U.S. Immigration Policies Always
Have Been Racist
and Always Will Be Until Capitalism Is Overthrown
Smash the I.C.E. Gestapo
with Workers Revolution!
Internationalist contingent at June 30 march in New York City against separation of immigrant families.
On June 30, rallies and marches were held across the U.S. to demand an end to the Trump administration’s grotesque policy of tearing apart immigrant families as they arrive at the border. Hundreds of thousands expressed their outrage over the Border Patrol ripping kids away from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms while the parents are prosecuted and the kidnapped children are shipped off to the far ends of the country. In New York City, an estimated 30,000 marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Equal numbers protested in front of the White House in Washington while 50,000 reportedly came out in Chicago, 70,000 in Los Angeles, and thousands more in San Francisco, Boston and in over 780 protests held in every state.
Meanwhile, public opinion polls show two-thirds of the population opposed to the Trump family separation policy, while barely a quarter supported it. Two-thirds also oppose deportation of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., while less than one in five say they should be forced to leave. And two-thirds oppose prosecuting families requesting asylum. 80% of the country, and 90% of those under the age of 35, say young undocumented immigrants brought here as children should be able to stay and become citizens. Yet despite this massive repudiation, Trump is playing to a hard core of racist, xenophobic supporters. While temporarily ceding to court orders, the government vows to replace cages for children with concentration camps for families on military bases.
Rage against the monstrous government child-snatching operation is heartfelt and deep, extending as well to many Republicans. Yet the June 30 marches and rallies, along with others in preceding weeks, were organized under the “Families Belong Together” logo by a plethora of Democratic Party front groups, headed up by the granddaddy of them all, MoveOn.org. Their aim was to energize liberals to head to the polls in the November 6 mid-term elections in hopes of winning control of the House of Representatives and/or Senate. “Remember in November” was the overarching theme. But we remember that it was Democrat Obama who built up the deportation machine now being used by Trump, and who first began massively detaining families at the border.
Among the slogans prominently raised on signs and in chants at the June 30 protests was the radical-sounding demand to abolish I.C.E. (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security). For many this expressed a desire to go beyond fighting whatever is the latest atrocity perpetrated by the Trump administration and express overall opposition to the hated police force that is terrorizing millions of immigrants across the country. The mass revulsion against la migra is fully justified. The Internationalist Group calls to smash I.C.E. as part of a workers revolution that will topple the entire repressive apparatus – the core of the capitalist state – that defends the brutal rule of capital over the working people and oppressed.
But socialist revolution is hardly the aim of the liberal and reformist political forces today calling to abolish I.C.E., and anything short of that will leave the racist U.S. immigration system intact. This slogan is being pushed by various “progressive” Democrats precisely in order to pin the blame for the anti-immigrant offensive on Trump alone … and to obscure the fact that Obama deported far more immigrants than any Republican. In the remote possibility that this criminal agency were ever “abolished” by Congress or the executive, the result would be another racist and bonapartist police agency. Before I.C.E. was formed in 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was justly despised by defenders of immigrants’ rights.
Moreover, almost all of the proponents of abolishing I.C.E. are not calling for abolishing the Border Patrol, the agency that is actually rounding up and separating moms and kids on the border with Mexico and herding them into holding pens. Why not? Because the Democrats don’t want to be labeled “soft on illegal immigration.” They raise the call to abolish I.C.E. as a way to divert the fight against the militarization of the border regions, which has proceeded apace under both Democrats and Republicans. And while blaming the inhumane treatment of immigrants exclusively on I.C.E., the cynical bourgeois politicians raising the demand say nothing about the fact that “deporter-in-chief” Obama was the boss of I.C.E. and could have ordered a halt to its horrific actions “with the stroke of a pen”!
