Occupy ICE: Growing Beyond Occupied Tents

By Refugio Mata

So what does immigration have to do with Occupy Wall Street? Well, for starters, it's all about corporate greed. As a blogger for Project Economic Refugee, I've been yelling at the top of my lungs since 2007 about the urgent need to re-focus our national conversation on immigration. It has not been easy.

The problem is that not at a lot of people are talking about one of the major root causes of our immigration problems: the displacement of people from their homelands as a consequence of policies like NAFTA or the austerity measures from the International Monetary Fund that have decimated livelihoods across entire industries. Take for example, the outrageous case of the Mexican farmers that ended up as undocumented immigrants in the U.S. after being displaced by genetically modified corn from the U.S.

In the fight for immigrant rights, we have witnessed powerful and inspiring moments of defiance against the status quo long before the Occupy Wall Street movement ever took root. We have experienced the gigantic marches across cities demanding immigration reform. We have also seen the rise of the DREAM Act activists organizing a level of cutting edge advocacy in the Latino community not seen since the days of Cesar Chavez. Yet, most of those efforts have focused only on passing some form of legislation to reform immigration policies.

I have always argued that immigration reform is a good first step. However, most of the efforts to change the system have not tackled the root cause of our immigration problems: the socio-economic inequalities that have displaced people from their homelands and are bound to continue even if immigration reform is passed.

In the aftermath of the eviction of Occupy Wall Street camps across the nation, immigration issues present an exciting opportunity to finally change our national conversation in revolutionary ways. Occupiers find themselves at a crossroads: either innovate and grow or face obscurity. Occupy activists are just as fired up and ready for the next stage in the evolution of the movement. Perhaps this is exactly the right time to boost the immigrant rights component of the Occupy Wall Street movement for both immigrant rights activists and the Occupiers.

I'm talking about building a long-lasting infrastructure to fight against a common enemy: the greed of the 1% that has devastated our communities. Both immigrant rights and Occupy Wall Street activists could benefit exponentially from such a strategy. Rapid actions focused on fighting foreclosures and on immigration issues have already injected much needed energy to the rallying cry of the "we are the 99%" slogan. Occupy I.C.E. was launched in Los Angeles and New York quickly followed suit.

In light of the record-breaking numbers of deportations our community has faced, it's not just the Occupy Wall Street protesters that find themselves at a crossroads. The immigrant rights movement finds itself on the same road, wondering how we can fight back against the attacks on our families that not only face evictions from our homes, but evictions from the U.S. I believe it's time for all of us to innovate and grow our movements or prepare to face obscurity.

Refugio Mata is a Public Relations specialist and founder of Project Economic Refugee. He graduated from CSU Northridge and has been an organizer for immigrant rights, economic and environmental justice issues ever since.