Hammer, Sickle and Four logo

No. 14, January 2018

CUNY Internationalists Initiate Committee to Defend Immigrants and Muslims

CUNY Internationalists join march from Borough of Manhattan Community College to City Hall at NYC protest in defense of DACA, 6 September 2017. 
(Internationalist photo)

By Will

In keeping with his campaign appeals to racism and xenophobia, Donald Trump signed the first version of his “Muslim ban” on 27 January 2017, banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for three months and indefinitely barring Syrian refugees. Protests erupted in cities and airports across the U.S., including in New York, where members of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs participated in the demonstration at JFK airport, joining over 2,000 people demanding “Let them in!”

In order to carry out an effective struggle against deportations and racist attacks, defenders of immigrant rights need to build the basis for mass action linked with the power of the working class, which in cities like New York has a very strong immigrant component. To that end, the CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Internationalist Group (IG) called for organizing “measures for rapid response to flood the streets to block I.C.E. raids and deportations.”1 On January 30 and again on February 2 of last year, the Internationalist Clubs held speak-outs at Hunter College to protest these racist attacks. Over one hundred people attended each time and speeches were given by professors, students and members of the Muslim Student Association, along with members of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs and IG.

Connected to our call to mobilize the power of the multiracial working class to defeat the anti-immigrant onslaught, we stressed the need to drive I.C.E. jails out of NYC. I.C.E. operates secret, unmarked immigration jails in NYC, and has recently secured 33,000 more slots in city and county jails and state prisons to warehouse immigrants. As revolutionary Marxists, we try to implement our program wherever we can, so at the speak-outs we called for the formation of committees of students, faculty and workers for the defense of immigrants and Muslims. Relying on Democratic administrations, like that of Bill de Blasio in NYC, to protect immigrants is a losing strategy. The Democratic Party is responsible for pumping billions of dollars into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and I.C.E., and de Blasio has even expanded the list of “deportable offenses” for which NYC will collaborate with I.C.E. to 170 (including smoking in a public park).

On 6 February 2017, students from the Hunter College Internationalist Club, along with some faculty members and university staff, formed the Committee to Defend Immigrants and Muslims. Our first meeting was attended by roughly a dozen students and faculty from both Hunter College and City College, and the founding document outlined the Committee’s perspective of independent action in defense of immigrants:

“It is the responsibility of students, faculty and workers to help defend our brothers and sisters who are being targeted by this racist onslaught. The CUNY administration claims that it will protect the student body from ICE, unless ICE officers have a warrant or the administration’s permission to enter campus. These conditional declarations show once again the need for us to act independently of the CUNY and college administrations. As students, faculty and campus workers we should take the defense of our fellow students and families into our own hands.”
– “Join the Committee to Defend Immigrants and Muslims,” 23 March 2017

One of the main tasks of the Committee is to help build a rapid response network seeking to defend students and their families against the threat of deportation and racist attacks. The document calls for schools to shut down “followed by other [schools] in solidarity” if students or their families are picked up for deportation. “If a CUNY student or a member of their family is seized by I.C.E., there should be a city-wide walkout by students, faculty and staff.” The Committee also demands:

“–That CUNY not give any federal agency any information that directly or indirectly reveals immigration status.
“–That no immigration authorities be allowed on any CUNY campus – whether or not they claim ‘legal’ sanction for their actions.
“–That CUNY personnel engage in no collaboration with immigration authorities – whether or not they claim ‘legal’ sanction for their actions.
“–CUNY must provide lawyers for emergency contact for all immigrant and international students.”

In discussions at Committee meetings, Internationalist activists explained our perspective to mobilize the massive social power of NYC labor to give teeth to these demands. That includes the ranks of the powerful Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 who work in the city’s subways and buses, healthcare workers in over 60 city hospitals, telecommunications workers who have struck repeatedly in recent years and service industry workers in thousands of restaurants and hundreds of hotels.

