We Demand: Full Citizenship Rights for All ImmigrantsObama’s “Bipartisan”
Immigration Reform Is A Fraud
Internationalist contingent in New York City 2012 May Day march. (Internationalist photo)
APRIL 1 – Phony plans for “immigration reform” are the talk of the town in Washington. The group of Democratic and Republican senators known as the “Gang of Eight” have leaked reports that their “bipartisan” proposal will be unveiled in the next two weeks. Labor and business spokesmen announce they have reached agreement on “guest worker” provisions. President Barack Obama has called for Congressional hearings on immigration this month. Immigrants’ rights groups are hopeful, saying “it’s now or never” for reform that would offer a “path to citizenship.”
Don’t be fooled by the hype. The “reform” they are preparing will not be one to benefit the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, but instead it will serve the interests of the capitalists who profit from their labor. The “anti-reform” underway will deepen the exploitation and intensify the persecution of the millions of workers who perform many of the worst, lowest-paid and most dangerous jobs in the country. In addition, it will involve ominous attacks on civil liberties and labor rights affecting everyone in the U.S.
And it won’t just be because “reformers” are capitulating to the xenophobic, immigrant-bashing right-wingers. The liberal, supposedly “immigrant-friendly” Democrats have unleashed even more repression against the foreign-born than the conservative Republicans ever did. By now its widely known that Obama has deported over 400,000 immigrants a year, more than double the numbers expelled by George W. Bush. The vast majority of these deportees are guilty of no crime whatsoever (being present in the U.S. without a “lawful status” is only a civil infraction).
Bush’s high-profile factory raids caught headlines, but the present administration has relied on “silent raids.” Since January 2009, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has quadrupled the number of “I-9” audits of companies for “employment eligibility verification,” causing tens of thousands of immigrants to lose their jobs. This has also given unscrupulous employers an additional tool to avoid paying wages, claiming they have to comply with an audit even when they don’t. Instead of paying workmen’s comp for injuries, insurance companies call ICE and get the injured worker deported.
for the fabled “path to citizenship,” this will be
an extremely rough road littered with obstacles,
cost thousands (and in some cases tens of thousands)
of dollars per person between punitive fines and
back taxes, and take years to travel. Under the
“bi-partisan” proposal the shortest time
being contemplated is 13 years, but it could
be much longer, even double that, or never, if (a)
the backlog of millions of “legal” applications for
citizenship isn’t cleared up first, (b) individuals
can’t pay hefty penalties or pass English and civics
tests, (c) a commission of governors of border
states doesn’t certify the border as “secure.”
Above: Nogales, Arizona (left) and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (right) divided by border wall. Below: woman kisses her husband's hand across the wall in Nogales. (Photos: Wikipedia, Reuters)
In the meantime, the plans call for even greater militarization of the border, with continued expansion of the U.S. Border Patrol (which has already doubled in size since 2005) and extensive use of unmanned “drone” aircraft “spies in the skies.” How long until they start shooting down border crossers from the air, as Pentagon and CIA drones are already doing in a half-dozen countries? A January 2013 study reported that the U.S. already spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement, more than on the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) combined.
As a result, the U.S. has created a police state for immigrants. Not only in Arizona are undocumented workers afraid to walk down the street without being demanded to “show your papers,” like in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa. Get picked up for a traffic violation and you could end up in a concentration camp (“detention center”) for months and then be deported, separated from your U.S.-born children. The same goes for a teenager who gets into a fight at school. And now, in the name of “immigration reform” they want to extend these police state measures to the entire population.
In order to verify “employment eligibility” they plan a national registry with “nonforgeable electronic means” to establish identity and legal status. This is even worse than a national ID card because it will contain an individual’s employment history. In addition to checking the accuracy of everyone’s job applications, soon enough they will use it to track “scofflaws” for parking tickets, “dead-beat dads” for child support, gun owners and any other category they can think of – probably including you. They also call for an “exit-entry system” to track those entering the country legally – easy enough, just add a miniature tracking chip to the visa.
This is an “immigration reform” Big Brother would love. And that is no accident, for this measure is not being designed to fulfill the needs of immigrants. Its purpose is to use immigrants to satisfy the requirements of capital, in a period in which U.S. capitalism is looking to regiment the population in an increasingly corporate state (education reform, health reform, etc.). In line with that, the “bipartisan” plan calls for greatly expanding the number of H1-B visas for individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineer and math (STEM), no numbers yet but certainly raising the number of new visas to over 200,000 a year.
