Workers Vanguard No. 1082
29 January 2016
Down With Obamas Deportations!
Central American Refugees: Let Them Stay!
Once again, the nativist, anti-immigrant rants spewed by the leading Republican presidential hopefuls all but assure a massive Latino vote in November for the Democrats, the “lesser evil” party of racist U.S. imperialism. Barack Obama first waltzed into the White House with the heavy backing of Latino voters in 2008, having promised a “path” to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. But that path was marked with a giant exit sign.
With a record-breaking 2.5 million deportations already during Obama’s presidency, the administration rang in its last year in office by ordering a series of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) raids over New Year’s weekend in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. Those targeted had mainly fled extreme violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Scores were deported, dozens were dragged into federal detention centers, and thousands more were left terrified that they would be next.
Obama has, in effect, issued a death warrant for many of the refugees, mainly women and children, being expelled. Since their story first grabbed headlines in 2014, when an estimated 100,000 Central American refugees crossed the border, at least 83 people have been killed after being sent back. The same conditions of desperate poverty and violence—a hell created and reinforced by over a century of U.S. imperialist subjugation—led to a new spike in border crossings by Central Americans in late 2015. The homicide rate in El Salvador swelled by 70 percent last year, surpassing that of Honduras as the world’s highest for a country not in the midst of war. Women are particularly compelled to flee, subject to terror, rape and extortion by gangs and military thugs.
The “choice” for the millions of undocumented immigrants who risk their lives to set foot in this country is either to hide in the shadows or to languish in shoddy, overcrowded I.C.E. dungeons. The immigration detention facilities strewn across the country, including for-profit prisons, are mandated by Congress to fill a daily “bed quota” of 34,000. They are notorious for violence and mistreatment, including insufficient food and water. In late October, dozens of Central American women went on hunger strike in a Texas facility to protest the brutal conditions and to demand their immediate release.
Last summer, a federal judge ordered the swift release of children and their parents from family detention centers, noting their “deplorable conditions.” The government has appealed that order while continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to detain families. With no access to government-provided legal counsel, non-citizens caught in this prison web rely on volunteer attorneys and immigrant advocacy groups for information on appeals and asylum claims. After exposing procedural violations, abuse or inadequate medical care inside detention centers, some lawyers and activists report being prohibited from meeting with their clients.
The current roundups and deportations are the latest anti-immigrant attacks by the capitalist rulers, which have helped feed a general assault on the wages and living conditions of all working people. The bosses fan the flames of anti-immigrant chauvinism and racial hostility to pit workers against each other, the better to divide and weaken the labor movement. It is of vital interest for labor and all fighters against exploitation and oppression to demand: No deportations! Free all the detainees! For full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Everyone who makes it into this country should have all the rights of those born here.
Fleeing U.S.-Made Hellholes
The recent raids struck fear into Latino families from coast to coast. Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats, like Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, expressed anger about the raids, which the White House defended as a way to deter further waves of refugees. Gutierrez & Co. complained that they were not consulted ahead of time, clearly concerned that the Democrats’ “friend of immigrants” image may be fading. Just hours before Obama’s State of the Union speech, some 140 Congressional Democrats issued a statement criticizing the roundups as “ineffective” and suggesting a more “humane” policy in line with “time-honored American values.”
Those “values” are defined by the capitalist rulers’ drive to further amass profit through their system of exploitation and oppression, turning the screws on workers and the oppressed at home and carrying out imperialist plunder abroad. U.S. subjugation of its Latin American “backyard” is part of a world imperialist order in which a handful of advanced capitalist countries dominate and exploit the more backward ones, in turn spurring mass emigration. In Central America, the miserable poverty of the masses—the backdrop to the murderous gang wars—is the product of imperialist depredation. The corrupt local bourgeoisies preside over this brutal system, viciously suppressing the working class and peasantry. As we spelled out in a fuller article on Central American refugees (WV No. 1050, 8 August 2014), the social fabric of these countries was ripped apart by the dirty wars of the 1980s against leftist insurgents and by the increased militarization that accompanied the “war on drugs.” Added to that toll is the economic ruin brought about by the U.S.-imposed Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced a “resettlement” program for Central American asylum seekers that would set up processing centers run by the United Nations in nearby Latin American countries—a way for the U.S. to keep the refugees out. Equally cynical was a December 2014 White House initiative that encouraged Central American children to apply in their home countries for refugee status. Out of the more than 6,000 minors who applied, exactly five arrived in the U.S. last year. The U.S. has bolstered the Mexican government in its own crackdown on Central Americans trying to reach El Norte by giving it tens of millions of dollars. Of the estimated 400,000 Central Americans crossing into Mexico annually, the Mexican state arrested almost 93,000 between October 2014 and April 2015.
