Workers Vanguard No. 1050
8 August 2014
Children Flee U.S.-Made Hellholes
Central American Refugees: Let Them Stay!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
From last October through June, the Border Patrol seized over 57,000 unaccompanied children along the U.S. border with Mexico, more than double the total for the previous 12 months. This surge is the continuation of a three-year trend in migration of youth, overwhelmingly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The horrific violence and grinding poverty that these refugees are fleeing are the direct result of U.S. imperialist domination of Central America. The social fabric of countries there has been ripped apart in recent decades, by everything from the U.S.-engineered dirty wars of the 1980s to the increased militarization in the name of the “war on drugs” and the economic ruination brought about by U.S.-imposed “free trade” agreements.
The exposure in June of immigrant youth packed like sardines in overflowing detention facilities reignited the political debate over immigration “reform.” Republicans and right-wing media pundits took the opportunity to attack Obama for being “soft” on immigration. A reactionary frenzy was whipped up in various border cities, most dramatically in Murrieta, California, where a mob that included Minutemen types and neo-Nazis blocked busloads of immigrants and spewed anti-immigrant vitriol. Several towns and counties have adopted or are weighing resolutions barring emergency housing of immigrants.
President Obama has emphasized that the thousands of child refugees won’t be able to remain in the country. In a June 27 interview, he scolded the parents: “Do not send your children to the borders,” adding, “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.” The “Deporter in Chief”—who has set a record by deporting over two million immigrants during his presidency—appealed to Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency aid, most of which is intended to strengthen border control and speed up deportations.
To this end, Obama is set on amending a 2008 anti-child-trafficking act signed by George W. Bush. This law allows children from Mexico to be expelled immediately, but requires children from non-bordering countries like those of Central America to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services. They are then supposed to be given an immigration hearing or be released to relatives in the U.S. Now the White House wants to grant the Border Patrol the power to throw these children out of the country as quickly as possible without access to legal counsel.
In mid July, the president had nearly 100 women and children deported to the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, the murder capital of the world. Since the U.S.-backed military overthrow of the Honduran bourgeois-populist Manuel Zelaya in 2009, the country has endured the world’s highest murder rate. (El Salvador and Guatemala also consistently rank in the top five.) In the first half of this year, there were 3,000 murders in Honduras, a country of only eight million people, approximately the population of New York City.
Desperate parents, facing what they see as near-certain death for their children at the hands of either criminal gangs or the vicious police and military, do anything they can to enable their kids to escape. Children are sent on the perilous journey to El Norte, sometimes on their own (many hoping to reunite with parents or other relatives already living in the U.S.). Once in the U.S., large numbers of these young refugees seek permanent residency by applying for asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile status based on the very real fear of being killed at home. Pursuing asylum involves a tortuous process, and there is no guarantee that it will be granted. For example, gang-related violence and sexual abuse are not considered grounds for asylum.
The Central American refugees should be freed from detention immediately and allowed to stay, whether by being granted asylum or through any other means. The very same U.S. capitalist rulers who plunder Central America turn the screws on workers and the oppressed at home. Defense of immigrants is of vital interest for the labor movement and all fighters against racist discrimination. Everyone who makes it into this country, no matter their age or reason, should be entitled to all the rights of those born here. Our demand is for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, including the right to a U.S. passport and free education. No deportations! Free all the detainees!
U.S. Imperialism’s “Backyard”
The U.S. capitalist rulers have long considered Latin America their own backyard. During the first three decades of the 20th century, U.S. troops intervened in Central American and Caribbean countries on nearly 20 occasions. In the military’s baggage train rode the representatives of giant U.S. corporations, such as the United Fruit Company. In Guatemala, Honduras and other countries derisively referred to as “banana republics,” United Fruit’s will was law. In Guatemala, Washington engineered the 1954 overthrow of bourgeois-populist president Jacobo Arbenz, who had attempted to nationalize some of United Fruit’s land and implement other reforms.
During the 1980s, the U.S. financed, trained and gave intelligence to murderous death squad regimes throughout Central America, which targeted leftists, trade-union and peasant leaders and others. The dirty wars were part of the imperialist Cold War II drive for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, a degenerated workers state, and for rolling back the gains of the Cuban Revolution, viewing leftist insurgents as Soviet and Cuban proxies. In the U.S., the anti-Soviet war drive found domestic reflection in the escalation of attacks on the unions and black people.
In Guatemala, some 200,000 people—mostly Mayan peasants—were killed and another 45,000 “disappeared” over the course of more than three decades of armed conflict. Honduras was a staging ground for the U.S.-backed contra counterrevolutionaries who sought the bloody overthrow of Nicaragua’s left-nationalist Sandinista government. The U.S. also enlisted the Honduran military in its efforts to smash the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—a large left-wing guerrilla insurgency that fought against the U.S.-backed military junta in El Salvador.
The tide of migration to the U.S. from Central America dates back to the dirty wars. At the time, thousands of Salvadorans seeking refuge in the U.S. were deported back to the clutches of the execution squads. We demanded asylum for all those fleeing right-wing terror. In contrast to refugees escaping the bloody horror of U.S.-backed regimes, Washington has always welcomed into the country the scum of the earth, not least Cuban counterrevolutionary gusanos.