These omissions are no accident. The demand to “abolish I.C.E.” originally comes from the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party (although Sanders himself shies away from it). After the “socialist”-posturing senator from Vermont endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, some Sanders staffers set up a political action committee called Brand New Congress. The aim was to get “hundreds” of new (Democratic) candidates elected to Congress in 2018 on their liberal platform. Brand New Congress calls in its Immigration Platform to abolish I.C.E. and instead to “establish legal immigration centers around the world” (i.e., not in the U.S.). It also calls to “guarantee border security” by “chang[ing] the mission of CBP” (Customs and Border Protection, which runs the Border Patrol), and to “end border privatization.”
Likewise, the Brand New Congress platform criticizes the “flaws” of Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but doesn’t say a word about Bill Clinton’s 1996 horrific “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.” As of earlier this year, Brand New Congress had endorsed 26 candidates, including soliciting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a former Sanders campaign worker) to run for Congress in the Bronx and northern Queens. Another liberal outfit that calls to abolish I.C.E. is Justice Democrats, which has endorsed 38 candidates in the November elections, including Ocasio-Cortez, who recently won the Democratic primary (which virtually guarantees her election in the fall). Also actively soliciting votes for her campaign in the capitalist Democratic Party primary were Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt).
There is much to be said about the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “phenomenon.” She has been lionized by the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and other liberal media outlets. Her candidacy is a lifesaver for the Democrats, to ensure that any push for “resistance” to Trump remains safely within the bounds of that hoary capitalist party. Speaking to National Public Radio, Ocasio-Cortez said, “We need to make sure that people are, in fact, documented.” To CNN, she said, “We absolutely do need to make sure that our borders are secure.” In calling to abolish I.C.E., her web site contrasts it unfavorably to the prior INS. In the CNN interview Ocasio-Cortez called to “replace it [I.C.E.] with a humane agency that is directed toward safe passage instead of the direction of criminalization.” This is peddling a lie. The idea that the capitalist state’s brutal immigration police can be transmogrified into a “humane” institution is a textbook example of liberal/reformist delusions.
Those calling to abolish I.C.E. call it a terrorist organization. So it is, and so was the INS. In the mid-1980s, to cite one example, some 500 inmates of the INS’ El Centro, California concentration camp, most of them Salvadoran refugees from the brutal civil war and death squads sponsored by the U.S., were “forced to stand outside in the blistering, 100-plus degree desert sun 14 hours a day while their air-conditioned barracks are empty and locked” (Workers Vanguard No. 381, 14 June 1985). No less terrorist are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in toto, the Department of Justice, Navy SEALS, Army and Marines special forces, and all military and police agencies of the capitalist state, whose job it is to terrorize the exploited and oppressed into submission.
In addition to DSA Democratic candidates like Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar, the call to abolish I.C.E. has now been taken up by some mainstream Democratic elected officials, including New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and NYC mayor Bill de Blasio. Gillibrand is part of the Democratic Party establishment, tight with Chuck Schumer (the “senator from Wall Street”). She is a cheerleader for the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division (headquartered in Fort Drum, NY), including visiting their division headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan. On CNN, Gillibrand called to get rid of I.C.E., to “start over, reimagine it, and build something that actually works.” De Blasio said “I.C.E.’s time has come and gone.” And at the June 30 protest in Boston, Warren called for “replacing I.C.E. with something that reflects our morality and that works” or “reflects the morality of the country.”
On July 12, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
from Seattle, Washington (Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith),
Portland, Oregon (Earl Blumenauer), Madison, Wisconsin (Mark
Pocan), Worcester/Amherst, Massachusetts (Jim McGovern) and
New York City (Yvette Clarke, Adriano Espaillat, José Serrano
and Nydia Velázquez) introduced a bill, HR 6361, to “Terminate
Immigration and Customs Enforcement” and form a “Commission to
Study and Establish a Fair and Humane System of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement.” The bill lists the massive
violations of “detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and
the provision of a safe and healthy environment” as documented
by the DHS Office of Inspector General. Among them:
- Over half of the deaths in I.C.E. detention showed evidence of inadequate medical care.
