We Don’t Beg, We Demand: Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
No to the Anti-Immigrant “Immigration Reform”
Internationalist contingent in May Day 2013 march in New York City.
JULY 1 – On June 27, the United States Senate approved S. 744, the bipartisan bill touted as “comprehensive immigration reform” and a “path to citizenship” for the officially estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., two-thirds of whom have lived here for more than a decade. Democratic president Barack Obama, “mainstream” media and politicians hailed this as a victory for immigrants. This is a lie. The Senate bill is itself a vicious piece of anti-immigrant, police-state legislation which will not provide a means of achieving citizenship for the majority of undocumented immigrant working people.
Instead S. 744 would turn the Mexican border into a militarized war zone, institute a “guest worker” program amounting to indentured servitude, throw immigrant workers out of jobs, impose employment requirements leading to a national identification card for everyone, and make possible many millions more deportations than Obama has already carried out. Any serious defender of immigrant rights, democratic rights or labor rights should oppose the racist “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” whose purpose is to defend capitalists’ “right” to exploit workers without rights.
Democrats and Republicans, representatives of capital, are enemies of immigrants and workers. They will not approve an immigration reform providing full and equal rights for the millions of workers who produce super-profits for the bosses, who harvest the food, staff the restaurants, build the buildings and do the hardest and dirtiest work for which they receive poverty pay, often below the minimum wage. The Internationalist Group demands: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Instead of begging the capitalist parties, immigrants must use their power as workers together with their U.S.-born sisters and brothers: without immigrant labor, the U.S. economy would grind to a halt.
Now attention turns to the House of Representatives where rabid right-wing Republicans are whipping up an anti-immigrant frenzy, declaring more than 11 million people criminals:
- HR 2778, the so-called SAFE Act, calls for jailing any undocumented immigrant, although being in the U.S. without stipulated papers is only a civil violation; would make local police immigration cops; and would imprison anyone suspected of being an “alien gang member.”
- HR 1773, the “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” would revive the infamous bracero program of the 1940s-’60s, driving down wages and throwing 1 million undocumented farm workers out of their jobs.
- HR 2217, already passed by the House, would put stop to Obama’s deportation deferral program for young immigrants; if enacted, the youths and their parents who handed in documentation would be tops on the lists to be expelled from the U.S.
Cruel as the immigrant-bashing House Republicans are, the Senate “immigration reform” bill approved by all 51 Democratic Senators is just as horrendous. The Hoeven-Corker amendment, added at the last minute to attract additional Republican votes, would double the Border Patrol to almost 40,000 agents (ten times the number in 1993, before Democrat Clinton doubled it in size). Altogether, the “border security” and policing sections of the Senate bill would cost $46 billion, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) already have a bigger budget than all other federal government police agencies (FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals) combined.
We have repeatedly warned that the Democrats’ talk of immigration “reform” was a cruel hoax (see “Obama’s “Bipartisan” Immigration Reform Is A Fraud,” The Internationalist, March-April 2013). Obama has already deported over 2 million immigrants, far more than any other U.S. president (see “The Empty Election Promises of “Mr. Deportations” Obama,” The Internationalist, Summer 2012). Yet he was reelected with over 70 percent of the Latino vote, as many were hoping against hope that he would come through for immigrants in his second term. But the bi-partisan Senate bill Obama is supporting is a monster.