In addition to STEM visas to supply the “best and brightest” to Microsoft, Apple, Verizon, IBM and a host of small tech firms, American business wants a whole lot of immigrant labor to do the dirty work at the cheapest possible wages. For years this plan for “guest workers” was a stumbling block with the unions, who rightly saw that this would undercut the wages of workers in the U.S. But now the AFL-CIO has apparently signed off on a deal for a new “W visa” that would start at 20,000 a year and go to 200,000 annually, to be paid the “prevailing industry wage” (like $7.25 an hour for food service workers?).
Supposedly this would be on the basis of determining that there was a labor shortage. This is absurd in current conditions where there are three job seekers for every job opening, and the government disguises the real unemployment level by declaring the long-term unemployed not in the workforce. Who would be most immediately affected by this influx of temporary workers would be the undocumented workers already in the country. Moreover, “guest” workers are subject to a form of “indentured servitude.” But in the colonial period those servants at least would be free after a certain number of years, where today the “guests” may be sent back.
As for the undocumented immigrants who sign up for legalization under this “reform,” in addition to informing the government of their whereabouts, after going through a background check to weed out “criminals” as well as “others who pose a threat to our national security” and paying a whopping fine they will placed in a “probationary” status for between eight and ten years before they can even get a green card, during which they have the right to work but little else. Their situation will be very similar to someone on probation subject to control by a court, and anyone who for instance gets caught smoking marijuana could lose all.
So what is emerging is a “reform” that would tell the police where to find the undocumented, could well increase unemployment for immigrants, would lead to an expansion of government police control and at most, for a hefty price, would gain the status of indentured servants or being on probation. Whether the whole thing would go into effect at all would depend on a ruling by a commission in which border state governors like Texas and Arizona would have effective veto power. And if there actually would be a tortuous “path to citizenship” would be up to negotiation with Republicans like Jeb Bush, who changes his position from one day to the next.
This is what the Democrats and “mainstream” immigrants’ rights groups want cheer about. Not us Marxists. We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants. It was bad enough when the left wanted to join with liberals in begging for “amnesty” when there was no crime to begin with. This “reform” effectively treats the undocumented as lawbreakers, and it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if in the name of “bipartisanship” they ended up making “unlawful” status into a crime. Call it a reform and the ruling class figures it can get away with a wholesale attack on immigrants, labor and civil liberties.
A real fight for immigrants’ rights must be a fight against capital, which profits enormously from the present situation in which millions of workers have no legal rights, and which seeks to garner even greater profits by “legalizing” them. This is a political fight, for the anti-immigrant hysteria is a diversion to distract attention from the current capitalist depression and direct workers’ anger against “foreigners,” just as the German Nazis (and homegrown fascists in the U.S.) made Jews into a scapegoat in the 1930s. It must be a fight against the imperialist war drive, which has made Arabs, South Asians and all immigrants into the “enemy within.”
It must be a fight against the phony “war on drugs,” which is a war on black ghettos and Latino barrios, portraying Mexican immigrants as drug traffickers. It must be part of a fight against Washington’s semi-colonial junior partners in Latin America who have dutifully imposed “free market” policies that have driven peasants from the land and to risk their lives to seek a better life to the north. It must be a fight for international socialist revolution. Today immigrant workers often feel atomized and powerless in the face of racist repression. They are not. Without the labor of immigrant and U.S.-born workers, American capitalism would grind to a halt.
The immigrant population in the United States today is higher than at any point since the early 1900s after the waves of European immigration that brought workers to the factories and mines. As of 2011, there were 40 million immigrants in the U.S. While undocumented immigrants are roughly 12.5% of the population, they are 16% of the workforce. In some industries, including agriculture, construction, food preparation, accommodation and household employees, immigrants are well over 20% of the workers. Isolated and without rights, they are prey to wage-gouging bosses, who use them to drive wages down. Joined together with U.S.-born workers, immigrant workers can transform the class struggle in this country.
