Alternative to the Immigration Problem
by Mahmood Ketabchi
April 7, 2006
As Republican and Democrats in Washington have been debating what sort of anti immigration bill they can pass, millions of immigrant workers, student, and progressive forces all across the country have come out in protest. Their voice was clear; the sea of people who poured into streets condemned the racist and xenophobic immigration measures that the government plans to impose on the society. The protesters demanded human rights and equality for millions of undocumented immigrant workers who with their blood and sweat have worked to build this country.
While right-wing republicans and their fascist allies want to turn millions of immigrant into criminals and erect a 700-mile wall on the border with Mexico among many other draconian and sickening racist measures, a so called “bipartisan” group of Republican and Democrats are pushing another reactionary legislation that will make millions of undocumented immigrants into second class workers to be ruthlessly exploited by US capitalist who need cheep and under sieged labor.
The level of discussion in the Congress over the immigration bill is so degraded that it only shows the deep seated hatred and contempt that Washington politicians have against immigrants. The debate over the immigration bill has been so openly racist that even Bush noticed and advised his racist colleagues to watch their mouths while referring to immigrants.
The right-wing and racist campaign to criminalize current and future undocumented immigrants, as well as humanitarian and progressive groups who help them, is a “shock and awe” tactic to intimidate the public and immigrant rights groups and push the Democrats as far to the right as they can possibly go. These reactionary lunatics who hold a powerful position in Washington, as a matter of political maneuvering, always end up with the most abhorrent policies. Many people can still remember Newt Gingrich's “Contract with America” where he proposed taking kids away from their poor families and placing them in orphanages. These right-wingers know they have very little chance to push through all their outrageous policies as they would love to, but by lowering the level of the debate they exact the maximum concession. The “Contact with America” although not fully realized, led to the most sweeping anti welfare legislation in 1996 that basically laid the foundation to dismantle a social program that provided a bare minimum of relief for poor women and children.
Now as the immigration bill is being discussed, right-wing politicians such as Sensenbrenner, Tom Tancredo, Bill Frist, Dana Rohrbacher, etc are taking the most intimidating and thuggish posture as they possibly can. As usual, Democrats are aligning themselves more and more with the Republicans and have come up with a disgraceful “guest worker” or rather “Bracero” program that will legalize and institutionalize millions of immigrant workers in a sort of 21 century indentured servitude.
Although some immigrant rights groups and labor unions are picking the “guest worker program” to fend off the criminalization of undocumented workers, progressive forces by and large, together with millions of other people, are opposing both anti immigration bills being discussed at the Congress. This opposition basically revolves around a third alternative that calls for amnesty for all current undocumented workers.
But what about those who will come in to the US in the future? In the next 10 or 20 years, we will have millions of other undocumented workers crossing the border in search of jobs and joining their families and relatives. What about the thousands of people who will perish and die as the US government and the fascist vigilantly groups force immigrants to take greater risks to their lives in crossing the border? What about all the families who will be deprived of having their loved ones with them here in the US?
The movement of labor is an unstoppable trend that has become a fact of life in a globalized capitalist economy. Workers from across the border will come to the US, and it is their inalienable right to come and work here just like everyone else who lives and has a job here. Capital since long ago has lost its national character. Capital has no borders and it increasingly flows freely from one place to another. It goes wherever greater exploitation and higher profit is obtainable. This course cannot be reversed as nationalists and protectionists dream of. It can only be confronted on a global level. Free movement of workers is a crucial step towards developing a global strategy to confront capitalist exploitation.
While capital moves freely around the globe, workers are tied to their national borders as modern slaves who were tied to their owners or as serfs who were confined to a piece of land. Capital supposedly freed workers from dependence and bondage to feudal lords and allowed them to work for whoever they desire in order to sell his labor power at a better price. But in todays globalized world, workers are forcefully deprived of their basic right to move freely in search of a job that pays higher wages and provides better benefits. In a global battle between capital and labor, the restriction of workers from free movement has put them everywhere at a great disadvantage. As Mexican workers in Mexico are forced to sell their labor power at lower prices, American workers lose their jobs, work for lower wages, lose their bargaining power, see their unions shattered, and take greater risks any time time they confront their employers and the government. The current system is set up to divide workers and push them to compete against one another in a race to the bottom. This is a race to a life of rightlessness and misery.
We need a different solution. Amnesty for all the undocumented worker is a great idea, but it does not resolve the underlying problem of undocumented and other workers in the US. In 1986, about 3 million undocumented workers were given amnesty. Twenty years later, we are faced with the same problem; this time even bigger. We now have about 12 million workers who work day in day out in fear and inhuman conditions that is harmful to themselves and all other workers. This vicious cycle must end.
We need a solution that will enhance working class solidarity in the long run, place workers at a higher ground where they can fight capital with full force, and enable them to lift their living standards up to a level that is worthy of all human beings. We must openly and clearly oppose nationalism, xenophobia, and nativism, for they are all shameful sentiments that divide workers and weaken their movement. This solution cannot and should not be articulated based on the level of discussion being conducted in Washington. The ruling class is always far far away from the masses of people and their needs, desires, and sense of justice. The immigrant and worker's rights movement should build a movement around demands such as:
- Providing an immediate general amnesty to all undocumented immigrants;
- Opposing all militarization of the borders, shutting down all immigration detention centers, and prosecuting fascist militia gangs who target immigrants crossing the Mexican border;
- Defending workers right and providing equal protection to all workers;
- Allowing free movement of labor among the US, Mexico, and Canada;
- Issuing permanent residency and citizenship upon request by anyone for reasons such as, humanitarian, family reunification, and work; and
- Opposing all temporary work permissions.
These demands are expressions of freedom and human rights for workers. At the same time, that they will help lift the general standard of living for workers in the US, Mexico, and Canada, they will also help close the gap between poor and high paid workers. Also, overtime they will reduce the pressure off workers to move around in search of job, and they will balance out the spread of population across the three countries.
To build a movement around these demands is long over due. There will never be a “prefect” and “appropriate” timing to raise these demands as the banner of worker's movement. We can only create them. The opportunity to build a powerful movement does exist as immigrants have come forward in astonishing and unprecedented number that surprised friends and foes. Millions of workers marched across the country and 10s of thousands of kids walked out of their schools and poured into the street to protest against the hideous immigration bills being discussed in the Washington halls of power.
A new buzz is around that there is a sleeping giant that might be waking up. It is a powerful force that has the potential to move the country into a new humane direction. But, it can only do so if it has a clear radical demand, lucidity of thought about its future direction, and the ability to understand its Herculean power. To the extent that this movement is able to move to the left and separate itself from half-hearted friends who only want to ride on its back for their petty class interests, it will have the ability to be present on the scene for a longer time and make the greatest impact in charting a new direction for worker's movement.
The potential to build a powerful movement around the demands mentioned above does exit. It is only the question of vision and willingness to push this movement forward and to a new level. Which side are we on? That is the challenge we are facing.