Shut the Detention Camps – Free the Detainees!Mobilize Workers, Immigrants to
Stop the Deportations!
Flight to nowhere: ICE deportation flight from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport in July 2006 carrying
100 Central American immigrants, shackled at wrists and ankles. Photo: Sarah L. Voison/Washington Post
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants
Democrats, Republicans – Enemies of Immigrants
We Need a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The “megamarch” for immigrants’
rights on March 21 far surpassed the organizers' goal of bringing out
100,000 in Washington, D.C. By 3:30 p.m. the crowd was estimated at
over 200,000, making it the largest immigrant demonstration since 2006
when half a million marched in Los Angeles and millions took off work
on May Day. There were over 200 buses from New York City, 44 on the
road for 18 hours from Florida, and huge numbers from in and around the
capital. Speakers repeatedly referred to the “historic” event. However, the next day the march was
largely whited out in the media.
Politically, the event was thoroughly
bourgeois, being organized by a coalition of churches, a few trade
unions and the Democratic Party. Pushing the theme “We
March for America,” organizers handed out little American flags
to participants. A parade of Democratic Congressmen spoke from the
podium, and even a right-wing gusano Republican, Lincoln
Díaz-Balart, who neglected to mention that he opposes amnesty
for undocumented immigrants, except from Cuba. President Barack Obama
addressed the crowd by video, once again making empty promises of “immigration
reform.” He skated over the fines he intends to
impose on immigrants seeking residency, and didn't mention that
undocumented immigrants are excluded from his health care “reform.”
Despite hundreds of thousands of
demonstrators chanting (in English) Obama's campaign slogan “Yes we
can,” the bourgeois politicians are not going to
do anything to legalize the more than 15 million undocumented
immigrants, avoiding this hot topic in the present mid-term election
year. And even if they do eventually pass some immigration bill, which is not at all certain, it will
only serve to victimize even more the super-exploited workers who make
billions in profits for the bosses by performing some of the hardest
jobs in the U.S. at poverty wages.
The left was largely absent from the event,
leaving 200,000 immigrants, overwhelmingly working-class, to the
churches and the Democrats. The Internationalist Group, however, put
out a special bilingual issue of The Internationalist to combat the
capitalist politics and flag-waving patriotic appeals of the
organizers. In addition to the article printed below, we included
earlier articles calling for “Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants” and for the workers movement to mobilize
against “Lynch Mob Murder on Long Island,”
referring to the 2008 beating death of Marcelo Lucero, whose
perpetrators were on trial at the time of the Washington demo. More
than 630 copies of The Internationalist were sold to demonstrators.
workers now make up a huge part of the U.S. working class. The message
must be driven home that the struggle for immigrant rights requires a
fight against the bourgeois politicians and the capitalist system of
poverty, war and racism they represent.
On Sunday, March 21, tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters will demonstrate in Washington for immigration reform. Some activists will stay behind to lobby Congress. It’s being called the largest march of the Obama “era.” Demo organizers want to “send a message” to the Democrats in power in Washington that tens of millions of immigrants won’t be ignored. But the fact is that the Democratic Congress and Democratic president Barack Obama are not about to legislate “meaningful” immigration reform, which would make it possible for the 15 million or more U.S. residents labeled “illegal” to become legal. Begging the racist rulers to be “fair” won’t work – they will grant rights only if forced to do so. And together, we have the power.
Most likely the whole issue will be dropped until after the mid-term elections, while immigrant-bashing reactionaries have a field day on the airwaves and the campaign trail. Any “reform” they do come up with promises to be a nightmare: undocumented immigrants will have to declare themselves criminals, pay thousands of dollars in fines and taxes, and wait for years – if they are among the lucky few. This would be coupled with indentured servitude for temporary (“guest”) workers, stepped up militarization of the borders and a “biometric” national identification card, harbinger of a police state for all. To hell with that! The Internationalist Group says everyone who lives here should have equal rights. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
The demonstrators are speaking for millions of people who live and work in the United States yet lead a shadowy existence without basic rights. Toiling at the worst jobs for miserable pay, they are subject to systematic abuse. They fear deportation every time they come into contact with the authorities. Children born in the United States are separated from their foreign-born parents. After years on the job, workers can suddenly be deprived of employment because a computer spits out a dreaded “no match” letter. They can be rounded-up by jack-booted, black-uniformed ICE police of the Department of Fatherland Security – the hated migra – and thrown into concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands are expelled from the country without legal defense, while others are held behind bars or barbed wire for years before their cases are heard.