Several particular aspects of the current wave of immigration deserve comment. One, it is receding. The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has gone down since 2008, first and foremost because job opportunities are drying up due to the capitalist economic crisis; second, because of massive militarization on the border; and third, because this has facilitated a takeover of immigration by drug and smuggling cartels, who have made border crossing much more expensive (and more dangerous, as migrants are often held for ransom and massacred). La migra and el narco are working hand in hand against immigrants.
Two, an unprecedented number of immigrants come from one country, Mexico, in one of the largest migrations in modern history. Until the 1980s, the number of Mexicans in the U.S. was under 2 million; today there are roughly 12 million Mexican citizens living in the U.S., one-tenth of Mexico’s entire population; and when you add their children, that totals 33 million members of Mexican families in the U.S., one tenth of the U.S. population. (This is in addition to the long-established Hispanic population from Texas to California in their ancestral lands stolen from Mexico.) This constitutes a veritable human bridge for revolutionary struggle on both sides of the border.
Three, immigration to the U.S. has thrown together populations that in their countries of origin are often locked in bloody internecine conflict, but here have common interests. There are 600,000 Dominicans in New York City and 400,000 Haitians; together they constituted 80% of the school bus workers who recently went on strike for a month. The youth of the 200,000 Indians, 70,000 Pakistanis and 60,000 Bangladeshis in the city predominantly see themselves as a common South Asian community of desis. This mixture offers tremendous opportunities for internationalist revolutionaries opposed to fratricidal nationalisms and imperialism.
Four, unlike in past migrations, immigrants are now widely spread throughout the country. In meatpacking plants from Georgia and Alabama to Iowa and Nebraska, running motels from Mississippi to Washington state, cleaning buildings from Los Angeles to New York, and in restaurants and construction sites from coast to coast there are now millions of immigrant workers who perform low-pay and often dangerous jobs, who have no rights, who are despised by reactionaries, and whose labor is absolutely essential to the capitalist economy. But to awaken this sleeping giant of immigrant workers, a key element is necessary: a revolutionary vanguard.
Immigrant workers have often sought to unionize, such as dining hall workers at Pomona College in California, port truckers and construction workers in Seattle, frozen pizza workers in Milwaukee and elsewhere, only to face defeat as ICE immigration cops come to the aid of the employers (see these and other examples in the report of the National Employment Law Project, Workers Rights on ICE, February 2013). On the other hand, immigrant workers at a Hot and Crusty bakery restaurant in New York City last fall won a groundbreaking union contract with a union hiring hall after two months on the picket line fighting a lockout.
Two factors have been key to defeat or victory: the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy and labor solidarity. The present leadership of labor in the U.S. is a parasitic petty-bourgeois layer that took control of the unions in the post-World War II “red purge” that threw out the socialists and communists who built them. It is beholden to capitalist law, and thus incapable of organizing workers lacking legal rights. For immigrants to win, this sellout bureaucracy must be driven out of the unions. On the other hand, immigrant workers alone seldom have the power to shut down a whole industry – they need the power of the whole labor movement to back them up, including in mass mobilizations to stop the deportations.
Key to defeating the “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class” and to building real union solidarity action is the forging of a revolutionary workers party on a program of independent class struggle against Democrats, Republicans and all capitalist parties and politicians. The idea that “Immigration Reform Can Stop Retaliation and Advance Labor Rights,” as the NELP report declared, is an illusion. Any “reform” legislated by the political representatives of Wall Street and the capitalist corporations which live off of the exploitation of foreign-born workers, any bill which conciliates the anti-immigrant yahoos, will necessarily be an attack on immigrants’ rights.
To hell with the national chauvinism and ethnic hostilities that set workers at each others’ throats while the bosses are laughing all the way to the bank! Communist revolutionaries proclaim, “Asian, Latin, black and white, workers of the world unite.” For our class, workers’ struggle has no borders. These are not abstract slogans. Our call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants has been realized, on several occasions. The great French Revolution of 1789-99, the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Russian October Revolution of 1917 granted to citizenship to all working people and defenders of the revolution.
United States is a land of immigrants: everyone here
came from somewhere else, some in chains, except the
native American population which was decimated by
the genocidal policies of colonizers and slave
masters. What we are saying is that everyone here
should be able to live here with the same rights as
everyone else. It’s a simple democratic demand, but
it will take a revolution to achieve it. ■
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