Workers Vanguard No. 982

10 June 2011


Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

Obama’s Crackdown on Immigrants

In a May 10 speech in El Paso, Texas, Democratic president Barack Obama boasted that his administration has gone “above and beyond what was requested” by Republicans in jacking up military and police forces at the border and deporting undocumented immigrants. The speech, cast as a call for “comprehensive reform” of a “broken immigration system,” helped kick off Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign against a Republican Party which, in statehouses in Arizona, Alabama and elsewhere, is pushing a gamut of racist measures targeting immigrants for vicious repression.

Under Obama’s watch, the government is deporting on average more than 1,000 immigrants per day, a historical record. “We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history,” Obama boasted in El Paso. Those federal “boots” are supplemented by neo-Nazis and other armed racist vigilantes who have stationed themselves on the border. In just the first five months of 2010, federal agents killed or wounded 17 immigrants on the Mexican border compared to five killed or wounded in the final year of the Bush administration. Hundreds have perished in the past two years trying to enter the country while avoiding U.S. border guards.

In executing the crackdown on immigration, Obama is simply doing his job as the CEO of American capitalism. In times of economic expansion, undocumented immigrant laborers, deprived of their rights and paid rock-bottom wages, are viewed by the capitalists as useful material to be exploited to the limit of physical endurance. But when capitalism’s inevitable economic downturns hit, those workers become an unnecessary overhead to be disposed of through mass deportations. This is certainly the case with the current protracted economic crisis, which has destroyed almost seven million jobs in the U.S. In Europe, the economic crisis has also been accompanied by a stepped-up anti-immigrant offensive. At the moment, the French and Italian governments have been engaged in a racist contest over who can best keep Tunisian and other immigrants from North Africa out of their country.

The domination and intense exploitation of backward countries by the advanced capitalist economies propel ever more of the impoverished and dispossessed to migrate to Europe and North America, even at a time of wholesale destruction of jobs in the imperialist centers. One week after Obama’s El Paso speech, Mexican authorities in Chiapas detained two tractor-trailers headed for the U.S. that contained 513 migrants packed like cattle and half dead from suffocation and lack of water. The scene was evocative of the Middle Passage, only it was not slave-traders but hunger that packed them into these potential coffins.

A report issued this month by Oxfam, “The Struggle for a Pro-Poor Food Policy in Guatemala,” described the desperate conditions driving that migration. While a tiny domestic elite, working hand in hand with U.S. agribusiness giants, rakes in lavish profits, poor peasants driven from their land are forced to work the plantations for wages far below what is necessary to feed their families, starving themselves to keep their children alive. Even before skyrocketing food prices caused a global hunger crisis three years ago, half of all Guatemalan children under five were malnourished—a figure that rises to 70 percent among Maya and other indigenous peoples. This is a direct result of the workings of the capitalist world market. The most productive land in Guatemala has been taken over by plantations growing cash crops such as sugar cane, coffee and—increasingly—biofuels for export, while this deeply impoverished country increasingly relies on imported staples from the U.S.

The U.S. capitalists view Mexico and other countries as vast reservoirs of cheap immigrant labor to be tapped. Defense of immigrant rights is crucial to reversing the decades-long decline of the trade unions. Enlisting immigrant workers, many of whom have a history of militant struggle in their own countries, in the front ranks of the labor movement is an urgent task both to fight the exploitation of the most vulnerable layers of the population and to combat the anti-union onslaught sweeping this country. In undertaking the crucial fight to organize the unorganized, the labor movement must demand that all immigrants have immediate and full citizenship rights and must fight against every instance of discrimination, calling for no deportations.

We would support reforms that even partially ameliorate the effects of the bourgeoisie’s racist, chauvinist immigration policies. But no such reform is currently on offer. As Marxists, we do not seek to advise the bourgeoisie on its immigration or other policies. Our aim is to win the working class to the understanding that it must oppose the whole capitalist system. It is only through the victory of world socialist revolution that scarcity can be abolished for good, laying the basis for the withering away of the state and therefore of borders and immigration laws.

