Immigration Movement in the US

The Electoral Road to Nowhere

On May 1st, hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers demonstrated in the streets against the draconian anti-immigration legislation. Called “a day without immigrants”, the day of protest shut down shops, restaurants, construction sites and stopped work in parts of the agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy. Cities such as New York, Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles saw massive demonstrations numbering in the hundreds of thousands. While the mood of the workers who came out was one of militancy and solidarity, the movement itself was encouraged by elements of the bourgeoisie and organized by petty-bourgeois elements. While such a movement involving so many workers, standing in public and identifying themselves as workers on Mayday is an extraordinary event, particularly in the US, it crystallizes the contradictions faced by workers in any cross class movement, where in this case we saw immigrant workers waving US flags while using “We Are Workers” as a slogan.

The section of capital that backs a normalization of the status of their immigrant workers has in fact supported the reform of immigration laws from the standpoint of protecting their supply of cheap labor. Gallo Wines of California gave workers the day off. Eight of a total of fourteen Perdue Chicken plants were also closed for the day while the largest meat producer in the world shut down five of its nine beef plants and four of its six pork plants. The draconian legislation directly threatens these employers with the destabilization of their work force under the constant threat of legal crackdowns.

The catalyst of the draconian “Border Security” legislation passed by the US government last December triggered much of the immigrant anger that found itself being expressed in the streets. What is being put through the government is the further criminalization of illegal immigration making tens of millions of workers and potentially anyone who attempts to aid them or employ them into criminal felons. All while planning to build more walls across ever greater sections of the Mexican border and employing the National Guard and reserves to assume responsibility for patrolling sections of the border. The current legislation also provides for a slightly greater number of guest worker visas. The motivating idea being to appease the employers who benefit from this labor by offering a greater number of visas for immigrants who can be deported on the slightest infraction, even including the most minor misdemeanor offenses.

The House of Representatives Bill 4437, the “Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005”, passed in December of 2005, calls for: building 700 miles (1120 km) of fence along the US border, requires the federal government to take custody of illegal immigrants detained by state and local authorities, mandates that employers electronically verify their employees immigration status, eliminates the Diversity Immigrant Visa which provided visas for immigrants from countries with low immigration rates to the US, prohibits providing federal grant money to any state, federal or local agency that maintains a sanctuary policy for illegal immigrant workers, all illegal immigrants to pay a $3000 dollar fine before being deported, sets a minimum sentence for forged documents of 10 years in prison, all immigrants to pass criminal record check, terrorist watch list clearance and fraudulent document check before any immigrant can be granted legal resident status, a penalty of a minimum of 3 years in prison for those who house illegal immigrants and last but not least refuses to accept legal immigrants from countries that won’t take back deportees. It must be noted that while the prohibition on those knowingly giving aid to illegal immigrants was, on the level of rhetoric, meant to be a measure against smugglers of illegal immigrants it is worded vaguely enough to create the further criminalization of any attempts by US citizens to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants. The US Senate, with its sister legislation, Senate Bill 2611, largely dealt with the extension or restriction of the issuing of various INS visas that regulate the flow of immigrant labor, into the agricultural, industrial, technical and academic sectors of the economy, it makes special criminal penalties for those who construct, finance or use underground border tunnels. Further provisions are set forth for membership of non-citizen immigrants in the Armed Forces, for greater manned and unmanned aerial surveillance of border crossings. This initial house legislation was specifically meant to appease the most extreme elements within the US government in contrast to the Senate bill that provided more provisions to pacify capitalists nervous about the increasingly precarious status of their immigrant workforce. The Senate has now passed legislation calling for building 700-mile fence (1,125km) fence along the US Mexican border, with the House of Representatives pushing almost identical legislation some version of this new law will become reality. One section of this border fence is already being built in California.

At the very moment the immigrant protests began to break in the national media the US government gave its unequivocal answer to those workers in the form of a record breaking roundup of immigrants, where some 1,200 undocumented workers were arrested nationwide in a single operation. The current crackdown on immigration was not the product of the Bush regime. It gained its impetus in President Clinton’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 that was signed into law in response to the terrorist attack on the Oklahoma City federal building by two White Supremacist terrorists. In the wake of this legislation the detention of illegal immigrants increased from 51,000 arrests in 1995 up to 198,000 arrests in 2004. According to Amnesty International the number of children detained in US correctional facilities for immigrating to the US has increased from 2.375 in 1997 to 5,385 in 2002. On any given day in 2004 some 22,814 illegal immigrants sat in US jails waiting for some decision on whether to deport them or release them. If you think torture, sexual humiliation and solitary confinement are somehow unique to prison camps such as Abu Ghraib, those nightmares were born in the US prison system and illegal immigrants are daily subjected to them. It should be noted that the INS pays local jails to house detained illegal immigrants, thus making a clear profit incentive for local authorities to keep illegal immigrants detained, and in a state of limbo concerning their residency status or deportation, for as long as possible.

