My No Human Being is Illegal artwork was originally published as a bilingual poster in 1988.
The print helped to popularize the slogan, which has become a catchphrase of today’s defenders of immigrants’ rights.
To oppose the rising tide of discrimination aimed at the undocumented in the U.S., from Arizona’s racist SB1070 anti-immigrant law, to efforts by members of the U.S. Congress to overturn the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (which guarantees citizenship to children born on U.S. soil), I republished my poster in August of 2010, and it is now once again available for distribution and purchase.
The poster’s axiom is an emphatic affirmation of the inherent rights possessed by humankind. It cautions that when individuals are stripped of humanity and designated as “illegal,” then even worse abuses cannot be far behind. Not so long ago it used to be said that a child born to unmarried parents was “illegitimate.” I am hopeful that in the future, the opinion that some people are “illegal aliens” will also become an archaic expression.
My bilingual street poster was original published in conjunction with a 1988 drive conducted by the Los Angeles based Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), to secure the rights of undocumented Central American war refugees in the United States. In the 1980s Central America was convulsed by war, revolution, and murderous state repression. Seeking to escape the carnage, hundreds of thousands of people furtively entered the United States, only to find themselves targeted for arrest and deportation back to the killing fields.
Despite well documented evidence that the military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala were actively engaged in the extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of civilians, the U.S. government denied political asylum to the overwhelming majority of Central Americans who applied for it. Less than 3% percent of Salvadorans and Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. were granted that status in 1984.
Today, economic warfare is driving Mexican immigrants to the U.S. On January 1, 1994, the governments of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, signed the so-called “North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty that has brought great wealth to financial elites while impoverishing workers in all three countries.
When U.S. manufacturing plants moved to Mexico, where low wages and weak environmental laws assured super profits for U.S. corporations, American workers lost millions of good paying industrial jobs that provided decent benefits. Furthermore, employers were able to drive down the wages of American workers, eliminate their benefits, and undo workplace protections, by threatening to move operations to Mexico. While big business continues to export American jobs to Mexico, Mexican workers earn no more than they did before the passage of NAFTA. This begs the question, if capital can move freely across borders, then why not workers?
Another important aspect to the NAFTA debacle is that Mexico is the birthplace of corn. Scientific evidence has established that teocintle - the forerunner of today’s corn - was first cultivated some 7,000 years ago in Central Mexico. Corn is interwoven into Mexico’s unique national character and distinctive history. Until just recently more than 60 percent of cultivated land in Mexico was planted with corn, and some 18 million Mexican campesinos made a living by growing it - that is, until NAFTA. Cheap corn produced by U.S. corporate agribusiness has been flooding Mexico, and millions of Mexican farmers, unable to compete with the imported tariff-free corn, have lost their farms and livelihood. This has caused serious economic and social dislocation within Mexico, and the crisis is one of the root causes for undocumented Mexican laborers entering the U.S. for work.
When running for president in 2008, Senator Obama won the support of large sectors of American workers by promising to renegotiate NAFTA. His supposed position was that the treaty “did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements.” His official campaign booklet, Blueprint for Change, declared that “Obama believes that NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people. Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for the American workers.” After winning the presidency Mr. Obama has done nothing about NAFTA, but he has turned his eye to the U.S./Mexico border.
Senator Obama captured the Latino vote by promising to move towards implementing “comprehensive immigration reform” during his first year in office. As president, he announced to the press on April 28, 2010, that he was taking immigration reform off his agenda of major priorities, saying “I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem.”
He went on to say, “If you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people coming in, not playing by the rules, that’s a problem, and the federal government has been abdicating on its responsibilities for a very long time on this issue.” In a widely circulated news article by Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa, Obama made it clear that Democratic Congressional lawmakers lacked the “appetite” to deal with immigration reform while facing elections in November. Mr. Obama’s alleged immigration reform plans were dead in the water, and as Suzanne Gamboa put it - “sounding the death knell was Obama himself.”
On July 26, 2010, the Washington Post reported that “the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants.” The paper revealed that under Obama, deportations of the undocumented have gone up 25 percent higher than under the Bush administration. The paper went on to postulate that Obama was hoping “to entice Republicans” into supporting a yet to be formulated immigration reform plan. The increased deportations by Mr. Obama should not be viewed in isolation. Earlier this month he signed a $600 million dollar bill that pays for an extra 1,500 Border Patrol officers, agents that will supplement the president’s deployment of 1,200 U.S. National Guard soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama has sent the largest number of soldiers, 524, to the State of Arizona, where the racist anti-immigrant law known as SB 1070 took effect on July 29, 2010.
In a further militarization of the border, Obama has deployed unarmed “Predator drone” surveillance vehicles to the region; the same type of remote control aircraft the president routinely uses to conduct “targeted killings” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration states the drones are currently “able to cover the southwest border from the El Centro sector in California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personal on the ground.” The Christian Science Monitor reported the White House will have six drones in operation along the border by the beginning of next year.
It is for all of the above reasons that I decided to reprint my No Human Being Is Illegal poster.