At Hunter, the Committee has organized tables offering information on defending immigrant rights, opposing I.C.E. raids, the defense of students covered by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and fighting the travel ban, in multiple languages (including English, Arabic and Spanish). The Committee has created an “Immigrant Defense Resource Packet” which also contains information detailing Obama’s real record on deportations, the effects of Trump’s policies on the immigrant population, efforts to fight against these racist policies across the country, as well as legal aid and “know-your-rights” resources.

The Committee has been working closely with activists and organizers in the Professional Staff Congress (PSC – CUNY faculty/staff union) and from several campuses, including on plans to build a CUNY-wide Conference in Defense of Immigrant Rights, aimed at connecting activists from all CUNY campuses, and continuing the work of creating a CUNY-wide rapid response network. The conference is projected for early in the Spring semester.

Capitalist Rulers Target Immigrants

When thousands of people protested Trump’s first travel ban in airports across the U.S. on 27 January 2017, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance led an hour-long solidarity work stoppage during peak travel times to and from JFK, and a Teamsters Joint Council 16 contingent came out to defend the rights of Muslim travelers. As we stated in our leaflet “Let Them In! Smash the Racist Ban on Muslims, Refugees!” (January 2017):

“Expressions of popular outrage are vital, but they are not enough….It is necessary to bring to bear the enormous power of the multiracial working class, including millions of immigrants (documented and undocumented), together with African Americans, Latinos, Asians and students.”

On January 29, over 10,000 people gathered in Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park to protest the ban. Many demonstrators picked up our chants of “Asian, Latin, black and white, workers of the world unite” and “Jew and Muslim, black and white, workers of the world unite!” The signs of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs, IG and Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas (TIC – Class Struggle International Workers) called to break with Democrats, Republicans and all capitalist parties, full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and to mobilize the power of NYC labor to smash the racist travel ban. The capitalist class and its state, whether headed by Democrats or Republicans, oppresses and divides the working class along ethnic and religious lines and whips up chauvinist hysteria to support imperialist war abroad.

Internationalist contingent at May Day 2017 march in NYC.  (Internationalist photo)

Since our first speak-out against Trump’s travel ban, that and two subsequent versions of the ban have been blocked by federal judges in Washington and Hawaii. But on December 5, the Supreme Court lifted temporary injunctions on “version 3.0” while legal challenges to the ban worked their way through the lower courts. In this latest version, the White House added North Korea, Venezuela and Chad to the list of countries. In the case of North Korea and Venezuela, this was in conjunction with the growing threats of imperialist war against them.

When a U.S. District of Hawaii judge blocked the third travel ban, he allowed restrictions on both North Korea and Venezuela to remain in effect. This reflects the bipartisan war drive against the bureaucratically deformed workers state of North Korea and for fomenting a right-wing coup against the bourgeois left-populist government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Revolutionary Marxists defend both countries against U.S. imperialism, which with its endless wars for profit threatens the very existence of workers, youth and oppressed people worldwide.

While the Muslim ban’s “legality” is challenged in the bourgeois courts, it remains in effect and the Trump administration continues its attacks on immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security has ramped up deportations and detentions by I.C.E., particularly targeting so-called “sanctuary cities” like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, among others. These are cities with policies that limit the extent to which city agencies can cooperate and share information with I.C.E. In addition, a recent report shows that from January to October 2017, I.C.E. arrests increased by 40% over the same period in 2016.

Trump has sanctuary cities in his crosshairs. He issued a 25 January 2017 executive order denying federal funds to cities that don’t fully cooperate with immigration enforcement, which was temporarily halted by a federal judge in April 2017 and permanently blocked by an injunction in November 2017. During its grotesquely named “Operation Safe City” in September, I.C.E. detained nearly 500 undocumented immigrants over a four-day period. In mid-October, I.C.E. director Thomas Homan released a statement declaring that I.C.E. will continue to target undocumented immigrants near schools and increase workplace raids. Most recently, I.C.E. has been targeting immigrants in courthouses, with courthouse arrests up 900% in New York State. And in NYC, court officers have been assisting them, despite the city’s regulations against cooperation with the immigration cops.

