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The Internationalist
  February 2018

Transport Workers Call for Labor Action to Stop Deportations

Los Angeles: Salvadorans Mobilize
Against Cancellation of TPS

“We’re Here and We’re Not Leaving”

On January 13, outrage over the cancellation of Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from El Salvador and Trump's racist smears brought hundreds into the streets to protest in Los Angeles.  (Photo: National TPS Alliance)

In yet another act of sadistic cruelty, on January 8 the Trump administration suddenly put an end to the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for immigrants and refugees from El Salvador. (Last November the feds canceled TPS for Haitians.1) Some 260,000 Salvadorans, who have lived and worked in the US for an average of 21 years, including parents of over 190,000 U.S.-born children, face the prospect of deportation. The action had been dreaded ever since the immigrant-bashing president took office. Still, its announcement was like a thunderbolt, sending shockwaves of anxiety and fury coast to coast. Being sent to the impoverished, violence-torn Central American country would mean being forced into a life of grinding poverty and misery for the vast majority of the working-class immigrants, and a death sentence for many.

Then when members of Congress suggested that an immigration accord include protections for people from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries, Trump let loose a barrage of vile racist invective against “all these people from shithole countries” (Washington Post, 12 January). While Democrats and liberal media criticized the “polarizing” rhetoric from the White House, the fact is that liberal Democrat Barack Obama greased the skids for racist Republican Donald Trump by deporting millions, far more than any previous president, and beefing up the I.C.E. immigration police. And the Dems are still angling for a “deal” to save the almost 800,000 undocumented immigrant youth under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program in exchange for increased “enforcement” (i.e., repression against immigrants).

In the Los Angeles area, home to an estimated one million undocumented immigrants and more than a quarter million Salvadorans, outrage over the announced termination of TPS sparked an emergency protest on Saturday, January 13. The march, called by the National TPS Alliance and the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), started with a rally of hundreds at La Placita Olvera across from Union Station who then marched 1,000-strong to the I.C.E. jail at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center. Marchers chanted, “ I.C.E. out of L.A.!” and “Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos, y si nos echan, nos regresamos” (We’re here, and we’re not leaving, and if they throw us out, we’re coming back). Immigrants rights groups and a couple of unions had a visible presence.

An article on the L.A. Taco (15 January) website noted a woman holding a sign saying “The U.S. Funded the Civil War in El Salvador.” Denouncing the racist U.S. president, the executive director of CARECEN, Marta Arevalo, said in her speech, “We’re going to march, we’re going to fight, we’re going to get arrested, and we’re going to vote.” The article noted: “Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of generating voter turnout for Democrats in the midterm elections and supporting pro-immigrant legislation in Sacramento and Washington, DC. But not everyone in the crowd agreed with supporting Democrats. A group of activists in the crowd briefly attempted to drown out the remarks of Congressman Jimmy Gomez and L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo with a chant that called for a break with the Democratic Party.”

Transport Workers Against Deportations march in Los
            Angeles, 13 January 2018.
Internationalist Group marched together with contingent of Transport Workers Against Deportations on January 13 calling for union action to defend immigrants and stop deportations.   (Internationalist photo)

The Internationalist Group marched together with a contingent of “Transport Workers Against Deportations,” whose banner called for “Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!” and “Organize Undocumented Workers!” The contingent carried signs advocating “Workers Action against Deportations and Racist Attacks!” and “Not Democrats, Not Republicans, Build a Workers Party!” Calling to break with the Democrats, they chanted, “Transport workers here to say, immigrants are here to stay!” “Stop deportations, this is the hour, labor/black/immigrant power!” “Arriba, abajo, la migra p’al carajo” (Up, down, the migra can go to hell) and “Ni illegales, ni criminales, somos obreros internacionales” (We are neither illegal nor criminal, we are international workers). The chants were picked up by many in the crowd.

