Workers Vanguard No. 1063
6 March 2015
Obama, Congress Squabble Over Immigration Reform Scam
No Deportations! Full Citizenship Rights!
While the vast majority of undocumented immigrants continue to live in misery under an ever-present threat of imprisonment and deportation, the White House and prominent Republicans are wrangling over the executive actions on immigration policy announced in November by the president. In the latest scene in Washington’s political theater, Congressional Republicans have blustered about cutting off funding to the entire Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to spike Obama’s proposal to provide more immigrants temporary relief from deportation. But the government was never about to disrupt the core activities of the DHS, which include securing the borders and enforcing the customs and immigration laws. With both sides agreeing on the need to put immigrants fully under the thumb of the capitalist state, the debate is over the best mix of repression and exploitation to advance the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole.
Deporter-in-Chief Barack Obama has done his part to terrorize immigrants, having overseen the deportation of over two million people, more than any other president. The White House brags that there are 3,000 additional border agents patrolling the Southwest today compared to 2008, with border fencing and surveillance systems having doubled over the same period. Obama’s executive actions seek to further beef up border security. Meanwhile, the president has requested additional funding to confine more immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers than the daily quota of 34,000 mandated by Congress.
Last summer, after the arrival of thousands upon thousands fleeing horrific violence and grinding poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, ICE revived its policy of locking up women and children seeking asylum. The horrendous conditions in those countries are largely the result of decades of U.S. imperialist depredations and violence fueled by Washington’s “war on drugs.” The number of refugees from Central America has dropped off recently, with Washington leaning heavily on the Mexican government to crack down on migrants inside its borders. Under the pretext of fast-tracking the immigration cases of the Central American refugees, thousands of others have had their hearings postponed until 2019. They are now in limbo—unable to visit their families abroad or obtain work permits and green cards—with the delays increasing the likelihood of eventual deportation. We say: Free all the detainees! No deportations!
DHS chief Jeh Johnson upholds the wholesale detention of women and children as an “effective deterrent” to new immigration, the revived ICE policy that was struck down by a federal judge on February 20. The Obama administration has not yet stated whether it will appeal, but its appetites were made clear by its budget request for next year: hundreds of millions more for adult and family detention beds as well as for “intensive supervision or electronic monitoring” of those not detained.
In addition to those locked up in detention centers, some 25,000 immigrants are incarcerated in privately run Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons. The plight of these prisoners was captured in a June 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union titled “Warehoused and Forgotten.” On February 20, up to 2,000 immigrants took over one such prison camp, Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, Texas, to protest their deplorable medical care. This was the third mass protest by prisoners at that facility since 2012. After parts of the prison were damaged and the uprising suppressed, the Feds declared the prison to be “uninhabitable” and began transferring inmates to other, as yet undisclosed, locations.
In truth, the prison camp, known locally as “Ritmo” (a combination of Raymondville and Gitmo, the nickname for U.S. imperialism’s Guantánamo Bay torture center) was never habitable. The men were crammed into ten overcrowded and squalid tents; the showers and often-overflowing toilets were in the open with no partitions. Prisoners with serious illness or injury complained of only receiving Tylenol or ibuprofen as treatment. One prisoner interviewed by the ACLU suffered from hepatitis that had been left untreated. For running this hellhole for a decade, its operating company, Management & Training Corporation, was awarded $532 million by the federal government.
Most of the inmates in Willacy and the twelve other for-profit CAR prisons are locked up for the supposed crime of illegal entry or re-entry into the U.S. In the past, unlawful entry was treated as a civil offense punished only by deportation, but in recent years many immigrants are tossed into CAR prisons, some sentenced for up to 20 years. Between 1998 and 2012, the number of people entering federal prisons for immigration offenses soared from under 10,000 to over 23,000. More people are sent to federal prison each year for immigration offenses than for all else, except for drug convictions. Categorizing unauthorized entry into the country as a crime also boosts the claims of la migra that most of the people they deport are criminals; for many their only “crime” is seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., making up more than 5 percent of the total labor force. These workers are concentrated in domestic services, construction and agriculture—nearly half of farm laborers are undocumented. The roundup and deportation of immigrants threatens all labor by attacking its most vulnerable sections. Organizing immigrant workers and defending immigrant rights are crucial to revitalizing the labor movement.