Anger has been building against President Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats, who were elected with a big majority of Latino and immigrant votes on the basis of their promises to reform the immigration system to provide a “pathway to citizenship.” Obama vowed last week that his commitment to “comprehensive immigration reform” is “unwavering.” Yet since taking office a year ago with a lopsided Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, the administration has done nothing about immigration – except to intensify the repression. The partner parties of American capitalism, Democrats and Republicans, are enemies of immigrant workers, and of all working people. Thinking they could be allies is a dangerous illusion.
Bad for Immigrants Under Bush, Even Worse in Obama’s America
Many immigrants, and many immigrant leaders, had illusions in Barack Obama – figuring “since we had an African American president immigration reform was guaranteed,” in the words of one. Certainly the election of a black president represented a major social shift in this country founded on slavery, and by nearly a century of Jim Crow segregation. The oppression of blacks remains fundamental to every aspect of racist American capitalism – a fact that is central to any real struggle for immigrant rights. But politically Obama represents the capitalists, not black workers and the ghetto masses. He gives trillions of dollars to Wall Street banks as millions of workers are fired. He was elected to put a friendly face on U.S. imperialism, while continuing its wars and occupation.
And for immigrants, Barack Obama has meant more repression. “Yeah, things are changing,” says Subhash Kateel, an immigrant rights worker in Miami. “They’re getting worse” (New America Media, 22 February). Under Obama, the Bush administration’s dramatic factory raids have been replaced by mass firings of workers whose Social Security numbers don’t match the eVerify database. While claiming it is only going after serious criminals, Homeland Security is feeding immigration data to local police who turn people picked up on traffic violations over to the ICE for deportation. Over 387,000 people were deported in the first year of Obama’s presidency (New America Media, 8 March). And as DHS chief Janet Napolitano bragged at a Border Security Conference, the figures are running roughly double those for 2007 under the Bush administration (New York Times, 12 August 2009). So yes, immigrants are outraged.
Meanwhile, immigration courts are swamped with a record number of deportation cases (228,000 so far in fiscal year 2010) while the average time in prison before cases are heard is well over a year (439 days) and close to two years (612 days) in California (El Diario/La Prensa, 12 March). And more information is being uncovered about the sinister secret prison network that has been set up as part of the reign of terror that the DHS has unleashed against immigrant communities. The New York Times (10 January) published an exposé about the cover-up of 107 deaths in ICE prisons, and how officials of the “haphazard network of privately run jails, federal centers and county cells” where immigrants are held refused medical treatment, hid the records and then lied to reporters and family members about it.
Migra officials brag that “ICE operates the largest detention system in the country. During FY 2008, ICE supervised a total of 378,582 aliens” and held a similar number a year later (DHS, Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations, October 2009) Political theorist Jacqueline Stevens writing in The Nation (4 January) on “America’s Secret ICE Castles” revealed that, in addition to official detention centers, “ICE is also confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces.... ICE has created a network of secret jails.” ICE agents work out of hidden offices such as the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force on the third floor of Chelsea Market in New York City, above the Fat Witch Bakery and next to Rachel Ray and the Food Network.
Along with the secret jails and ICE snatch squads who prowl 7-11 convenience stores and pick up students on public transportation as they go to school, the official war on “illegal aliens” whips up murderous anti-immigrant hatred around the country. In November 2008, the murder of Ecuadorean worker Marcelo Lucero by a gang of teenage racists led by a Nazi skinhead in Patchogue, Long Island threw a sharp light on the pervasive hostility and widespread violence against Latino immigrants in the area (see article, page 3). A year later there was much talk of “signs of hope” and reconciliation, of “diversity and tolerance” in the community. But as the trial of the fascist killer began this month, so many prospective jurors voiced anti-immigrant racism that the judge had to go through hundreds just to get the requisite dozen (New York Times, 8 March).
The lynch mob atmosphere on Long Island was whipped up by local politicians, particularly Suffolk County chief executive Steve Levy, a Democrat who has just announced he is switching to run for governor as a Republican and who has been railing against “illegal” immigrants for years. Across the country in Arizona, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, has been running an anti-immigrant witchhunt since 1992. Racially profiling Latinos, using Taser stun guns on prisoners and working with the fascist Minuteman vigilantes in hunting immigrants, Arpaio has whipped up racist hysteria ... and outrage. Over 10,000 protested the immigrant-bashing sheriff in Phoenix in January. But DHS chief (and former Arizona governor) Napolitano called off a Department of Justice investigation of him that had revealed numerous abuses.