- Of 1,224 complaints of sexual and physical abuse in I.C.E. custody between 2010 and 2017, only 30 were ever investigated.
But when the Republican House leadership announced plans to hold a vote on HR 6361, its authors declared that they would vote “no” on their own “abolish I.C.E.” bill!
So much for the “humane alternative” to the terrorist I.C.E. This underscores that Democratic politicians’ embrace of “abolish I.C.E.” is an electoral maneuver. This is also true of liberal challengers like Cynthia Nixon (New York) and Randy Bryce (Wisconsin), Green Party politicians like Howie Hawkins (New York), and others. There are, of course, plenty of liberal Democrats who are not calling to abolish I.C.E., notable among them Bernie Sanders (for all purposes a Democrat though he claims to be an “independent”), on the grounds that it is “not realistic,” and could drive away “moderate” voters. The answer to that, media-savvy promoters (like “marketing specialist” Shannon McClain, founder of Families Belong Together) would tell them is segmented marketing: call for abolishing I.C.E. in solidly Democratic districts (like the Bronx), or in solidly Republican districts where the Democrat will lose anyway so it can’t hurt and will energize the Democratic base, and downplay or oppose it in highly contested “swing districts.”
Many of these same capitalist politicians denounce Trump’s policies as “un-American,” a phrase that should send shivers up the spine of any leftist who recalls the witch-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. Conveying this patriotic message, the Democratic Party front group Families Belong Together printed up signs showing an immigrant girl behind bars on an American flag background. Speakers at the June 30 New York City protest demonstration called repeatedly for an immigration policy and agency reflecting “our values,” or “American values.” But the morality and values of U.S. capitalism meant separating untold numbers of enslaved and Native American children from their parents, and separating them when parents are jailed or, in millions of cases every year, when child welfare agencies (many of them notoriously abusive) order it. As for immigrant-bashing, like racist attacks on black people, it is “as American as apple pie.”
The cringe-worthy appeals to patriotic myth-making have a political purpose: to show that Democrats’ criticisms of the immigration cops do not challenge, but on the contrary seek to reinforce, the bourgeois ideology that says this is “our” country, “our” flag, “our” capitalist state. It’s just not “our president” right now. In opposition to this, Internationalists proclaim, “Asian, Latin, black and white – Workers of the world unite!”
The stark fact is that there can be no “humane” immigration agency under racist American capitalism, which depends both on victimizing and expelling immigrant workers in periods of economic downturn, and bringing in large numbers of immigrant workers without rights during boom periods. Colonial America was built on the labor of chattel slaves and indentured servants. The 1790 immigration act limited naturalization to “free white persons.” The Page Act of 1875 was introduced to “end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women.” It was succeeded by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. A wave of European immigration at the turn of the 20th century reflected the need of the expanding U.S. economy for an industrial and mining workforce. But when those immigrant workers fought back, the bosses responded with bullets (such as in the 1914 Ludlow massacre of largely immigrant miners in Colorado).
And when the need for immigrant labor diminished in the boom-bust cycle of capitalism, the capitalist politicians passed the Immigration Act of 1924 to restrict the numbers of Jews, Slavs and Italians and to block Asians. During the 1930s Depression, the U.S. government launched a Mexican Repatriation program that “repatriated” some 400,000 people to Mexico, half of them U.S. citizens. In the late 1930s and early ’40s, Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi Holocaust were barred. In WWII, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were “interned.” The U.S. imported large numbers of Mexican workers during the war, and then in the post-Korean War recession ran “Operation Wetback” that deported over 1 million. In the first decade of this century 10 million immigrants entered the U.S., but in the post-2007 depression Obama deported over 8 million.
That is some of the racist reality hidden by patriotic appeals to “American values”! No matter how much talk there is of restructuring, repurposing, reimagining or otherwise reforming or even “abolishing” I.C.E., there never has been and there never will be “people-friendly” immigration police agencies under capitalism. You can bank on that.