The 1198-page Senate bill 744 includes:
- building an additional 700 miles of fence (on top of the existing 650 miles) along the 2,000-mile Mexican border and spending $3.6 billion for drones and other surveillance technology;
- hiring 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, who have shot and killed at least 15 immigrants and Mexicans on the other side of the border, without a single one being charged;
- speeding up criminal prosecution and expulsion of border crossers with mass hearings;
- requiring all workers in the U.S. (currently over 156 million) to have their employment eligibility checked by the error-ridden E-Verify system;
- bringing in up to 180,000 high-skilled workers and 200,000 low-skilled “guest workers” a year as indentured servants, beholden to their employer, to drive down U.S. wages;
- eliminating family-based visas and replacing them with 250,000 “merit” visas for immigrants with higher education, with preferences for entrepreneurs, nannies and Tibetan refugees;
- requiring immigrants seeking residency to fill out applications with detailed personal data, submit to background checks and biometric screening, pay $2,000 per person in fines and fees, all back taxes and an additional fee covering all costs of processing and checking;
- keeping them in limbo for ten years under “provisional” or probationary status, during which they may not be jobless for more than 60 days at a time and must have income at least 25% above the official poverty level in each year;
- requiring “90 percent effectiveness” of control of the Mexican border according to criteria from a Southern Border Security Commission including border state governors before any provisional immigrants are granted permanent resident status;
- then if they are granted permanent residency, which is not guaranteed, waiting another three years to become naturalized citizens. If turned down, they will be “removed.”
The whole procedure is so convoluted, drawn out and filled with traps that it is estimated that between 4 million and 6 million out of 11 million undocumented immigrants will not be legalized at all. Anyone whose name appears on the notoriously inaccurate police “gang databases” is out. Construction workers and others in seasonal occupations won’t make it. You’re a single mom with two kids who earned less than $19,500 in 2013 ($9.75/hr., 40 hours/wk., 50 weeks/yr)? You lose. Paid off the books? No way. Do the math – for most undocumented workers, particularly the millions who slave for long hours for sweatshop wages, it doesn’t add up.
Promoting Corporate Profits, Not Immigrant Rights
S. 744 is not a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill to grant equal rights to the millions of foreign-born working people who are subject to racist persecution even as they play a key role in the U.S. economy. It is legislation for repression, for “border security,” for making the U.S. “strong, economically, militarily,” giving the capitalists an increased, regulated, supply of cheap labor, and providing police with information about millions of residents for whom they have no records. For millions of hard-working low-wage workers, it’s no “path to citizenship,” it’s a maze leading to accelerated deportation. Because ICE will now know where to find you.
Meanwhile, defense contractors “are slavering over immigration reform as the best thing for their bottom lines since Iraq” (New York Times, 9 June). Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin (cameras, radar), Northrup Grumman (tracking sensors), and General Atomics (drones) are eagerly lobbying for their slice of border security bucks. Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vermont, noted that the border build-up “reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton,” whose KBR construction subsidiary built the Guantánamo prison complex. And let’s not forget the for-profit private prison industry which has profited greatly from immigrant concentration camps.
In spite of all this, the Spanish-language media cheered. For La Opinión in Los Angeles, immigration reform was “Past the First Hurdle.” For El Diario-La Prensa in New York, “The Senate Came Through.” Latino politicians cheered: Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D., Illinois) proclaimed it a victory, calling to step up pressure on the Republican-led House. Immigrant rights groups linked to the Democratic Party, such as the New York Immigration Coalition, claimed the bill “brings the country one step closer to a path to citizenship,” while expressing “concerns.” Hispanic political lobbies like LULAC and MAPA waved the American flag.
But for many immigrant rights groups, the Hoeven-Corker amendment doubling the size of the Border Patrol was the final straw. Presente.org said that the amendment “marks a definitive line in the sand” and “we will not take more ‘border first’ approach to immigration reform.” The Immigrant Solidarity Network reported widespread alarm. Catherine Tactaquin of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights declared, “This is not the kind of legislation and deal-making that we can support.” NIRR board member Hamid Khan said the Senate bill served the “surveillance industrial complex” and amounted to “legitimization of the police state.”
In wooing Republicans, the Democrats risk losing immigrants. Monami Maulik of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) representing South Asian immigrants in New York said this is “using immigration as an excuse to further a national security state,” to “set the stage for a national ID system and database.” Gerald Lenoir of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration said it “attempts to codify repression on the border,” and “will disqualify millions of low income undocumented immigrants” from legalization. Longtime labor organizer Bill Chandler of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance said the bill was “a benefit for employers, not workers.”
