House Passes Cruel Anti-Immigrant Bill
Revolution #030, January 15, 2006, posted at revcom.us
On December 16 the House of Representatives passed a draconian new bill that, if it becomes law, would further criminalize undocumented immigrants--along with anyone that helps them--and intensify the militarization of the border and the overall repressive offensive against immigrants.
Key features of the House bill include the following:
- Making it a felony crime--instead of a civil violation as it is now--to be in the U.S. without legal documents. Millions of people now in the U.S. would be classified as "felons." Immigrants arrested without papers would be subject to immediate detention and deportation--and would be permanently ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
- The building of five double-layer border fences--totaling 698 miles--in California and Arizona. This is seen as a "setback" by some backers of the bill who wanted a fortified fence along the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
- Making it a federal crime to assist undocumented immigrants. This would target, for example, people who leave water in the deserts, trying to save the lives of immigrants who cross the border through those dangerous areas--where hundreds die each year. Social workers, doctors and nurses, teachers, priests, and others who give any help or services to undocumented people could face five years in prison and have their assets seized by the government.
- Requiring employers to collect and submit Social Security numbers and other information on each worker to the Department of Homeland Security to verify their "legal status." The information would be stored on government databases. The ACLU notes that this measure would create "a federally mandated requirement for citizens as well as immigrants to get a permission slip from the federal government before they can take a job."
- Expanding the police manhunt of immigrants. The bill would give local law authorities--specifically sheriffs in 29 counties along the U.S. border region--greater power to check an individual’s legal status. The bill also calls for paying local law enforcement when they detain undocumented immigrants and turn them over to federal custody--in other words, bounty for hunting down immigrants.
One measure that did not make it into the final House bill is the idea--pushed by those like fascistic House Republican Tom Tancredo--to overturn the long-established principle that every child born in this country, regardless of their parents' status, is a citizen. This is known as "birthright citizenship." Tancredo said last November, "Citizenship in this country should not be bestowed on people who are children of folks who come into this country illegally." This is, in effect, an argument for repealing the 14th Amendment--passed after the Civil War to give former slaves citizenship--which says, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."
While the denial of birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants was not included in the House bill, the fact that this far-reaching idea was seriously under consideration in the Congress shows that the government's anti-immigrant offensive--which is already bringing intense misery and suffering to millions--is heading in an even more extreme direction. And as Michele Waslin of National Council of La Raza points out about the push to revoke birthright citizenship, "This was always seen in the past as some extreme, wacko proposal that never goes anywhere. But these so-called wacko proposals are becoming more and more mainstream--it's becoming more acceptable to have a discussion about it."
What is the effect when the House passes a bill to classify millions of immigrants as "felons" and when reactionary politicians in the national news call for changing the Constitution to strip citizenship from children of the undocumented? These types of actions further embolden and whip up fascist anti-immigrant movements like the Minutemen, the armed vigilantes who hunt down immigrants on the border. The Minutemen and other extremist forces act as the leading edge of a bigger reactionary offensive that aims to whip up and draw in people broadly, including proletarians and oppressed people of other nationalities, into this whole pogromist anti-immigrant atmosphere that scapegoats immigrants as the cause of unemployment and other problems in this society.
There are some differences within the capitalist power structure, including within the Republican Party, over the question of how to deal with immigrants. This is part of divisions over the strategic interests of their class as they move to enforce a whole new social compact in this country and calculate the impact of that here and across their empire. Those like Tancredo are especially and intensely opposed to proposals for a "temporary worker" program (raised by Bush as well as other Republicans and Democrats) which would give temporary work permits to undocumented immigrants. Even though Bush's "temporary worker" program is intended as a way to give the government more ability to identify and keep track of immigrants, those like Tancredo advocate driving the undocumented even more into the shadows.
But even as there is struggle at the top over this question, clearly the government is overall moving quickly to ramp up the war on immigrants. Bush praised the House bill, saying, "This bill will help us protect our borders and crack down on illegal entry into the United States... Securing our borders is essential to securing the homeland."
Note how Bush puts the question of immigration in the context of "homeland security"--the Bush regime's post-9/11 program of fascistic repression. Under this logic, "illegal immigrants" don't just "take American jobs"--they are part of the "enemy" in the "war on terror." And, as Bush has declared, "You're either with us or you're with the enemy." Tancredo put it even more blatantly when he said last June that undocumented immigrants "need to be found before it is too late. They're coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren."
The House legislation is not yet a law. The Senate is going to come up with its version of a new immigration bill, and George Bush has his own proposals for man-hunts, mass deportation, and concentration camps (see "Bush's Intensified War on Immigrants," Revolution 26, at revcom.us). But various provisions in the House bill could become part of an actual law--and the bill as a whole gives a picture of the chilling and intolerable future for immigrants, if this cruel war on immigrants is not resisted and stopped.