Along with sundry Democrats, in addition to the DSA and SAlt, the call to “abolish I.C.E.” has also been raised by anarchists, reflecting the fact that they are radical liberals at heart, as well as by reformists such as the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), and the social-democratic Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and International Socialist Organization (ISO); as well as by the anti-union, fake-leftist World Socialist Web Site. Some of these same groups also call for “open borders,” another case of liberal/anarchist utopianism. Capitalism is based on the nation-state, and hence borders. Even a workers state would have borders that must be defended against counterrevolution, while granting full citizenship to all immigrants, as the Bolsheviks did. As we noted in The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016:
“The revolutionary workers state, while it needed to defend its borders against counterrevolutionary threats, granted full citizenship rights to all foreign workers who lived and worked in Soviet territory.”
As the Spartacist League wrote of the “open borders” slogan back when it still stood on the program of revolutionary Trotskyism:
“This demand, like calls for a ‘fair’ or ‘non-racist’ immigration policy, is utopian under capitalism. And in fact, an open border ultimately threatens the democratic right of self-determination of the weaker power…. A truly ‘open’ border under capitalism would enable American moneybags to buy up northern Mexico, not unlike what they did to Texas over a century ago.”
–“Labor: Smash Racist Immigration Law!” Workers Vanguard No. 427, 1 May 1987
The then-revolutionary SL also called for: “Asylum for refugees from death squad terror – Stop the deportations! Full citizenship rights for foreign-born workers!” In stark contrast, today’s chauvinist SL refuses to call for asylum for refugees (trying to cover this by pretending it is the same as the illusory call for “open borders”), while often sounding similar themes as Trump or other xenophobic right-wingers in Italy, Britain and elsewhere.
It is true that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not just any old police agency. Its agents and their so-called “union” (which is not a workers organization at all but a protection society for these hired guns of the bourgeoisie) have adopted an overtly political stance, campaigning and acting as a kind of praetorian guard for Trump. But this is hardly unique. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) under its founder and long-time chief J. Edgar Hoover engaged in massive witch-hunting, often acting as a law unto itself. It continues to do so today, despite the Democrats’ embrace of this sinister agency. The same could be said of CIA cloak-and-dagger operations, or National Security Agency spying on the U.S. population. But the idea that there could be a capitalist state without political police, spy agencies, border guards and immigration police is liberal/reformist illusion.
This points to a fundamental question highlighted in Lenin’s aphorism, “Who – whom?” Who exactly – what class force – is supposed to “abolish” such repressive forces? If we are talking about the present U.S. government, or any instance (congress or parliament, presidency, courts) of any bourgeois government, carrying this out, even with another party in office, it only means, at most, that one police force would be replaced by another equivalent agency. Nor can a capitalist country, except in rare circumstances, have a non-discriminatory immigration policy. That is why revolutionary Marxists (Trotskyists) do not advocate “immigration reform.” Rather, we call for full citizenship for all immigrants, and for the socialist revolution needed to realize this basic democratic demand.
Internationalist Group, Revolutionary Internationalist Youth, Class Struggle Education Workers, Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas and CUNY Committee to Defend Immigrants and Muslims at June 30 march.
The Internationalist Group has from its origin been in the forefront fighting against the persecution of immigrants and the racist police agencies that enforce it. We do not seek to pressure the capitalist state to do what it will never do, which can only prettify it. Instead, we put forward demands to mobilize immigrants and the power of the multi-racial, multi-national working class in concrete action to stop the racist bourgeois state where possible: Drive I.C.E. jails out (of New York/Los Angeles/Portland, etc.)! For worker/immigrant action to stop deportations! And contrary to the liberals, anarchists and reformist DSA/SAlt/RCP/FSP/ISO pseudo-socialists who build illusions in the Democrats, we fight to forge a revolutionary workers party to lead the struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of capital and replacing it with the liberating rule of the international proletariat. Smash I.C.E. with workers revolution! ■