. After all...NOT ONE PIECE of SB 1070 was declared constitutional on Monday.

Winning this battle does not mean winning the war against Immigrant Apartheid, Juan Crow or whatever appropriate term resonates with people that aren't old enough to remember pre-Mandela South Africa or didn't stay awake during their civil rights history class (that is probably illegal in Arizona anyway). But not claiming the victory did open up a space for real losers, like SB 1070 sponsor, former State Senator and one time mentor to an ex- Neo-Nazi that killed his own family, Russell Pearce to claim that his side won. Why wouldn't a man like Pearce, who couldn't even keep his Senate seat after a major recall attempt, or a Governor like Jan Brewer, who didn't even become Governor by winning an election, claim victory in defeat when SB 1070 is probably the most notable thing they ever did in their lives?

But anyone that watches any sport can tell you who lost under a normal person's definition of losing. I don't watch sports much (even though I did root heavy for the Heat), but I do watch Mixed Martial Arts matches a lot. I can tell you that losing three rounds out four, and earning a draw on the fourth round, still makes you a loser. Especially when no judge says that you won a single round, and at least one judge laments how badly you lost.

One thing the immigrant rights movement can say is that we have learned how to lose with dignity. Sometimes that is all our loved ones have left.

Make no mistake, this is not a gloat. Today, I guarantee you that some organization based in an SB 1070 copycat state is getting a phone call or five about someone's rights being violated. Even if you live in a state like Florida that successfully beat a SB 1070 copycat attempt, chances are those calls never stopped coming in. No matter what, no victory in the past few weeks removes the responsibility of any branch of the Federal Government to fix what is fundamentally wrong with the immigration system(more on that later). Lastly no amount of constitutional declarations removes the collective responsibility we have to talk to one another (whether we agree or disagree) about how to fix the root causes of the broken immigration system.

But for now, those of us that are used to so much loss: loss of life, loss of friends and family, loss of livelihood, should never let go of victories our loved ones achieve by not losing.

This piece is dedicated to one of Florida's kindest, warmest and fiercest of fighters, 21 year-old Isabel Barajas-Martinez of the Young American Dreamers, who passed away in a car wreck Sunday night. May the Spirit of Love, Truth and Justice bless and keep you and your family.

Don't forget to check out our show, Let's Talk About It!

Subhash Kateel

Subhash Kateel has been organizing immigrant communities for over twelve years. He was the initiator of the detention and deportation workfor  Desis Rising Up and Moving and of co-Founder of Families For Freedom, a multi-ethnic network of immigrants facing and fighting deportation in 2002. He was also an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition helping to develop community responses to ICE raids, detentions and deportations.  Besides facilitating some of the most sought after know your rights trainings in the South East, he helped lead the We Are Florida! campaign that successfully stopped an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill from passing in the Florida legislature.  He is now the co-host of Let's Talk About It!, a current events talk radio program.  He has called many places home, including Saginaw, Michigan, Brooklyn, New York and now Miami Florida.

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About the Author

  • Subhash Kateel has been organizing immigrant communities for over twelve years. He was the initiator of the detention and deportation workfor  Desis Rising Up and Moving and of co-Founder of Families For Freedom, a multi-ethnic network of immigrants facing and fighting deportation in 2002. He was also an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition helping to develop community responses to ICE raids, detentions and deportations.  Besides facilitating some of the most sought after know your rights trainings in the South East, he helped lead the We Are Florida! campaign that successfully stopped an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill from passing in the Florida legislature.  He is now the co-host of Let's Talk About It!, a current events talk radio program.  He has called many places home, including Saginaw, Michigan, Brooklyn, New York and now Miami Florida.

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