On August 12, 2005 Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico declared an official “State of Emergency” in several border counties. On August 15th, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano declared an official State of Emergency in several Arizona border counties. Such measures are normally only declared by state governors in times of major natural disasters. On May 18, 2006 the US Senate voted to make English the official national language in an unprecedented move in US history as a country initially founded with the explicit idea of not having an official religion or language, especially in the US, where there has for all of US history lived a Spanish speaking population. It is still today the fifth largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world. The Democratic Party backed a watered down form of the Republican legislation. Either bill if signed into law will create serious problems for anyone in the US that must at some point rely on some bilingual services. Today the bourgeoisie is incapable of being “progressive”. The fact that the government seems poised to make English the official language only demonstrates how both factions of power in US capitalism can only maintain their power and rule by appealing to and encouraging the most backwards and reactionary sentiments in the US population as a whole. With illiteracy in English at epic levels for a modern core capitalist state, with current estimates of adult illiteracy in American English as high as one in three American adults and comprising some 90 million people, it is unreasonable to believe that the capitalist class will concern itself overmuch with teaching anyone this national language of theirs. The key in all the hype concerning immigration and its impact on the economy and competition with native workers for the jobs is that this immigration legislation addresses none of that. The main focus of all this repressive legislation is the regulation of the flow of immigrant labor into and out of all sectors of the economy.

The bourgeoisie’s anti-immigrant hysteria legally began to take effect July 1st with a new law to crack down on all Medicare recipients. This measure called the Deficit Reduction Act was created by Republican and Democratic politicians and signed into law by President Bush, mandates that all Medicaid recipients produce a passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers or be denied coverage. This effects not only illegal immigrants who seek health care but it effects anyone who has no papers, the homeless, the mentally ill, victims of Hurricane Katrina flooding and others representing the most vulnerable layers of the working class.

Currently vigilantes of the so-called Minuteman Project are patrolling the Texas-Mexican border this year. The project started last year in Arizona where the ultra-right Minuteman group was officially blessed in its project by segments of the US government who supported this vigilante organization. According to US Border Patrol figures, 1,954 immigrant workers died attempting to cross the US border between 1998 and 2004. This figure only includes those immigrants who died on the US side of the border and whose bodies were found by the US border patrol. It is likely that the true number is at least twice as high as the official figure. The deaths are often due to heat stroke, dehydration or victims of murder by coyotes, immigrant smugglers or by reactionary property owners who believe they have the right to kill anyone who puts a foot on their property whether they are armed or unarmed. These deaths have been steadily increasing with each succeeding year bringing a new record of dead workers.

Racist elements would have people believe that the very character of the US was in danger from immigration. In fact the number of immigrants in the US peaked back in 1910 at about 14.7 percent of the US population. So that even today when there are 35.2 million immigrants in the US, this numbers only 12.1 percent of the population. There is an increase in the number of immigrants to the US but it is hardly at epic levels and is largely due to the fact that there is a corresponding surge world wide in the population of workers migrating to find work.

While capital itself enjoys the greatest freedom of movement possible, instantaneously and electronically, workers all over the world are seeing their freedom of movement increasingly curtailed everywhere. Ultimately the workers involved in this movement may come to see that no amount of flag waving is going to give them any rights or residency, that though they might think that they are also Americans, the real Americans are the capitalists, whose chosen politicians and bureaucrats use immigration “reform” legislation as a handle on a spigot so as to regulate the flow of immigrant labor into and out of the US.

This immigrant movement potentially could spark the deeper questioning among immigrant workers as they start to lose their naiveté about the nature of the US, that being workers, being nothing more than a source of hyper-exploited labor, they can have no country. While some native born workers may support the anti-immigrant legislation out of a media induced sense that they are competing with these immigrants, they cannot help but find out the hard way that with or without immigrants, the capitalists are out to destroy their very futures. The Democratic and Republican bourgeoisie will advance some form of further criminalization of the immigrant workers in the US regardless of the final shape and appearance of the legislation when it gets signed into law. Many workers realize this anti-immigrant legislation is a divisive political hype cooked up by a regime that is increasingly senile and steeped in its own collective neuroses. It is up to the working class itself to put a stop to this.

These workers facing the crossing of the border, facing vigilantes, brutal smugglers and border patrol agents have a right to defend themselves if they are attacked by these reactionary elements. They should organize their own humanitarian assistance and US born workers should help them in this task instead of allowing themselves to get fooled into believing in legal democratic electoral processes that only benefit the vicious reaction of senile capitalism.