Further upsurges in migration to the U.S. followed the imposition of NAFTA on Mexico in 1994 and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) a decade later, each of which caused the economic dislocation of millions. Earlier, the International Monetary Fund and other imperialist agencies had dictated “debt restructuring” programs that axed agricultural subsidies as well as social welfare programs. NAFTA and CAFTA drove even more peasants off the land and into urban squalor by removing protections against U.S.-produced corn and beans, the mainstays of the diet of the poor and the key staples grown by peasants. This misery was exacerbated by the 2008 global economic crisis touched off by U.S. finance capital, which led to mass layoffs in the maquiladora factories as demand for consumer goods dried up.
From the beginning, we opposed the NAFTA “free trade” rape of Mexico and its CAFTA equivalent because they loot the economies of the semicolonial countries, increasing the stranglehold of the U.S. overlords. This proletarian internationalist perspective is in sharp contrast to the national chauvinist standpoint of the AFL-CIO union bureaucracy, which denounced NAFTA for supposedly threatening American jobs.
In Honduras, the conditions for workers and the urban and rural poor have significantly worsened since the Zelaya regime was toppled. Murder is through the roof, gangs are running rampant and spending on public housing, health and education has been slashed. Elected president in 2005, the wealthy landowner Zelaya adopted some palliative measures to head off social unrest and moved to align the country with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. These steps infuriated the U.S. and a large sector of the Honduran bourgeoisie, which succeeded in ousting him in the 2009 coup. The Obama administration has fully supported the post-coup regimes and continues to pour funds into the Honduran police and military.
Down With the “War on Drugs”!
In a July 25 meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to address the child refugee crisis, President Obama praised the efforts of his Central American counterparts to stem the flow of migrants but urged them to do more. Since 2008, Washington has dramatically increased aid and training for law enforcement in those countries under the banner of the “war on drugs.”
Both the anti-drug war and the “war on gangs” are pretexts for the broad militarization of the region. This crackdown has heightened the violence and intensified repression against the working class and the urban and rural poor. In the bulk of countries where the government is purportedly fighting narcoviolencia, the entire state apparatus is thoroughly interpenetrated with the drug cartels, with everyone from politicians to cops up to their necks in the booming drug trade.
We Marxists are opposed to the “war on drugs,” which is a cover for imperialist military intervention across Latin America and has meant the sowing of murderous terror in poor neighborhoods and rural districts throughout the region. In the U.S., the “war on drugs” has for decades fueled the mass incarceration of black people and, increasingly, Latinos and immigrants. Likewise, the “war on gangs” further criminalizes poor and working-class youth and adds to the capitalist state’s repressive powers.
In Central America, the massive influx of ruined peasants to the cities has created fertile ground for the rise of the “informal economy.” With their traditional livelihoods destroyed by imperialist “free trade,” many people in Latin America have few ways of making a living other than cultivating, selling and transporting drugs or emigrating. We call for the decriminalization of drugs and for all U.S. military forces and bases out of Latin America and the Caribbean. By removing the superprofits that come with the illegal drug trade, decriminalization would also reduce crime and violence.
Seeking to capitalize on sympathy for the child refugees, some Democrats are again playing the “friend of immigrants” card in advance of the midterm elections. And liberals have been busy pressuring Obama to bypass Congress and issue an executive order to implement immigration “reform.” We would welcome any measure that actually grants some rights or legal protections to immigrants. But nothing the administration has put on the table would actually ameliorate their plight.
Bipartisan reform proposals backed by the White House have aimed to create a completely vulnerable layer of the population 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. This purpose is in line with the interests of a section of the American bourgeoisie that wants to preserve a cheap and defenseless immigrant labor pool—the better to sow divisions in the working class. The bourgeoisie’s more nativist wing rails against illegal “invaders” and “criminals” crossing the border, painting immigrants as a burden on the labor market, housing and health care.
Both sides agree on strengthening enforcement. The expansion of Border Patrol infrastructure and militarization of la frontera have proceeded under the current administration at an unprecedented rate, forcing immigrants to seek ever more dangerous routes into the country. Since 2010, border agents have killed at least 28 immigrants. In 2012, a 16-year-old Mexican boy was shot eight times in the back and killed by U.S. border guards who claim he was “throwing rocks” while walking in Nogales on the Mexican side of the border. If caught by the Feds, immigrants are hauled off to facilities marked by wretched conditions. Hundreds of detainees at the Northwest Detention Center outside Tacoma, Washington, have carried out a series of hunger strikes this year, protesting deportations as well as their dire situation, which includes being forced into virtual slave labor.
Immigrants are not just victims but form a key and vibrant component of the U.S. working class. Workers must combat the poisonous attempts of the bosses to pit those born in the U.S. against immigrants, many of whom fill some of the most dangerous and undesirable jobs. Organizing these workers into the unions is crucial to the revitalization of the labor movement. The starting point in the fight against the exploitation of workers and oppression of immigrants, as well as against anti-black racism, is recognizing that the workers and the capitalists do not share a common “national interest.” The working class can only better its position by allying with the oppressed in class struggle against its “own” ruling class. Such a perspective is anathema to the union bureaucracy, which is ever loyal to capitalism and its political representatives, especially the Democrats.
What we need is workers revolution to replace the crisis-ridden capitalist profit system with a planned, socialized economy on an international scale. Only socialist revolution can put an end to the growing immiseration of the toiling masses—both in dependent capitalist countries like Mexico and Honduras and in the imperialist centers. When the working class runs society, basic necessities like housing, health care and jobs will not be something people have to desperately risk their lives for. The violence, poverty and misery endemic to the imperialist order will be a mere chapter of the past.