The unions should champion full citizenship rights for everyone living in this country, that is, everything from the right to vote to the right to a U.S. passport, as well as access to medical care, bilingual education and what remains of the threadbare social “safety net.” Such a fight would cut across the efforts of the capitalist exploiters to sow divisions within the working class and go a long way toward solidifying the unity of workers, both native-born and immigrant.
Obama’s Immigration Reform Scam
Obama’s November executive actions would allow undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old, as well as parents of American citizens, to apply for permission to stay in the U.S. for three years. The prospect of up to 4.9 million people being able to avoid deportation, however briefly, is welcome. But the proposals, on top of offering only temporary relief and no real path to citizenship, are full of loopholes and caveats. Applicants have to come up with $465 for a fee, gather documentation proving they have lived in the U.S. since 2010, and pass a background check. Anyone convicted of a felony or one “significant misdemeanor” or three lesser misdemeanors would be ineligible. Keep in mind that entering the country without inspection is classed a federal misdemeanor and that re-entry after deportation is a felony.
Having to declare their “illegal” status to the racist capitalist government will surely deter many potential applicants, as was the case under the 2012 Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals. Over its first two years, barely half of those eligible applied under that program. Even if they are allowed to stay and pay taxes, immigrants will remain barred from Obamacare, food stamps and other government benefits. Moreover, there is no guarantee that permission to stay would be renewed in three years. Not to mention that the government may well use the information it has collected to expedite deportations.
The section of the bourgeoisie that rants about “American culture”—that is, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture—being overrun by those from south of the border, was outraged by Obama’s executive actions. A lawsuit by Texas and 25 other states resulted in a federal court ruling that blocked implementation of Obama’s plan, though the administration has filed an appeal. The raw bigotry of right-wing Republicans allows Obama and the Democrats to dress themselves up as friends of immigrants.
But the Democratic Party, no less than the Republicans, is a capitalist party. Both parties seek to regulate immigration in accordance with the fluctuating labor needs of the capitalists, even if at the moment they disagree on the particulars. Indeed, Obama’s “reform” is intended to benefit a particular section of the U.S. capitalist class by ensuring a large pool of vulnerable immigrants who can be made to work for a pittance with no job protection, no assured immigration status and no democratic rights. In response to a clamor from tech companies and manufacturers, Obama also wants to make available more “guest workers” with particular skills, at substantially lower wages.
As ever, the trade-union bureaucracy plays an important role in disguising the nature of the Democrats as a party of the class enemy. Trumpeting Obama’s executive actions as “a major victory,” the leadership of the heavily immigrant Service Employees International Union (SEIU) warned Congressional leaders that working people “will hold them accountable in the streets and at the ballot box in 2016.” For the SEIU tops, every maneuver by the Republicans is another excuse to get out the vote for the Democrats.
Similarly effusive was AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who hailed the administration for advancing “the moral and economic interests of our country.” Such statements, typical of a union officialdom that is ever loyal to capitalism, are designed to obscure the fact that the economic interests of the country’s filthy rich owners of industry and commerce are directly counterposed to those of the workers they exploit to amass their profits. While expressing a “concern” over the planned expansion of guest worker programs, Trumka went on to offer the services of the AFL-CIO bureaucrats to help “ensure that new workers will be hired based on real labor market need,” that is, to help control the flow of labor to maximize profit.
The working class can better its position, including that of its immigrant component, only by waging class struggle against the capitalist rulers. Such a perspective, which must entail an unwavering commitment to the fight against black oppression and attacks on immigrants, is anathema to the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy. What is needed is a new, class-struggle leadership of the unions.
Our aim is to unite the working class, at the head of all the oppressed, in the struggle for proletarian revolution to expropriate the bourgeoisie as a class and begin the socialist reconstruction of society. Our model is the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which for the first time in history placed the working class in power. Among the early acts of the fledgling workers state was to grant full rights to immigrant workers, as laid out in its 1918 constitution: “Acting on the principle of the solidarity of the toilers of all nations, the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic grants all political rights enjoyed by Russian citizens to foreigners resident within the territory of the Russian Republic provided they belong to the working class or to the peasantry not using hired labor.”
In the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, we fight for workers revolution across the globe: in the U.S. and other imperialist centers as well as in the dependent countries in Latin America and elsewhere. To succeed in that end, the working class requires the leadership of a revolutionary workers party. Such parties must be built in each country as sections of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International—the world party of socialist revolution.