Democrats’ Bogus “Reform” Plan

We’ve heard Obama’s talk of “comprehensive reform” before. George W. Bush served up the same menu: more militarization of the border, a “guest worker” program amounting to indentured servitude, a torturous “legalization” process for a few, with the rest considered criminals. In El Paso, Obama refused activists’ pleas to turn a blind eye to the law and stop deporting high school students and other immigrants with no criminal records, intoning “that’s not how a democracy works.” This is how capitalist democracy works: the government, whoever heads it, acts as the executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist ruling class as a whole.

The Obama administration has drastically expanded the “Secure Communities” program, now operating in all but eight states, which was initiated under Bush. Under Secure Communities, any person jailed, no matter how minor the alleged crime, has his or her fingerprints checked against federal immigration records for possible deportation or indefinite detention. Tens of thousands have been deported as a result of this dragnet. Most either have no criminal record or were busted for traffic infractions, misdemeanors or drug possession, which should not be a crime to begin with. But innocence is not the point! Every undocumented immigrant is a criminal in the eyes of the state.

In California alone, from the beginning of its participation in Secure Communities in May 2009 through the end of March 2011, fingerprinting resulted in nearly 30,000 deportations, almost 40 percent of the national total. Massachusetts and New York, as well as many local police departments, are trying to opt out of the program, complaining that it detracts from catching “real criminals” and undercuts cops’ attempts to get information from Latinos and others. At bottom, this dispute is over how best to enforce racist capitalist rule.

The E-Verify employment database and audits of employers’ I-9 forms, which are meant to confirm workers’ legal status, are also expanding. In less than three years, the Obama administration has carried out more workplace audits than were made during the entire two-term Bush administration. Where the Bush regime reveled in unleashing I.C.E. agents on workplaces, the Obama regime puts a premium on the “efficiency” of “desktop raids.” Immigrant families have been ravaged, as the breadwinners are thrown out of their jobs with few prospects of employment anywhere.

Even as it attacks immigrant rights and union gains, the Democratic Party makes a pretense of standing for working people, blacks and immigrants. The openly anti-labor Republicans promote undisguised racist bigotry as they try to one-up Obama in bashing immigrants. Last year all eyes were on Arizona, where the Republican-controlled state legislature passed the infamous SB1070 law mandating that cops arrest anyone who fails to show them their immigration papers or proof of citizenship. This made it open season on any Latino, and anyone else who might look “foreign.” The law also prohibits anyone from transporting or giving shelter to undocumented immigrants.

In just the first three months of 2011, state legislatures enacted scores of laws targeting non-citizens. Most recently, the Republican-dominated Alabama state legislature pushed through a bill that goes even further than Arizona’s apartheid measure, banning all undocumented students from public colleges and ordering parents to report their kids’ immigration status to their schools. The Republicans’ “drive ’em all out” rhetoric and vicious state laws allow Obama’s Democrats to posture as friends of immigrants, much like the proverbial “good cop” postures as a “friend” to the bloodied prisoner in the interrogation cell: Work with me now, because if I leave the next guy will be much worse.

The Republicans and the Democrats differ only over how to most effectively administer the system of capitalist exploitation. Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez—a darling of liberals and reformist “socialists”—is trying to get the White House to throw a bone to immigrants instead of just kicking them in the teeth all the time. This is simply part of the deception practiced by the Democrats. A key component to an “immigration reform” bill he put forward in 2009 was a plan to beef up “border security” even further, a call for greater repression that could only lead to more deaths of immigrants. As a representative of the liberal wing of the capitalist class enemy, Gutierrez is merely the sugar coating on the same poison pill of bourgeois party politics.

Undermining the ability of the unions to defend immigrant workers, the bureaucracies of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations fully support the Democratic Party, of which the labor bureaucrats are themselves a part. The leadership of the SEIU service workers, a union with a large, dynamic immigrant component, was an early proponent of the “guest worker” scheme. In a May 10 press release, the SEIU brass applauded Obama’s El Paso speech and “the enormous security improvements that have been made along the border in recent years.” Accepting the capitalist profit system, the labor traitors seek only to tinker with its regulation of labor and its methods of repression.