Break with the Democrats – Build an Internationalist Workers Party
The organizers of the March 21 demonstration are not protesting the U.S. government’s war on immigrants, they’re just trying to put pressure on Democrat Obama in the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress. In New York they are asking demonstrators to petition Democratic senator Charles Schumer, who together with Republican senator Lindsey Graham is drawing up a “bipartisan” immigration “reform” bill. On March 11, they presented a “blueprint” of the bill, whose contents are still secret, to Obama. A few hours earlier, the president met with immigration rights groups after a chorus of complaints over the increased ICE arrests and deportations and administration inaction on reform. Yet Graham said he made it clear that if Democrats pushed through a health care bill, immigration reform would “come to a halt.” And while Graham is calling on Obama to insist on a temporary worker program over union opposition, Shumer wants a high-tech national identity card that is a threat to civil liberties.
Beyond the cynical maneuvering by bourgeois politicians and the impotent bourgeois pressure politics of various immigrant rights organizations, the fundamental point is that immigrants are the scapegoats for the capitalist economic crisis, and targets in the imperialist “war on terror.” Although the economic time bomb was set off by years of frenzied stock market speculation by Wall Street bankers, they get bailed out while immigrants are blamed for “stealing American jobs” and deported. In the 1930s Great Depression as well there were mass deportations of immigrant workers to Mexico. And in every imperialist war, U.S. rulers have found an “enemy within”: in World War I, it was the “reds,’ in World War II it was Japanese Americans, who were thrown into “detention” camps like undocumented immigrants are today. That is why the struggle for immigrants’ rights cannot be divorced from the fight the defeat the imperialist war and do away with capitalist exploitation.
The efforts to pressure political leaders to enact pro-immigrant legislation cannot succeed. Moreover, while right-wing Republicans have made immigrant-bashing their calling card, the greatest attacks on immigrants have come from the Democrats. The thousands of Near Eastern and South Asian immigrants who were rounded up after 9-11 were not arrested and held incommunicado under the notorious USA PATRIOT Act passed by Republican Bush (with near unanimous support from the Democrats), but under the 1996 “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act” passed under Democratic president Bill Clinton. The same goes for the expedited deportations, in which immigrants are denied legal counsel, and the Section 287(g) program where the federal government deputizes state and local police to enforce immigration laws. The Democrats are no friends but some of the biggest enemies of immigrants’ rights.
Organizers of the March 21 demonstration want everyone to wear white, as the Catholic church called for in 2006. They seek to wrap the demo in red, white and blue, calling it a “March for America.” This flag-waving marketing will achieve nothing. What made immigrants’ rights a burning issue in 2006 was the huge walkout by millions of immigrant workers on May Day. The walkouts were so massive, and immigrant workers so vital, that even virulently anti-labor employers like Smithfield Packing Co. in North Carolina had to shut down. Two years later, joint action by Latino, black and white workers managed to unionize that key plant. To win immigrants’ rights it will be necessary to mobilize the power of immigrant labor, along with the rest of the workers movement, on an even larger scale than in 2006, shutting down ports, plants and transportation around the country. Can it be done? Yes. But it will require revolutionary leadership.
Four years ago, most liberals and reformist leftists called for “amnesty.” We objected that undocumented immigrants had committed no crime, and had no reason to plead for pardon. Instead of begging for mercy, we demanded full citizenship rights for all. Today, Democrats, union bureaucrats and many leaders of immigrants’ rights groups repeat the mantra that the immigration system is “broken.” Clearly. But this ambiguous phrase only masks their refusal to forthrightly demand that immigrants, with legal residency or without, should have full rights, equal to everyone else in this country. They will never make this simple statement because they all support the capitalist system, based on the national state, which for its very existence requires a limitation of citizenship and the exclusion of “outsiders.” They all support the “right” of employers to exploit workers. They just want to soften the terms of exclusion a bit.As proletarian internationalists, communists have an entirely different standpoint. We are citizens of the world, fighting for a world in which national boundaries have been superseded. Although we cannot simply abolish the borders today, we fight against every racist attack and exclusionary immigration laws. We call on the workers movement to mobilize to sweep away anti-immigrant vigilantes and to take to the streets to stop the deportations. We demand: Shut down the detention camps and free the detainees! In defending democratic rights, we fight to put an end to the capitalist system which exploits all labor and superexploits those without rights – while it incites racist violence against these most oppressed wage slaves. We call to break with the Democrats and all capitalist parties, and to build a workers party on a revolutionary, internationalist program. The demand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants is a simple democratic demand, but it will take socialist revolution to achieve it. ■
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