Bush's Intensified War on Immigrants
Man-hunts, Mass Deportation and Concentration Camps
Revolution #026, December 12, 2005, posted at revcom.us
When President Bush spoke at the headquarters of the 12th Air Force, U.S. Southern Command, near Tucson, Arizona, on November 28, he announced a new escalation in an operation of sophisticated, militarized U.S. forces being used against a poor, unarmed civilian population--a cruel, cowardly war that brings suffering, misery, and death to untold numbers of human beings.
But this was not the War in Iraq or Afghanistan he was talking about to an audience of military, Border Patrol, and Homeland Security officials. It was a new offensive against undocumented immigrants.
Bush's speech painted a chilling picture of the future he envisions for immigrants in the U.S.: a walled-off country where those without papers are hunted on back roads and city streets, thrown out of the country with little due process, or held in a growing network of concentration camps along the border.
He announced new measures along the border where highly mobile Border Patrol ( La Migra) agents with the latest high-tech equipment hunt down impoverished peasants trying to walk to a job in El Norte. Bush has increased funding to the Migra by 60%, increasing the number of agents by about a third. This force is now integrated into the Department of Homeland Security. A higher percentage of Migra agents are stationed on the border than before, and additional agents will be concentrated in the Tucson corridor where most border crossings now take place.
Bush is building more walls and physical barriers, including a 14-mile extension of the wall near San Diego. The existing walls will be reinforced with high-tech equipment, including drone airplanes with video cameras. All of these measures will make it more difficult to cross--which means even more desperate immigrants will be driven into ever-harsher desert environments where hundreds perish.
In addition Bush has made and proposed sweeping changes to laws and policies. 85% of the nearly one million immigrants deported every year are from Mexico. Most are sent over the border within 24 hours. But 160,000 of those from countries further away are released and given court dates because there are not enough jail cells to hold them. Most of them don't show up for their court dates. Bush now says that these immigrants will no longer be released. He also wants Congress to change a current law that says people without papers have to be released if their home countries do not take them back.
If all these people are not going to be released, what will happen to them? Concentration camps. Bush is expanding the detention centers along the border, to make them big enough to hold the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that will be detained for months, or indefinitely. At the same time, he wants to make it more difficult for immigrants to challenge immigration decisions in U.S. courts.
For many years, the border has been fortified and refortified with walls, lights, cameras and an army of Migra agents. A second "border" of checkpoints has been set up about a hundred miles into U.S. territory. Even past that line immigrants are not safe. There are immigration agents in police stations and courthouses. In Los Angeles, the LAPD regularly turns over people they've arrested to immigration if they can't charge them with anything. Over the last decade, raids on workplaces have dropped dramatically. But Bush wants to change that. He's increased the budget for such "internal enforcement" by almost 50%.
Earlier this year, the government carried out "Operation Rollback," which Bush called "the largest work site enforcement case in American history." Agents are also targeting immigrant youth from Central America, deporting hundreds to El Salvador alone. Bush held these up as examples of what is to come.
In one part of his speech, he talked about proposals for a "temporary worker" program. But this is actually another element of "internal enforcement." Under the Bush plan, undocumented workers could turn themselves in to the government. As long as they were working in "jobs that Americans will not do"--the poorest paid jobs in the country--they would receive a special national ID card.
Bush said part of the purpose of the program was to "bring workers from out of the shadows"-- in other words, so the government will know where to find them. After six years, they would be required to leave the U.S. This is not a path to a green card or citizenship. An immigration activist called it "Work hard, pay taxes, and then get lost! You are welcome on the lowest rung of our economy but not in our society."
Nowhere in his speech is a single word about the economic destruction that the U.S. has perpetrated on Mexico, especially in the last 10 years under NAFTA. Because of the unrestricted dumping of subsidized U.S. agricultural product in Mexico, 1.7 million Mexican farmers have lost their jobs, while about ten times that many, 15 million, have seen a significant drop in income. Manufacturing for the domestic market has suffered. And the slight job growth in the for-export factories has not come close to making up for the catastrophe in the countryside.
Following Bush’s speech, some right-wing commentators are demanding even more aggressive actions, including a 2000-mile wall the length of the U.S./Mexico border. And the extreme changes for "internal enforcement" envisioned by Bush could have far-reaching and explosive results.
Undocumented workers are part of the fabric of U.S. society--members of immigrant communities that account for one out of seven workers. Whole industries, including construction, agriculture, and food service, are dependent on not just immigrants, but particularly undocumented immigrants. A recent article in the L.A. Times pointed out that undocumented immigrants can get car loans and insurance but no driver licenses. The vast majority are members of families that include U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Bush is now talking about shifting Migra operations from unseen, remote back roads and desert trails to the streets of major cities, raiding businesses and breaking up families, deporting sisters, sons, neighbors and co-workers, and forcing people to choose between living even deeper in the shadows and turning themselves in for a promise of a brief reprieve. And we can expect both the repression and the propaganda to be ratcheted up in the coming months--whipping up anti-immigrant sentiments in the service of an all-round reactionary social compact.
The L.A. Times wrote on 11/27 that "Illegal immigration has emerged as a major issue in political campaigns around the country, adding an element of emotional intensity that Republicans hope will excite their conservative supporters… Some Republican strategists contend that the immigration issue offers an opportunity for the GOP to revive its flagging fortunes at a time when Bush and the party have been hobbled by public discontent over the war in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina and ethics scandals. ‘This is the best issue for them to recover on’ said Bay Buchanan," founder of a group which recruits and raises money for candidates dedicated to stopping illegal immigration, and sister of reactionary Pat Buchanan, who sees the growing immigrant population of this country contributing to "the death of the west."
While Bush is trying to exploit the hot button issue of immigration to his advantage, this isn’t just a cynical political ploy. He is speaking to major strategic concerns within ruling circles over forging and enforcing a whole new social compact in this country while calculating its impact here--economically, politically, and socially--and its impact throughout the hemisphere, and ultimately the world.
The interests of the vast majority of people of all strata in this country are in standing up against these draconian attacks and standing with immigrants whether they have papers or not. We can’t allow this regime to isolate and target the immigrant population of this society. We need to fight against this new offensive as an integral part of advancing the movement to drive out the Bush regime.