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Workers Vanguard No. 1044

18 April 2014

Immigration “Reform” and Liberal Hypocrisy

Obama’s Deportation Machine

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

Any day now, the Obama administration will mark its success in carrying out two million deportations, far surpassing its predecessors in the White House. To be sure, there won’t be balloons or parades to mark this milestone, no black-tie White House ball featuring J. Lo, Rosario Dawson and Carlos Santana to burnish Barack Obama’s cred as a “friend” of Latinos. In its stead will be the trademark cultured duplicity that must make Obama’s Harvard Law professors proud. This talent was on display at a March 13 meeting with Latino Congressmen in which Obama told of his “deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.” This was uttered as outrage over the deportations and Obama’s unfulfilled promises to provide even minimal protection for undocumented immigrants won him the title of “deporter in chief” from Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza.

Three years ago, Obama offered the same share-your-pain blather in announcing that policy would be altered to focus on deporting those who committed “serious crimes.” In reality, of the 368,000 men, women and children deported last year, 152,000 had no criminal convictions. Among the third who qualified as felons were those convicted of such “serious” crimes as filing a false tax return or failing to appear in court as well as, of course, those caught up in the racist “war on drugs.” Under the 2005 Operation Streamline program adopted by the Republican Bush administration, attempts by deportees to re-enter the country to unite with their families are classified as felonies that can carry sentences of up to 20 years in federal prison. Such re-entry cases account for one-half of the growth in federal felony convictions since 1992.

One consequence of the anti-immigrant crackdown under Obama has been the augmenting of the mass incarceration that he and Attorney General Eric Holder have time and again announced their intention to alleviate. Dramatically highlighting the immigrant prisoners’ plight, hundreds of detainees at the Northwest Detention Center outside Tacoma, Washington, joined by detainees in Texas, have launched a series of hunger strikes protesting the deportations as well as their wretched conditions, including being forced to work for $1 per day. The Northwest Detention Center, operated by the private Geo Group company, is part of a nationwide network of prison facilities holding people marked for deportation.

As the London Guardian (10 April) reports, a Congressional directive known as the “bed mandate” requires that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) keep 34,000 detainees per day in custody. But, the article continues, “tighter border controls and a shaky economy have reduced illegal border crossings to their lowest level in decades,” leaving I.C.E. and the Border Patrol struggling to meet their quota. While the number of those attempting to enter the U.S. from Mexico without papers has indeed declined over the past several years, there has lately been a marked increase in people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras attempting to cross, including many children.

As a result of the quota, enforcement sweeps have ensnared people such as Washington State hunger striker Ramon Mendoza Pascual, a 37-year-old from Mexico who entered the U.S. 20 years ago without legal papers. A construction worker with three children, all of them U.S. citizens, Mendoza was arrested last year for driving under the influence of alcohol, even though he was found in a parked vehicle. The charge against him was dropped. Nevertheless, he was marked for deportation based on a prior DUI conviction.

On March 13, the White House announced that Homeland Security secretary Jeh C. Johnson will lead a review of the administration’s immigration enforcement policies to see if they can be done “more humanely within the confines of the law.” This pledge will have about the same effect as the Senate’s show of moral outrage over CIA torture techniques. Under capitalism, immigration law is fundamentally driven by the economic needs of bourgeois rulers. As described in the International Communist League’s “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998):

“Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction. Thus capitalism in ongoing fashion creates different strata among the workers, while simultaneously amalgamating the workers of many different lands.”

Many immigrants flee their homelands to escape grinding poverty and brutal repression resulting from imperialist plunder. We say that those who make it into this country are entitled to all the rights of anyone already here. Our demand is for full citizenship rights for all immigrants—from the right to vote to the right to a U.S. passport, as well as full access to medical care, bilingual education and what remains of the threadbare social “safety net.” No deportations! Free the detainees!