Many have set their hopes on Obama’s November 2014 executive order that professes to give over four million undocumented immigrants temporary reprieve from deportation and a chance at work permits. While the prospect of some of the undocumented not being deported would be welcome, the measure would apply only to those in the country at least five years and to parents of U.S. citizens. It would require immigrants to register with the government, pass background checks and pay exorbitant fees for a shot at three years of legal status. Even if they get this, they would have no job protections or government benefits. Nevertheless, the proposal was too much for GOP governors, who got a federal judge to block the plan. The issue will now be decided by the Supreme Court.
Major sections of the bourgeoisie have long demanded that Washington put some order into what they see as a dysfunctional immigration system. Obama’s “reforms” and serial waves of deportations both serve that aim. At the same time, policy differences in the bourgeois parties at bottom reflect the needs of different sectors of the ruling class, some of whom are more dependent on exploiting immigrant labor than others. Nonetheless, both Democratic and Republican administrations have instituted greater border controls and enforced restrictions on immigrants’ rights.
The rulers’ policies are mainly but not solely designed to maintain a pool of low-wage labor, with immigrants kept in constant fear that any challenge to their exploitation will bring I.C.E. agents to their doors. More broadly, anti-immigrant campaigns strengthen the repressive powers of the capitalist state, which are especially used against black people and other minorities as well as to suppress working-class struggle. Repression against immigrants (especially Muslims) in the name of the “war on terror” has served as the leading edge in an assault against the democratic rights of the mass of the population, helping also to inflame national chauvinism and ethnic hatred.
The Lesser-Evil Con
The Democratic Party has for years banked on the fears among black people, women and others of what a victory for the nakedly racist, reactionary Republicans might unleash. Against the likes of the egomaniacal demagogue Donald Trump, even Marco Rubio, a darling of anti-Communist gusanos, has been under fire from his Republican competitors for his “soft” immigration posture because he once supported a “path to citizenship” for some undocumented immigrants. In addition to Trump’s smearing of Mexicans as rapists and murderers and his calling for all Muslims to be barred from entering the U.S., both he and Ted Cruz are pandering to the yahoos by saying they would deport all eleven million undocumented immigrants.
As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who established her credentials as a future Commander-in-Chief in her years as Secretary of State, backed Obama’s earlier expulsion of refugees but now claims she won’t be the next “deporter in chief” if elected president. Bernie Sanders, who has a long record of support to U.S. imperialist wars and occupations, clucked his tongue over Obama’s “inhumane” approach to the Central American refugee crisis. Say what they will on the campaign trail, “deporter in chief” will be in the job description of whoever makes it to the White House. Regulating the flow of immigrant labor is one of the tasks of the CEO of U.S. capitalism.
Toward the end of the widely reviled Bush administration, massive demonstrations in 2006 for immigrant rights gained nationwide attention. The bourgeois politicians, church officials and labor officials who led the protests consciously directed them into Democratic Party electoralism, with the common chant, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”
In a January 6 statement, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka criticizes the I.C.E. roundups and offers that union halls might become temporary sanctuaries for refugees, at least until “full and fair legal proceedings” take place. Pious words from a union officialdom that has barely lifted a finger to defend immigrants. The labor movement should be opposing all deportations and launching organizing drives to bring immigrant workers, with or without papers, into the unions. Such a struggle, which is necessary to revitalize the unions in this country, is undermined by the labor tops’ loyalty to the capitalist Democratic Party and their embrace of the “national interests” of U.S. imperialism. Unlocking the social power of the working class—with white, black, Latino and other workers fighting together against their common capitalist enemy—requires a struggle for a new leadership of labor, one based on the political independence of the workers from all capitalist parties and state agencies.
As Marxists, our task is not to advise the bourgeoisie on alternative immigration policy, which would necessarily mean accepting the parameters of a system predicated on exploitation and oppression. Our call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants is part of the struggle to advance the class consciousness and solidarity of the multiracial working class. The workers need their own party, one that will link the defense of immigrants to the cause of black freedom and the fight for labor’s emancipation from wage slavery. Such a party is necessary to prepare the working class for the revolutionary battle to end capitalist-imperialist rule and build a planned economy under a workers government.
Socialist revolution is the necessary precondition to the economic reorganization of human society through freeing the productive forces from the fetter of private ownership. Immigrant workers are slated to play a crucial role in this fight. As we wrote in the 2000 Programmatic Statement of the Spartacist League/U.S.:
“The vast numbers of immigrant workers now toiling in U.S. factories can be a powerful leaven to the class struggle here, as many of them come from countries with stronger traditions of labor militancy and anti-capitalist struggle. Likewise, these workers are a natural pool for recruitment to the revolutionary party and such recruits can constitute a nucleus for organizing Trotskyist parties in their native lands. For socialist revolution from the Yukon to the Yucatán and throughout the Americas!”