Workers Vanguard No. 1018
22 February 2013
Monday, March 04, 2013
Immigration “Reform”: Repression and Exploitation-Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
Immigration “Reform”: Repression and Exploitation-Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
Barack Obama’s re-election last November was hailed by liberal commentators as a confirmation of the “historic” and “consequential” nature of his presidency. For many others, it seemed to signal a rejection of the reactionary brew of bigotries and threats of savage austerity that were the bedrock of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. The president had wooed Latino voters with promises of immigration “reform” while his opponent urged “self-deportation.” A key consideration for Obama is that the corporate bosses of important sectors of industry, e.g., agribusiness, manufacturing and information technology, have suffered from a drought of both low-wage manual and highly skilled immigrant labor that has adversely impacted their profits. On January 21, Obama kicked off his second term by renewing the push to overhaul immigration policy. “Our journey is not complete,” he intoned, “until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”
The White House blazed the trail for that “journey” out of the U.S. With 410,000 deportations in 2012, the administration set a new record for the fourth consecutive year in its escalating war against “illegal” immigration. Over 1,000 people are deported every day even as attempted border crossings have dropped by 53 percent since 2008, a sign of the greatly diminished prospects for employment in the U.S. Officials have widened the anti-immigrant dragnet by trolling state DMV records for information on foreign-born applicants and dispatching agents to traffic safety checkpoints to detain anyone without a driver’s license. These “great unwashed” are apparently of little weight in the administration’s calculations, as against the talented engineers.
In the State of the Union address on February 12, Obama touted his administration’s “putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history.” Washington also poured more money into policing immigration last year than all other federal law enforcement projects combined. A formidable machinery is now in place on the border: over 21,000 agents along with thousands of thermal-imaging sensors, a fleet of aerial drones and nearly 700 miles of fence. Between 2007 and 2011, the rate of reported deaths of those attempting to cross vastly increased—over 350 such deaths were acknowledged each year.
Following the 2012 elections, more savvy Republican politicians noted that their party had failed to attract the votes of certain sectors of the U.S. population—to name a few, black people, women, Latinos, Asian Americans and youth—and timidly ventured the opinion that it needed to expand its appeal. As the Republican Party has deep roots in the South and among those given to religious fanaticism, not much room is available for a wiggle to the left, rendering difficult the search for support from those who are not older white male bigots. Nevertheless, certain Republicans, notably John McCain and Marco Rubio, last month joined hands with a passel of Democrats to put forward an immigration reform proposal in the Senate.
In theory, Obama should have little problem coming to an agreement with this bipartisan effort. The day after the announcement of their proposal, a White House memo laid out its own plan for immigration reform: further securing the border and intensifying the crackdown on undocumented workers under the guise of penalizing employers on the one hand and offering a remote possibility of citizenship and streamlining legal immigration on the other. These points are almost identical to those raised by the Senators save the not insignificant detail that for them the borders must be closed, not merely “defended.” This difference opens up the possibility of unending hours of debate in Congress as it awaits the placement of the last stone in the great wall, deemed necessary by the Tea Party types, on the southern border of Fortress America.
If a compromise immigration bill is achieved, it will undoubtedly contain the main elements of the “pathway to citizenship” put forth by Obama. In this scheme, undocumented immigrants would be required to register with the government, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks and pay fees and penalties before becoming eligible for a provisional legal status. If cleared, they then would have to wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before joining the line for lawful permanent residency (a “green card”), and ultimately U.S. citizenship. The line proposed might as well stretch to infinity. Some Mexicans who have applied for legal residency have been waiting decades for their requests to be granted. Now some Republicans are up in arms because Obama proposes to reduce the wait to a mere eight years!
When announcing his latest scheme, the president said it was time to end a situation where eleven million undocumented immigrants “live their lives in the shadows.” Indeed, he wants them out of the shadows and under the ever-watchful gaze of the capitalist state, all the better to regulate the flow of low-wage labor. Undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, toil at some of the most backbreaking and dangerous jobs in this country. It is a testament to their militancy and class consciousness that a sizable number of these workers are often involved in union organizing battles, which in California signed up 100,000 new workers last year, bucking the continued nationwide slide in union membership. The labor movement must demand that all immigrants have immediate and full citizenship rights and must fight against every instance of discrimination, calling for no deportations.
Field Hands, Scientists and Students
Not a few immigrants fled their homelands to escape grinding poverty and brutal repression resulting from U.S. imperialist plunder. At the same time, the capitalist rulers will always attempt to tap new sources of cheaper labor, particularly immigrants from less-developed countries. The Wall Street Journal (1 February) recently pumped for a guest worker program that “would allow low-skilled immigrants to legally fill temporary labor demands, and it is absolutely necessary if we are to avoid a future flood of illegal immigrants.” The central focus of the current proposals is on creating a large pool of completely vulnerable immigrants who will be policed utilizing every bit of biometric and other data available and made to pay large sums of money for the privilege of working for a pittance with no job protection, no assured immigration status and no right to any kind of welfare. This offering is bread and water rationing—in fact, a kind of indentured servitude.