The statement put out by the transport workers emphasized the need to mobilize labor to stop I.C.E. In the face of the bipartisan capitalist assault on immigrants, we must bring out our class power to fight back this attack on our Salvadoran sisters and brothers! A few days later, on January 16, around 50 activists came out to a 7-Eleven store in Koreatown in L.A. to resist as reports circulated that la migra was coming. It was expected that I.C.E. was going to carry out an audit (and possibly arrests) growing out of the nationwide raid on nearly a hundred 7-Eleven stores the week before. Activists held signs saying “Immigrants Are Welcome Here,” and “Labor and Community Against Raids.” Roofers Local 36 brought their union banner. The mobilization was organized by the Koreatown Rapid Response Network, and as the responders stood at the ready outside the 7-Eleven, word came that I.C.E. would not be coming to the store.

It was a small victory, organizers said, but an indication of the kind of mass mobilization that is needed around the country, and on a far larger scale, to actually stop the deportations. The Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International have insistently called to bring out the power of the working class to stop deportations and racist attacks. A few dozen resisters may courageously make a stand against the I.C.E. snatch squads. Yet if the I.C.E. Gestapo were repeatedly met by mobilizations of thousands prepared to put a stop to the raids it would be a very different story. Ultimately it will be necessary to undertake strike action, shutting down vital sections of the economy, including the ports … and public transportation.

Deportations Weaken the Working Class

Koreatown Rapid Response Network mobilized 50 people on short notice to protect workers at a 7-Eleven store from a planned audit (and possible arrest) by the I.C.E. police. They were successful: la migra never showed up.  (Photo: KCET)

The working class has a vital interest in defending immigrant workers, who have played a key role in class struggles in this country. This is notably the case with Salvadoran immigrants, largely working-class in origin, many of whom participated in militant labor battles before being forced to emigrate to the U.S. in the late 1980s. (The union hall of the UNTS labor federation was bombed in 1989 by supporters of the death squad regime backed by the U.S. in the Salvadoran civil war.) As the statement of Transport Workers Against Deportations noted (see below for full text):

“Salvadoran immigrant workers have infused the U.S. workers movement with desperately needed militancy. In Los Angeles, in particular, courageous Salvadoran workers played a key role in groundbreaking class battles to unionize undocumented immigrant workers, for example in the successful struggle to organize immigrant janitors shown in the movie Bread and Roses.”

As David Huerta of the SEIU noted at the January 13 march, many of the participants in that Justice for Janitors campaign are Salvadoran and Honduran TPS holders now at risk of deportation. Hugo Soto of UNITE-HERE Local 11 (hotel, airport and restaurant workers) said that most of his union members are immigrant women, and 300 are TPS holders.

Not only have Central American immigrant workers in Los Angeles waged sharp struggles to unionize, including resisting the brutal 1990 assault by L.A. police on a sit-down by striking janitors in Century City, they have protested injustices against all the oppressed. In the midst of the riots and military occupation of Los Angeles after the racist cops who beat Rodney King were let off, janitors of SEIU Local 399 marched demanding justice and protesting the criminalization of undocumented immigrants. More recently, with the massive 2006 marches for immigrants rights, in which 500,000 jammed into downtown L.A. and more than a million struck on May Day, immigrant workers brought the international workers day back to the U.S. after pro-capitalist labor misleaders long ago replaced it with the flag-waving “Labor Day.”

Today there are approximately 35,000 Salvadoran “tepeseros” in the Los Angeles area, and some 1,000 Haitian TPS holders in LA. County alone. A mass deportation would have devastating consequences for them. The potential deportees have lived in this country for decades and have built lives here. Most will have to face the agonizing decision of whether to rip their families apart or subject them to a precarious life of poverty and fear in countries their children have never known. In turn, El Salvador and Haiti will lose desperately needed income sent back from family members working in the United States. This could have a ruinous effect on their already dilapidated economies.

Central American Hell Made in U.S.A.