Particularly affected are those in border communities who are already living under the boot of the militarized police of the Border Patrol. The Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition) and 14 other Tucson-area groups declared that 20 years of “enforcement first” immigration policy are “directly responsible for the more than 2,500 men, women and children who have died in the Arizona desert.” They asked pointedly:
“At what cost will we continue to make concessions? Thousands more border deaths? Our communities turned into a war zone or a police state?… This price is too high to pay and we ask our allies and supporters to join us in denouncing this ‘compromise’ and demanding that the Senate begin again on a genuine reform effort, one that doesn’t play politics with our lives.”
But however angry their rhetoric, their whole purpose is to pressure the Democrats. The reality is that, like liberals and labor bureaucrats, the immigrants rights lobbies have nowhere else to go so long they confine their struggle to the limits of capitalism.
Left Caught in Obama’s Immigration “Reform” Trap
The same is true of most of the supposedly socialist left, which habitually tails after the various non-profits, NGOs and churches that speak in the name of immigrants. The most “moderate” leftists outright support the bipartisan “immigration reform.” Thus the star-spangled Communist Party USA – which voted for Obama – quotes “the president” at length and hails union tops pushing the Senate bill, including their calls for “safe and secure borders” (People’s World, 22 June). To “defeat right-wing extremists,” CPUSA leader Sam Webb calls for an “expansive coalition” not only with Democrats but “even some moderate Republicans.”
For its part, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) published an article headlined “The reform: some relief, while serving corporate interests” (Liberation, 8 May 2013). While throwing in a few criticism of the Democrats, it claims that, “The bill ... would, in its present form, provide considerable relief to immigrant communities that have been struggling for years for legalization.” In fact, the Senate reform” bill will victimize immigrant communities. While touting its own imaginary “Immigrant Justice Act of 2013,” the PSL argues that “the movement must grow stronger and make Congress shake to attain the reform that immigrants need.”
Of course, PSLers know perfectly well that Congress, representing the interests of capital, will not legislate “the reform that immigrants need.” But this is in line with their response to the 2008 election of Democrat Obama, when the PSL wrote: “What is needed is a clear program focused on what the new administration should do to meet the needs of the working people; to fulfill the expectations its campaign has created” (Liberation, 21 November 2008). The stock-in-trade of these Stalinist reformists is “militant” lobbying within the framework of capitalist electoral politics, cynically playing on the masses’ false expectations instead of telling the truth.
The PSL’s former comrades in the Workers World Party (WWP) take a somewhat more critical stance this time around, headlining “Immigration ‘reform’ exposed” (Workers World, 2 May 2013). The article rails against those who would criticize “sit-ins, occupations and strikes” as “far-fetched or ultra-left.” Rhetorical flourishes aside, the article only calls for a vague “legalization.” But slave-labor “guest worker” programs are “legalization,” too. And naturally, it does not call for a break with the Democratic Party. Since the days it was led by Sam Marcy, the WWP’s trademark has been building “left” demonstrations for liberal Democrats.
Opportunism, not ultra-leftism (the pathology of radicals who abstain from intervention in working-class struggle), is Workers World’s hallmark. Far from leading militant class action for immigrant rights, WWP’s idea of labor action is hobnobbing with union bureaucrats as in the New York May 1 Coalition. And like its fellow Marcyites of the PSL, Workers World (13 November 2008) proclaimed, “Millions in streets seal Obama victory,” saying that “Such an outpouring of the masses, particularly oppressed people of color, warrants the full solidarity of the movement.” Yet once in office, Obama began deporting immigrants with a vengeance.
From the cynical to the delusional: on immigration, as elsewhere, the opportunist left’s appeals to mass illusions give the impression of a sort of senile naiveté. Endless imperialist war and the accompanying racist repression “at home” are making life hell for millions of undocumented immigrants in this country while shredding everyone’s rights. Yet on May Day 2013, Workers Voice, published by followers of the late pseudo-Trotskyist adventurer Nahuel Moreno, put out a leaflet headlined “Obama’s Immigration Reform: Is the ‘American Dream’ about to come True?” Hello?! What planet are they living on?
