Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
In 2008, Barack Obama rode into the White House backed by close to 70 percent of Latino voters, with his promises to open a “pathway to citizenship” for the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. greeted with chants of “Sí, se puede!” But the biggest “pathway” opened was the road out of the country. Some 1.2 million immigrants have been rounded up and deported since Obama took office, the highest rate of deportation in more than half a century.
The Obama administration has vastly expanded the Bush-initiated “Secure Communities” program, which mandates that local police forces send the fingerprints of those jailed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to check their immigration status. The overwhelming majority of people ensnared in this racist dragnet—more than 90 percent of whom are Latino, and most with no criminal record—are thrown into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) detention dungeons and then run out of the country. In over 8,000 workplaces nationwide, I.C.E. “desktop raids” involving audits of employee Social Security numbers have driven tens of thousands of immigrant workers from their jobs.
Small wonder, then, that Obama’s “change you can believe in” charade isn’t getting the mileage it did in 2008 as this year’s presidential election approaches. Instead of knocking on doors trying to get out the vote for the Democrats, Latino youth began occupying Obama campaign offices in early June. A sign on the office door in Oakland read: “Closed Due to Deportations.” Liberal Democrats and Latino community leaders urged Obama to make some gesture to secure the Latino vote. On June 15, the president announced a two-year deportation “reprieve” for undocumented immigrants between the ages of 16 and 30 who have lived in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years.
With consummate cynicism and the usual dose of red-white-and-blue rhetoric, Obama intoned that these youth “are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one—on paper.” But a possible two-year work permit notwithstanding, he made clear that no “papers” were on offer, proclaiming: “This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship.” To even be considered, one has to register as an “illegal,” have no criminal record and have graduated high school or served in the military. Even then, there is no guarantee and no right of appeal if rejected. But once you register, the state will have the information needed to track you down for possible deportation.
“This is the Barack Obama we voted for,” enthused Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Indeed, it is. Running neck and neck in the polls with Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Obama is trying to refurbish the less-than-threadbare image of the Democratic Party as a friend of labor, blacks and immigrants. This con job has long served as a key prop in preserving the rule of racist American capitalism. The purpose is to sucker the working class and minorities into believing that they have a stake in the electoral outcome between two parties that equally represent a system based on the exploitation of labor and rooted in vicious racial oppression.
In the current contest, the Democrats are playing on very real fears that a Republican victory will unleash the dyed-in-the-wool racists, union-busters, Tea Party yahoos, women- and gay-hating Christian fundamentalists and other reactionary lunatics who populate the party asylum. But while there may be a difference in what they say and how they say it, any policy differences between the Republicans and Democrats boil down to how best to enforce the rule of U.S. imperialist capitalism. In fact, under Obama’s watch the rate of immigration into the U.S. has fallen sharply. As the Pew Research Center reported in April, this drop-off is due not only to the ongoing economic crisis, which has dried up jobs, but also to “heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings” and conditions in Mexico.
Fanning the flames for a racist witchhunt, Republican state governments from Arizona to Mississippi and Alabama have enacted laws empowering cops to question and detain anyone suspected of being “foreign” and forcing schools to track the immigration status of students. While the Obama administration sanctimoniously intones that the U.S. is a country of immigrants, the suit brought by the Justice Department against Arizona’s SB1070 statute was based not on upholding basic democratic rights but rather on the primacy of federal over state law in policing immigration. In ruling on this suit ten days after Obama’s “reprieve” announcement, the Supreme Court struck down several provisions of SB1070 but upheld its central apartheid-style mandate that local and state police determine the status of anyone they think might be an “illegal” immigrant.
While Obama pontificated that “no American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” such racial profiling is the foundation of the “Secure Communities” program. His administration has declared it mandatory for all states despite opposition from several city and state governments, which are mainly concerned that the program discourages immigrants from cooperating with the cops in their “anti-gang” roundups in the barrios and ghettos. Officials in some depressed cities are also trying to woo immigrants to repopulate their decaying urban centers and help refill tax coffers. At the same time, the racial profiling of black people, brown-skinned people of Near Eastern descent and other minorities is a daily reality in cities across the country under the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror,” which have been avidly pursued by the Obama White House.
The Dream Act and “Immigration Reform”
Many commentators described the policy directive announced by Obama as “Dream Act lite.” Although shot down by Republicans in Congress in 2010, the Dream Act would have allowed immigrant youth to petition for permanent residency in the U.S. after completing two years of college or military service. The Dream Act’s main beneficiary would have been the military, as the ability of most of these largely impoverished youth to pay tuition fees is little to none.
In fact, the Pentagon was salivating over the possibility of hundreds of thousands of new recruits, press-ganged into serving as enforcers of U.S. imperialism’s occupations, military adventures and other depredations against the peoples of the world. As revolutionary opponents of imperialist militarism, the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs opposed the Dream Act. We say: Not one man or woman, not one penny for the imperialist military! For full citizenship rights for all immigrants! We also fight for free higher education for all—native-born and immigrant, documented or not.
Mass migration from the neocolonial world is caused above all by the economic plundering as well as military devastation of those countries by the U.S. and other imperialist powers. The capitalist-imperialist rulers see in immigrant workers a pool of labor to be brutally exploited and deprived of the most fundamental rights. Historically, Mexico has been one of the primary reservoirs of such labor for American capitalism. The recent slowdown in border crossings comes after four decades of sharp growth in immigration from Mexico, which was boosted by the implementation of the NAFTA agreement in 1994. This “free trade” rape of Mexico propelled a massive influx of poor rural workers, peasants and others into the U.S. Currently, about 10 percent of the population of Mexico lives in this country.