As Marxists, we do not seek to advise the bourgeoisie on an alternative immigration policy, which would mean accepting the constraints of a system based on exploitation and oppression. Our fight is to unite the working class, at the head of all the oppressed, in the struggle for a proletarian revolution to expropriate the bourgeoisie as a class and begin the socialist reconstruction of this society. In this effort, immigrant workers, who represent a living link to class and social struggles in their home countries, will be embraced as comrades.

The “Reform” Swindle

We would welcome any measure providing some actual relief from anti-immigrant oppression. But the various “reform” bills being hashed out in Congress offer no such amelioration, only a swindle. The centerpiece of these efforts is Senate Bill 744 (S. 744), Obama’s brainchild, which promises a “path to citizenship” that resembles a walkway through the eerie Black Forest of old fairy tales. Strewn with all but insurmountable legal and financial obstacles, the 13-year journey would offer the eleven million undocumented immigrants only a slim chance of a reprieve at the end of their ordeal.

With Obama boasting about his putting “more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history,” the bill mandates $40 billion for another 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 700 more miles of fencing along that border, promising yet more detentions and prosecutions of those crossing illegally. The effect would be to again shift the perilous routes taken by desperately impoverished Mexicans and Central Americans in crossing over, leading to ever more deaths from drowning, dehydration and exhaustion as well as killings by the Border Patrol.

Apologists for Obama’s Democrats sell his adoption of a good part of the racist Tea Party yahoos’ border control program as a bargaining chip in the game of bipartisan legislative “reform.” Last month, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi filed a “discharge petition” to force a vote on S. 744, which passed the Senate last June but has been squelched by the House Republican leadership. With no chance of success, Pelosi’s gambit was intended to reinforce the false image of the Democrats as immigrant-friendly by highlighting the overt racist xenophobia of their Republican opponents. Such lesser-evil politics worked well for the Democrats in 2012 when Obama, who stomped on the Latino masses (and not only them) in his first administration, nevertheless won 71 percent of their votes.

Now, having already taken a hit with the botched rollout of Obamacare, the Democrats see a need to cynically appeal to the growing, and in some places potentially decisive, Latino vote. But as anger over deportations mounts, the press reports that many pro-Democratic Party Latinos are planning to sit out the November Congressional elections. For their part, many in the Republican Party leadership express the need to further their electoral fortunes by spitting a bit less venom at immigrants. At the same time, Republican state governments have increasingly adopted anti-immigrant measures as well as “voter fraud” laws that would disproportionately strike at Latinos’ as well as black people’s voting rights.

A series of protests in dozens of cities across the country on April 5 highlighted the disillusionment among Latinos with Obama’s anti-immigrant policies. The protests had an all-in-the-family character focused on pressuring the president to live up to his promises. A central demand was the call on Obama to use his executive power to stop deportations. Some protest organizers have also demanded that the president extend more broadly the temporary reprieve from deportations given to “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before turning 16. To qualify, the Dreamers had to be either enrolled in school or serving in the military. In fact, in ramping up repression against immigrants, the current White House occupant is simply doing his job as the chief executive of capitalist America. Notably, Obama took office in the early stages of a deep recession, when the bourgeoisie’s need to bring in cheap labor had receded.

Calling on the president to defer some deportations, a New York Times (5 April) editorial titled “Yes He Can, on Immigration” essentially advised Obama to carry out elements of the stalled “reform” package by executive order. What many of the Dreamers have gotten is a taste of the American nightmare. For more than 40 percent of them, work permits did not lead to new jobs, and only 45 percent reported any pay increases. Many of these individuals lack a college degree or even a high school diploma. Even many of those with degrees were forced to work under the table because they lacked any job history. But Obama has made clear that even the tiny bit of redress given the Dreamers is off the table for others, saying that his “hands are tied” by his Republican Congressional adversaries.

Labor Must Champion Immigrant Rights

The central focus of current legislative proposals is on creating a large pool of completely vulnerable immigrants made to pay large sums of money for the privilege of working for a pittance with no job protection, no assured immigration status, no democratic rights and no right to any kind of welfare. While much of the ruling class wants to preserve the cheap and vulnerable immigrant labor pool, the better to depress wage levels for workers as a whole, the bourgeoisie’s more nativist wing rants that “American culture”—that is, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture—is being overrun by those from south of the border. In the first instance, they mean Mexico, which had one-half of its land, including Texas, stolen by the U.S. in the 19th century. Such raw bigotry allows Obama and the Democrats to dress themselves up as friends of immigrants.