The head of the court officers’ “union,” Dennis Quirk, said that “if a fight breaks out and [I.C.E. is] having a difficulty, we would assist any law enforcement person” and “if we are attempting to arrest, and I.C.E. is there, they’d help us. That’s what law enforcement does.” Yes, that is what “law enforcement” in this capitalist society does, which is why Marxists point out that all its branches, including court officers and security guards, are not part of the labor movement but components of the capitalist state’s repressive apparatus. In response to the 20 November 2017 arrest of Genaro Rojas-Hernandez by I.C.E. in Brooklyn Criminal Court, members of United Auto Workers Local 2325 (ALAA – the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys) walked out of Brooklyn Criminal Court on 20 November 2017, and demanded “I.C.E. Out of the Courts Now” at a rally on December 7.

On September 5 Trump issued another executive order, this time rescinding DACA, the Obama-era policy allowing 800,000 undocumented immigrants born after 15 June 1981 to work and live in the United States for renewable two-year periods. Trump gave Congress six months to determine what to do about DACA recipients, often called “Dreamers.” Top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer immediately jumped from posturing as “resistance” leaders to holding an all-smiles meeting with Trump where they supposedly worked out a deal (quickly denied by Trump) to save DACA in exchange for a mutually acceptable package of “border security” measures. A legislative showdown is set for early 2018, when Democrats in Congress will push to include DACA in a spending bill that will no doubt feature beefed-up borders.

On September 18, outraged DACA recipients interrupted a Pelosi event in L.A., shouting her down and denouncing the deal she and Schumer tried to make with Trump. They held signs reading “Fight for all 11 million” (referring to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.) and chanted “We are not your bargaining chips!” They also criticized the Democrats for their role in putting I.C.E. deportations into overdrive during the Obama administration.

Democrats and Republicans even further ramping up “border security” means making the treacherous journey many immigrants take to get to the U.S. even deadlier. Over half the length of the U.S.-Mexico border is fenced or walled-off. Making the border crossing more difficult and perilous means that thousands more people will be forced to take high-risk routes through the desert, where they are likely to die of thirst or starvation and be targeted by racist vigilantes.

Under Obama, over 5.5 million immigrants were deported. He also bolstered the deportation and border patrol machine more than any president in U.S. history. While many hailed the implementation of DACA as a great safeguard for young immigrants, we warned that the bourgeois politicians sought to pit young immigrants deemed “deserving” against other undocumented immigrants, including their parents, and that applying for DACA meant handing over the addresses and names of the applicants and their families to the U.S. government. Now DHS can use this information in its raids and deportations – and they intend to do just that. In the White House’s September 5 talking points memo, DACA recipients are urged to “prepare for and arrange their departure.”

Our call for mobilizing the power of labor against these attacks taps into widespread revulsion and opposition to these racist threats. An early example is that in February of last year, District Council 37 Local 786 (NYC Health Care Employees) unanimously passed a resolution calling to defend undocumented immigrants, and not comply with any attempts to use a person’s citizenship status to deny them healthcare. Several unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, Teamsters Join Council 16 (consisting of 27 Teamster locals in and around NYC) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, have declared themselves “sanctuary unions.” UAW Local 2325’s actions and protests demanding “ICE Out of the Courts Now,” mentioned above, are also a promising beginning.

Members of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth work to unite the struggle on the campuses with efforts of class-struggle activists in the unions to build on these beginnings and make them effective. To unite students and youth dedicated to militant defense of immigrant rights with the massive power of the working class in this struggle, the key is revolutionary leadership. Join us in this fight! ■

  1. 1. “Let Them In! Smash the Racist Ban on Muslims, Refugees!” (29 January 2017), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017.