To revitalize the labor movement will require hard class struggle, on its own behalf and on behalf of all those ground down by capitalism. This means fighting against the racial and ethnic divisions long sown by the capitalist rulers to divide and weaken labor. Native-born workers, black and white, must be won to the defense of immigrant rights, while immigrant workers must understand the crucial importance of fighting against black oppression, a cornerstone of American capitalism. The importance of working-class unity in struggle was shown by the union organizing victory at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, in 2008, when the overwhelmingly immigrant and black workforce fought against attempts by the bosses, backed up by la migra, to drive a wedge between them.

In the course of renewed labor struggle, the need to break the unions’ ties to the Democratic Party and to forge a new labor leadership committed to the political independence of the working class will be posed pointblank. The Spartacist League is committed to building a revolutionary workers party that will champion all the exploited and the oppressed—black and white, native-born and immigrant—in the fight for a workers government.

Dream Act: Trap for Immigrant Youth

Many immigrant rights activists and students have focused their efforts on the campaign to pass the Dream Act, which Democratic Congressmen reintroduced on May 12 after it was rejected last December. Obama made clear in El Paso that this was on the agenda again, after which AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka dutifully chimed in with his own appeal to pass the law. If passed, the Dream Act would allow a certain number of undocumented youth to apply for conditional residency papers. After completing two years of either college or military service, these youth could petition for permanent residency. While the Dream Act is promoted and commonly viewed as a means to let immigrants attend college without fear of deportation, this is a smokescreen for its major purpose, which is to provide a recruiting tool for the imperialist military.

Out of an estimated 65,000 immigrant youth subject to deportation who graduate from high school each year, at most one-fifth go on to college. And as tuition costs keep rising, the Act would still bar these students’ access to Pell Grants. It is clear that military service would be the most likely route taken by the vast majority of those eligible. Currently estimated at 280,000 youth, those eligible for the Dream Act would provide a huge pool of potential military recruits. The Pentagon thus had every reason to enthusiastically endorse the Dream Act. And as proletarian opponents of imperialist militarism, we Marxists have every reason to oppose it. Down with the Dream Act! Not one man or woman, not one penny for the imperialist military! The universities should be open to everyone: For open admissions, no tuition and a state-paid stipend for students!

The same reformist left groups that built an “antiwar movement” to fight against “Bush’s war” in Iraq have jumped on the Democrats’ bandwagon in support of this pro-military measure. Workers World Party leader Teresa Gutierrez mused in a 16 December 2010 Workers World editorial that the Dream Act would be “a step forward for the movement defending immigrant rights.” This is despite her worry that “it would be the height of cruel imperialist irony if those same youth are forced to go to Arizona or California to turn their guns on the migrant workers attempting to cross the U.S./Mexican border, many of whom could be members of their very own families.” No doubt! After the Dream Act failed to pass last December, the Party for Socialism and Liberation wrote in its newspaper Liberation (26 December 2010) that “the Dream Act would have addressed a grave injustice.” Complaining only that the bill “did not go far enough,” the article did not raise a hint of criticism of the bill’s military component.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) noted in a 17 September 2010 editorial posted on that it had opposed the Dream Act in 2005-2006, as did the “left wing of the immigrant rights movement,” which saw it as a “diversion” at the time. This was when immigrant rights protests had begun to erupt, presenting the ISO with an opportunity to help build a (pro-Democrat) “mass movement.” While those protests brought out large numbers of immigrants and a good number of trade unionists as well, they were politically in the grip of the Democratic Party. And indeed, as the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 and the White House two years later, the protests greatly diminished. In its September 2010 statement, the crassly opportunist ISO explains that it underwent a change of heart. As the campaign for the Dream Act was the only game in town and a lot of immigrant students wanted it, the ISO declared its support, with a few muted criticisms.

That these reformists have latched on to a Pentagon program might give their more critical followers some pause. In fact, their embrace of the Dream Act is an expression of the “politics of the possible,” in this case helping to bolster the armed might of U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of all the world’s exploited and oppressed. Whatever their social weight, the reformists act as obstacles in the struggle to build a revolutionary workers party, the indispensable instrument to organize the social power of the proletariat to smash the system of capitalist imperialism and establish workers rule.