Most of these immigrants toil long hours in hard and dangerous jobs in agribusiness and other industries. With the weakening of the unions and driving down of wages and conditions, immigrant workers have increasingly filled positions in the slaughterhouses, in trucking at the ports and in the warehouses of Wal-Mart and other companies. Even as union membership in the U.S. continues to decline, immigrants make up an ever-larger share of organized workers in this country.
The global economic crisis and its attendant soaring unemployment have only exacerbated anti-immigrant attacks worldwide. But while right-wing Republicans rave on about running all “illegals” out of the country, such is not the perspective of the majority of the American bourgeoisie, which wants to preserve this critical source of cheap labor in order to ratchet up the rate of profit through the increasingly brutal exploitation of all workers. The “immigration reform” programs pushed by the Bush and Obama administrations alike have aimed to further the capacity of the bourgeoisie to exploit immigrant labor. Deportations, “desktop raids,” fingerprinting by local cops, “guest worker” programs that amount to indentured servitude are meant to ensure a vulnerable workforce for employers when needed and to get rid of it when not.
The Capitalists’ Labor Lieutenants
Obama packages his “desktop raids” as targeting companies “who are using illegal workers to drive down wages,” an appeal to the chauvinist AFL-CIO trade-union misleaders who scream that immigrants are stealing “American jobs.” But as journalist David Bacon pointed out last November in a report titled “Displaced, Unequal and Criminalized”:
“The DHS workplace enforcement wave is focusing, not on low-wage employers, but on high-wage, and often unionized ones. There is a long history of anti-union animus among immigration authorities. Agents have set up roadblocks before union elections in California fields, conducted raids during meatpacking organizing drives in North Carolina and Iowa, audited janitorial employers and airline food plants prior to union contract negotiations, and helped companies terminate close to a thousand apple pickers when they tried to join the Teamsters Union in Washington state.”
Earlier this spring, ten days after Palermo’s Pizza factory workers in Milwaukee submitted a petition for union recognition, nearly 90 were fired for not having papers. In protest, workers have been on strike since June 1.
Defense of immigrant rights is crucial in the fight to revitalize the unions. But far from waging any such struggle, the trade-union tops embrace the “immigration reform” programs of the capitalist rulers. In its “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), many of whose 2.1 million members are immigrants, calls for regulating work visas for immigrants in line with “the needs of our economy”—i.e., the profitability of American capitalism. Labor is on the ropes today in large part because the union bureaucracy has for decades subordinated the interests of workers to the bosses’ pursuit of profit. This has also served to further fuel the racial and ethnic hostilities that have grievously undermined the fighting capacity of the working class.
In Houston, overwhelmingly Latina women janitors organized by SEIU Local 1 are on strike against contractors who are determined to enforce poverty-level wages and revoke medical benefits and now threaten to fire strikers. Following a monthlong strike in 2006, these janitors won union recognition as well as higher wages and some health care coverage. Reporting on what was the first victory for the SEIU’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign in the “right to work” South, a Washington Post (21 November 2006) article quoted a company labor relations consultant raving that “they’ll wave this victory in the faces of the next people and just keep going…. It’s going to be like when Sherman marched through Atlanta.” Would that it were true. Instead, many of the gains the janitors made were rolled back, sparking the current battle.
A campaign to organize the open shop South—where historically the racial oppression of black people has been used to divide workers and keep unions out—calls for a labor leadership that champions the cause of black freedom and demands full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Such a leadership would seek to mobilize the social power of labor independently of the political parties and agencies of the capitalist class enemy. There will be no effective resistance to the mounting immiseration of the working class without the unity in struggle of the integrated labor movement and the black and Latino poor. What is needed is a labor-centered fight against deportations and workplace raids and a drive to bring immigrant workers into the unions with full rights and protections. Such battles would pose pointblank the need to oust the union misleaders who subordinate the interests of labor to the profitability of its capitalist exploiters and replace them with a class-struggle leadership.
For a Revolutionary Internationalist Workers Party!
Shortly after Obama’s “reprieve” announcement, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) issued an editorial “Has the DREAM Come True?” in Socialist Worker (20 June), cautioning that “supporters of immigrant rights can’t count on Barack Obama,” as if it were some kind of revelation. (Of course, it is for these reformists, who joined in celebrating Obama’s 2008 election as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism.) But the ISO has hardly given up on the “dream,” concluding:
“The energies of activists need to be focused on building an independent grassroots movement—which, after all, is what forced the issue of immigrant rights into mainstream political discussion over the past several years—and contributed to the pressure on Obama to take the steps, real but limited, that he did last week.”
The notion that the bourgeoisie, at least as represented by the Democratic Party, can be pressured to come up with a supposedly fair immigration policy is a pipedream worthy of such reformists. In the name of “socialism,” the ISO merely aims to ameliorate the increasingly desperate conditions of life for the working class, the poor, black people and immigrants within the confines of the capitalist system. As Marxists, we do not seek to advise the bourgeoisie on an alternative immigration policy, which would necessarily mean accepting the parameters of a system predicated on exploitation and oppression.
Our fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants is part of our struggle to advance the class consciousness and solidarity of the multiracial working class. The aim of the Spartacist League/U.S. is to forge the revolutionary workers party that is necessary to lead the exploited and oppressed in sweeping away capitalist class rule and liberating humanity from exploitation, racial oppression, poverty and war. Immigrant workers provide a critical human bridge between workers in the U.S. and their class brothers and sisters throughout the world. With our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México, we fight for socialist revolution on both sides of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo, following the watchword that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote more than 150 years ago in the Communist Manifesto: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries unite!”