Meanwhile, the International Socialist Organization’s Socialist Worker (17 June 2013) promises to explain “what you need to know about immigration ‘reform’.” The article gives a lengthy list of what’s wrong with S. 744, saying it’s “not a genuine – or even partial – reform.” True enough. But its conclusion is to call to “re-activate immigrant rights mobilization” and for “an immigrant rights-based social movement to push the process forward, toward a more just and humane resolution.” Yet more marches are not going to sway immigrant-bashing reactionaries and a government intent on bolstering militarization and corporate profits.
Beyond that one has to ask what deactivated immigrant rights struggles in the first place. The answer is obvious: the false hopes awakened by Democrat Obama’s 2008 election campaign directed energy away from the streets to the ballot box. And for that, the ISO, like most of the pseudo-socialist left, has a lot to answer for, having plastered the front pages of its magazine with portraits of Obama and slogans “Yes we can! ¡Sí se puede!” Yet even when millions of immigrants and immigrant rights supporters were in the streets in 2006, their leaders were aiming at pressuring the capitalist politicians, not exercising immigrant workers’ power.
Finally there is a centrist group, the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), which with a large dose of historical amnesia falsely tries to pass itself off as Trotskyist. The LRP rightly criticizes the mainstream reformists for their vague slogans like “legalization.” But what is the LRP’s alternative? It pointedly does not call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and instead calls for “Amnesty for All Immigrants” (LRP Bulletin, Summer 2013). Yet amnesty is a call for pardon for having committed a crime – and undocumented immigrants are not criminals. As a young immigrant wrote the LRP:
“Amnesty is to grant forgiveness, a political pardon. If I were to demand Amnesty then I would have accepted the same line of thought that the racists who claim I am a criminal. I am no criminal and therefore I do not need to demand forgiveness or amnesty from the racist capitalists, but rather I demand full citizenship rights.”
With its demand of “amnesty,” the LRP is not only adopting the terminology of the right-wing immigrant bashers, it places itself to the right of the U.S. Supreme Court, which recognizes that living or working in the U.S. without requisite papers is not a crime, and at most a civil violation. But one has to ask why on earth a left-wing self-proclaimed socialist group would raise such a demeaning slogan in the first place. The answer is that the LRP took it up back in 2006 along with all the other opportunists because this was the line being put forward by the bourgeois immigrant rights groups they were all chasing after, who in turn were tailing the Democrats.
While the opportunists traffic in class collaboration, fostering vain hopes of reforming capitalism, Marxists put forward a program of class struggle leading to socialist revolution. On marches, Internationalist contingents chant “We don’t beg, we demand: full citizenship rights for all immigrants!” In addition, the Internationalist Group puts forward and seeks to implement a program of class struggle by immigrant and U.S.-born workers, calling for labor/immigrant mobilizations against racist attacks and raids; to unionize immigrant workers; to defeat U.S. imperialism in its wars, to break with the Democrats and forge a revolutionary workers party.
In recent years, millions of immigrant working people marched in the streets, walked off the job and brought May Day back to the United States demanding equal rights. Immigrants have been in the forefront of union struggles against poverty wages and mass firings. Yet the present immigration anti-reform is not a response to their demands, but rather a continuation of the assault on immigrants by the capitalists who super-exploit their labor and the capitalist politicians who promote xenophobic reaction. Instead of pandering to the racist “safe borders” hysteria, there should be mass protests against the anti-immigrant “immigration reform.”
Whether S. 744 or any other immigration legislation passes Congress (which is far from certain), it will be bad for immigrants and it won’t stop “illegal” immigration, which is driven by people fleeing desperate poverty and the insatiable appetite of capital for cheap labor. Nor is this problem limited to the United States. Across the globe, huge migrations of labor are underway. For the tens of millions immigrant workers and their families to achieve equal rights and genuine social equality will require nothing less than the expropriation of capital and smashing the imperialist system by international socialist revolution. ■