The country to which Salvadoran TPSers are to be deported is a charnel house of poverty, gang violence and bloody repression as a direct result of U.S. actions. To say that the conditions in El Salvador are desperate is an understatement. It has the highest murder rate in the world, ten times that of U.S.-devastated Iraq. This is the legacy of imperialist intervention in the region – decades of U.S.- sponsored dirty wars, death squad regimes propped up by Washington and gangs deported from the United States. The two rival street gangs terrorizing poor neighborhoods in the tiny Central American country, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio or 18th Street Gang (Mara 18, or M-18 in Spanish), were both born in Los Angeles.

In his “State of the Union” speech, Donald Trump highlighted MS-13, as he did in July 2017 during a visit to Long Island where police say gang members were responsible for 17 murders in 2016. This is part of Trump’s claim that undocumented immigrants are drug traffickers, “rapists” and generally “bad hombres” responsible for bringing violent crime to the U.S. This is the exact opposite of the case. Not only are immigrants (including those lacking the papers demanded by the authorities) less likely to commit crimes (including violent crimes) than the U.S. population in general, the gangs originated in the U.S. and were exported to El Salvador. Trump & Co. then turn around and use gang violence as another excuse for their racist policies.

The gangs were mainly made up of refugees from the U.S.-sponsored dirty war, and initially formed as protection from gangs (such as the Crips and the Bloods in L.A.), including the main gang – the Los Angeles Police Department. The 18th Street Gang originated in the Rampart district, where in the 1990s scores of cops from the LAPD’s notorious anti-gang unit regularly beat up, robbed, planted drugs on, framed, raped, shot and murdered Central American immigrants. Starting in the mid-1990s under Democrat Bill Clinton, the U.S. began deporting gang members back to El Salvador. Dumped in a country most deportees left years befire, lacking any skills and unable to find work, many of those who weren’t already gang members were easy prey.

Meanwhile, women deported from the U.S. face a particularly dire future. At least 1,200 women and girls simply vanish in El Salvador each year. If women are able to somehow navigate the gangs, they face hideous repression at every turn. Abortion has been banned in all cases in El Salvador since 1998. The Internationalist Group held a protest outside the Salvadoran consulate in New York in 2013 protesting the ban. We highlighted the case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old pregnant woman with a one year-and-a-half-old son whose fetus was anencephalic (lacking a brain) and hadn’t the slightest chance of surviving. Nevertheless, the Salvadoran state denied her an abortion and only after international protest was she allowed to terminate the pregnancy which posed a grave danger to her life.2

Defend Salvadoran women! June 2013 protest in New York City, initiated by the Internationalist Group, against El Salvador’s abortion ban.  (Internationalist photo)

Moreover, between 1998 and 2013 more than 600 Salvadoran women were jailed for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. Among them was a 19-year-old who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for miscarrying after being raped. And this anti-woman policy is now implemented not by a right-wing government but under the presidency of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former leader (Comandante Leonel González) of the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerrillas in the 1980s. Trotskyists called for the victory of the leftist guerrillas in the Salvadoran civil war, while warning that their petty-bourgeois politics aimed at securing a niche under capitalism. Now converted into a bourgeois party, the FMLN panders to the anti-abortion Catholic church just as their rightist rivals do.

“Temporary Protected Status” was set up to allow immigrants to stay in the U.S. when some disaster hit their country of origin. Salvadorans have been eligible for TPS off and on since 1990, when it was granted to those who had fled the decade-long civil war. Their current status was initiated in 2001 following a pair of earthquakes. Notably, it applied only to immigrants already in the U.S, and not to those in El Salvador trying to escape the devastation. (In the same way, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, TPS was granted to Haitians already in the U.S., while the U.S. invaded the Caribbean island on the pretext of “humanitarian aid” in order to put down potential uprisings.) Moreover, out of the estimated 2.1 million Salvadorans in the United States (one-third of the population of El Salvador), there are many more who have no documents at all.