With an eye toward sharpening U.S. corporations’ competitive edge in the world market, the ruling class broadly agrees on the need to vastly expand the number of visas for technical professions. Silicon Valley and engineering firms in particular are clamoring for skilled personnel they cannot recruit domestically due largely to the woeful state of U.S. science and math education. Meanwhile, agribusiness conglomerates are up in arms over the government’s failure to expand “guest worker” programs, thus cutting off a source of viciously exploited labor and leaving their fruits literally dying on the vine. As noted recently by the New York Times in the article “California Farmers Short of Labor, and Patience” (29 March), many in this dyed-in-the-wool Republican constituency are considering dropping their financial support to the party due to the Republicans’ insistence on expelling the immigrant farm workforce and preventing more youthful immigrants from taking their place.

A report issued by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform decries that labor shortages prevent U.S. farmers from increasing production, hampering their ability to compete on the world market. The report attributes a yearly loss of $1.4 billion in farm income to lack of labor. Liberal talking heads ritually couch their support to legislation allowing immigrant farm workers to slave away here legally by claiming that these are jobs that nobody born in the U.S. will do. The reality is that this is skilled labor, which, while paid next to nothing, is not easily replaced.

While some unions, particularly in the service sector, have a large immigrant component, the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy mainly sees foreign-born workers as a threat to remaining union jobs. Last spring, the labor tops and the Chamber of Commerce helped pave the way for the Senate bill by working out a program that pegs the number of visas to employment needs, up to a maximum of 200,000 annually. The heavily immigrant Service Employees International Union, the mainstay of the Change to Win trade-union federation, similarly calls for regulating work visas in line with “the needs of our economy.” AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka has also embraced the E-Verify program, a database of everyone legally permitted to work in the U.S. that has facilitated the mass firings of immigrants, including workers engaged in union organizing drives.

From the meatpacking plants and warehouses to construction and the fruit and vegetable farms, organizing foreign-born workers will be a crucial part of reviving the unions after decades of the capitalists’ one-sided war against labor. As we wrote 40 years ago in “Immigration and the Class Struggle” (WV No. 41, 29 March 1974):

“It is in the interests of the working class to back the fight of undocumented workers for their rights, because undocumented workers will otherwise continue to be used as a weapon against the rest of the working class. Those in desperate, illegal situations are more difficult to organize and must accept lower wages. Unfortunately, labor does not always see its real interests so clearly. It is led today by bureaucrats who not only accept, but actively enforce, the capitalist ‘rules of the game’ in which unemployment and high profits are automatically accepted as natural....

“In fact, as long as the labor movement accepts unemployment it will remain divided against itself. Instead of fighting for more jobs it will fight against those it sees as threatening the jobs it has. And the bosses will use this fight quite skillfully against the working class, breaking strikes and pushing down wages. The solution to the problems of both U.S.-born and immigrant workers lies in overthrowing the system which creates unemployment and perpetuates poverty.”

As with the fight against black oppression, which is embedded in American capitalism, the working class must actively combat the bosses’ efforts to pit the native-born against the foreign-born—a divide-and-rule tactic they have used since before the Civil War. The labor movement must fight every instance of wage and other discrimination against immigrants, oppose deportations and undertake concerted action to organize immigrant workers into the unions with full rights. Such struggles would go a long way toward promoting the understanding that the multiracial, multiethnic proletariat has distinct class interests—counterposed to those of the racist, chauvinist capitalist rulers—that must be politically expressed through their own class party, a revolutionary workers party that fights for workers power.


Workers Vanguard No. 1044

WV 1044

18 April 2014


Immigration “Reform” and Liberal Hypocrisy

Obama’s Deportation Machine

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!


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