As a result, some older undocumented immigrants look with fondness on the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who signed legislation that granted permanent residency to some three million undocumented immigrants, raising some real possibility of their becoming citizens. Since then, the decay of American capitalist society has advanced considerably. Such largesse will not be granted at a time when there are legions of the unemployed and an all-sided anti-labor offensive is driving down wages, even for unionized workers, to near Wal-Mart levels.
In recent weeks, leaders of high-tech industries have flooded Washington to push for comprehensive legislation, propelled by a belief that they will only obtain the substantial increase in temporary visas for skilled labor that they require if Congress passes such a bill. Their quest is primarily a comment on the deterioration of American society and its public education system. Ever fewer high school graduates possess the academic skills, let alone monetary resources, necessary for the intensive university training that produces scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Many U.S. manufacturers have concerns similar to their counterparts’ at Google and Intel. With the unions here on their knees and costs elsewhere rising, Caterpillar and other industrial giants are relocating plants from outside the country to the “low-wage” U.S., only to have their research and development staff from China and India waiting years for a green card.
American universities, which still provide some of the best education available in these fields, have been increasingly populated with foreign graduate students, especially from China. However, it has become difficult for these students to obtain a visa to stay in the country after graduation. Meanwhile, the Stalinist bureaucracy in Beijing is putting up money to make it more attractive for those with advanced degrees to return to the Chinese deformed workers state. A more farsighted section of the U.S. bourgeoisie is now expressing concern that it might some day lose its “edge on innovation.”
Last year, immigrant college students, many of them undocumented, marched, staged sit-ins and even outed themselves to the authorities to draw attention to immigration reform, in particular to the Dream Act, which stalled in Congress in 2010 despite Obama’s support for the measure. This plan, also favored by the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), would allow immigrant youth to apply for permanent residency if they attend college—an improbable option for the vast majority—or serve in the armed forces for two years. Thus, most of these youth are left with the grotesque prospect of joining the imperialist military that has slaughtered millions in its invasions of foreign lands as other branches of the same capitalist state kill, imprison and deport those who may be their relatives. We say: No to the Dream Act!
The ISO seeks to tinker with the terms of anti-immigrant repression, calling for more “bold” protests “to force a change in the pro-business priorities for immigration legislation—and to win a proposal that’s worthy of the term ‘reform’” (socialistworker.org, 31 January). These shameless reformists offer nothing other than to dress up U.S. capitalism, as if a fair immigration policy shorn of “pro-business priorities” is possible under an inherently unjust system rooted in the exploitation of the many by the few. We do not advise the bourgeoisie on its priorities. Our aim is to instill in the multiracial working class the importance of defending immigrants and fighting every manifestation of oppression as part of preparing it for the necessary revolutionary battle to end capitalist rule.
For a Class-Struggle Perspective!
Marching in lockstep with the government’s campaign against undocumented workers are the union tops. These labor traitors not only are now actively collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce in hammering out the details of a guest worker program but also have embraced e-Verify, a government database of everyone legally permitted to work in the U.S. AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka baldly states that e-Verify is “part of the system we’ve proposed.”
At hundreds of workplaces across the country, mass firings of immigrant workers have followed audits of Social Security numbers using the e-Verify database (“desktop raids”). This cornerstone of Obama’s immigration policy, dishonestly billed as “employer enforcement,” has time and again helped employers get rid of labor activists and head off unionization drives. Immigrant families are ravaged, as the breadwinners are thrown out of their jobs with few prospects for new employment, not to mention a much higher risk of deportation.
The venal union bureaucrats are thus lining up against the basic class interests of the proletariat. For these staunch supporters of the political parties of the class enemy, above all the Democrats, these latest betrayals are simply a continuation of a general policy of appeasement of the capitalist rulers that has resulted in the withering of union power. Battered by a wave of attacks on public workers, union membership fell to 11.3 percent of the workforce last year, the lowest rate since 1916.
Revitalizing the labor movement will require hard class struggle, including on behalf of all those ground down by capitalism. Immigrant workers, often from places with a rich history of social and class struggle, will have a vital role to play. It is through uniting black, white and immigrant workers in struggle against their common class enemy that the working class can surmount the racial and ethnic divisions long sown by the exploiters to divide and weaken labor. But when it comes to an appetite for struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism, the union bureaucrats are decidedly anorexic.
The anti-immigrant campaign has served to deflect attention from the fact that the “Great Recession,” which has brought widespread job loss and misery, is the direct product of the capitalist profit system. A program for the mobilization of working-class unity against capitalist exploitation and oppression requires that the current labor misleaders be replaced by a new generation of class-struggle militants. It will take this kind of leadership to sever labor’s ties to the Democratic Party and promote the building of a revolutionary workers party committed to overturning the imperialist order through socialist revolution. This is the only road to ending the exploitation of man by man, as well as all forms of oppression.