Washington has often granted TPS to people from its client states, as granting refugee status would be awkward, and sending back immigrants after a natural disaster could lead to their collapse. In any case, TPS is a precarious state, hardly loved by those who hold it. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service set a deadline for September 2019 for Salvadorans to leave, or legalize their status. If a 2017 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court (Ramirez v. Brown) holds, some with close relatives who are citizens or residents, may be able to obtain permanent residency. But this is only a minority, and depends on having a sympathetic immigration judge, a good lawyer, and good luck, which is in short supply under the Trump regime. Most Salvadorans and Haitians (and soon Hondurans) face the prospect of having their lives in the U.S. ripped up.

The Internationalist Group and Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas (Class Struggle International Workers) call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants (as well as asylum for refugees), and for worker/immigrant mobilizations to stop raids and deportations. The fact that transport workers have taken the step to mobilize behind these demands is an important development in this area that could be a hotbed of resistance to the attacks by the anti-immigrant Trump government. But to effectively fight those attacks requires a break with the Democratic Party, which is also an enemy of immigrants. The legal basis for deporting undocumented immigrants was laid by Bill Clinton’s 1996 “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.” The racist ravings of Trump are only the crudest expression of the common policy of the capitalist class.

The crucial ingredient to an effective fight in defense of immigrants is to build a revolutionary workers parties, from Central America to the U.S., that fight for international socialist revolution.■

We print below the statement of the Transport Workers Against Deportations distributed at the January 13 demo in Los Angeles.

Transport Workers Against Deportations protest in
                Los Angeles, 13 January 2018.
An important step forward: transport workers in the Los Angeles area take up the fight to mobilize workers action to stop raids and deportations, demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants and calling to unionize undocumented workers. L.A. could be a hotbed of resistance to the bipartisan capitalist attack on immigrants.  (Internationalist photo)


Mobilize Labor’s Power to Stop Deportations and Racist Attacks!

I.C.E. Hands Off Central Americans, Haitians! Let Them All Stay!

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

We will be marching on Saturday, January 13 to protest attacks on TPS and DACA and to defend all immigrants.

Our Salvadoran brothers and sisters are under attack. The January 8 cancellation of TPS (Temporary Protected Status) would deport some 260,000 immigrants and refugees from El Salvador who have been living in this country for an average of 21 years, including parents of over 190,000 U.S.-born children. This comes after the Trump government’s grotesque shutdown of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, putting close to 800,000 young undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.

The desperate conditions in El Salvador that have led workers and their families to flee were in fact made in the U.S.A. – from U.S. imperialism’s dirty war against left-wing rebels of the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) in the 1980s to the creation of El Salvador’s murderous gang violence through deporting rival gang members from Los Angeles. Refugees from Honduras (including tens of thousands of children), Nicaragua (whose TPS status was canceled last year) and Guatemala have also fled U.S.-instigated violence, coups and deadly police.

Salvadoran immigrant workers are not just victims, they have infused the U.S. workers movement with desperately needed militancy from their experience waging hard-fought class battles in El Salvador. In Los Angeles in particular, courageous Salvadorian workers played a key role in groundbreaking class battles to unionize undocumented immigrant workers, for example in the successful struggle to organize immigrant janitors shown in the movie Bread and Roses.

It’s not just Trump. Obama threw more than 8 million people out of the U.S. The racist rulers of this country, Democrat and Republican, are ratcheting up their anti-immigrant witch hunt to instill fear and division among the working class in an attempt to prop up their decaying capitalist system of exploitation for profit.

Immigrants and refugees are not enemies – our fight is against the racist rulers in Washington and Wall Street who exploit and oppress us all.

The enormous power of the multiracial working class must be mobilized including through labor-centered mass action, to stop deportations, to unionize undocumented workers and to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

As workers and defenders of democratic rights, we say it doesn’t matter how people got here: everyone should have equal rights. LET THEM ALL STAY!

  1. 1.See “Let Haitians Stay!” The Internationalist, January 2018.
  2. 2.See “Down with El Salvador’s Abortion Ban!The Internationalist, June 2013.