Hundreds of Thousands Say NO
What Is Behind the Immigrants’ Struggle — And Why We Must Support It!
Revolution #041, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
A great upsurge is taking place across the United States! Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are stepping out of the shadows, into the sun. In Chicago, up to a half million filled Daley Plaza, shutting down the city, chanting "¡se siente, se siente, el inmigrante esta presente!" ( The immigrants are here, you can feel it!) In Milwaukee—home of Congressman Sensenbrenner, author of the cruel bill that set off the protests—25,000 marched. Tens of thousands went into the streets in Washington DC. In Phoenix, over 20,000 demonstrators marched to the office of Republican Senator Jon Kyl, co-sponsor of a bill that would give illegal immigrants up to five years to leave the country. In Georgia, tens of thousands of immigrants stayed away from work in protest against a new state law there that would deny state services to adults living in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants. As we go to press, students have walked out of schools throughout Southern California, and hundreds of thousands are filling the streets of Los Angeles.
The protests by immigrants are in response to the imminent danger that the U.S. Senate will pass the Sensenbrenner bill, which already passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year. The Sensenbrenner bill would make the lives of undocumented immigrants much more hellish than they already are [see box].
This is a moment and an upsurge to be embraced, and to be united with by ALL who are ground down, fucked over, stepped on, oppressed, exploited, censored, persecuted, and discriminated against; by everyone who possesses a basic sense of justice. Traumatic changes are taking place that threaten to make this planet even more hellish. But these same changes could open up possibilities for the proletariat (the worldwide class of workers with nothing to lose but their chains) to lead humanity to wrench something much, much better out of all this madness— if people resist and raise their sights to revolution.
In that light, it can't go down that non-immigrants stand on the sidelines in this battle, much less get played into fearing or opposing this just struggle. Instead, we have to look critically at how this situation developed, and what are the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people—around the world and within this country.
Borders Express Power Relations—There Is Nothing Holy About Them
The mainstream media bombards people with the lie that immigrants threaten the security of people in the U.S. and steal the jobs of Americans. On the O'Reilly Factor, for example, Congressman Tom Tancredo says, “We are seeing an invasion on our borders.” And “It is not immoral to secure our own borders.” And “What's wrong with thinking about justice for the guy whose wages are being depressed because of the millions of people who are coming in here to take the job at even a lower price. When you think about justice, sir, think about it in a bigger picture, because there are a lot of people in this country who deserve it too.”
Okay, you lying hypocrite, let's look at the bigger picture for real. What is the real story on why people from around the world are being driven to this country? You can't understand things by just looking at a border and deciding it's immoral for someone to cross it. You have to ask how did that border get there, and what does it represent.
More than ten thousand years ago, a few dozen or so humans migrated over the Bering Straits that connected Alaska and Russia, and began to inhabit what is now called the Americas.
When the Spanish conquistadors came and drew new borders in what they called the Americas, they did it in the service of plundering the people and wealth of this continent. Historians estimate that between 60 and 80 million people were killed by the European invaders—from diseases they brought, through massacres, and through literally working people to death. The conquerors carried out an orgy of rape and death, and tried to wipe out the culture and languages of the people they conquered. In fact, it was the enslavement of indigenous people in mines and the massive kidnapping of slaves from Africa that marked—as Karl Marx, the founder of communism, put it with bitter sarcasm—the “rosy dawn” of global capitalism.
The Mexican-American War that ended in 1848 was a blatant theft of half of the territory of Mexico by the United States. The U.S. seized the area now comprising the states from Texas to California. Here, again, the question is not just that someone crossed someone else's border, but why. What forces were behind that? What agenda? The Mexican people had won their independence from Spain, and shortly after that Mexico abolished slavery in 1824. But slavery, of course, was still riding high in the United States. Both expanding Northern capital and Southern slavery in need of more land were forces behind the war
And then there is the present day—when the border is a scene of horror and starvation and brutality for immigrants who are forced to come here and work for slave wages—to enrich the U.S. capitalists. The capitalists can super-exploit these workers because they are deprived of rights—and that deprivation, that terror, begins right at the border, enforced by the border police (la Migra) and, now, armed vigilantes.
So there is nothing in the least sacred about this border. It was established by force and murder, in the service of plunder. And from the conquistadors of the 1500s, to the slaveholders of the 1840s, down to the capitalists of today that has been the case. Justice hasn’t had a damn thing to do with any of it.
Who Are the Real Parasites?
Hint: It’s Not Those Who Slave In Sweatshops, Fields, Restaurants, and Construction Sites
Fast forward to today. What is it that drives people, from Mexico for example, to risk a terrible death in the desert of the Southwest to work in a packinghouse in Iowa, a garment shop in Los Angeles, or to clean a high-rise in Chicago?
Nativist and anti-immigrant forces claim that immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy. A widely cited study by Dr. Donald Huddle, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Rice University, claims that immigration (legal and illegal) will cost $932 billion over a ten-year period ending in 2007. .Anti-immigrant groups like “FAIR” (Federation for American Immigration Reform) promote the myth that “immigration is a drain on the economy; the net annual cost of immigration has been estimated at between $67 and $87 billion a year.” (Source: FAIR website)
In fact, many authoritative studies have documented that, in part because they are ineligible or scared away from using social services, immigrants contribute much more in taxes to local and national government than they use in services.
Beyond that, this myth of immigrants as “parasites” on U.S. society turns things upside down. On one level, it is totally upside down to claim that the people who are actually doing the work to build the houses, mop the floors, and harvest the fields—who are actually slaving away in the dangerous factories and slaughterhouses—are somehow “parasites”! And it is the ultimate in hypocrisy for people who enjoy a better standard of living because of the superexploitation of immigrants, and the “trickle down” perks of living in a country that plunders the world, to join in that chorus.
To scientifically understand who the real parasites are, you need to know that the whole world system we live under today is one where not only are billions of proletarians and other working people exploited by a relative handful of capitalists, but that capitalism itself has developed to a stage where a handful of imperialist countries exploit and plunder whole nations, and that this plunder is the lifeblood of the whole system. And that is the relation between the U.S. and Mexico—the U.S. politically and economically dominates Mexico as part of this whole world system of extracting wealth from the masses. This parasitism plays itself out in millions of ways—including in how immigrants have been forced to come to this country, where they are super-exploited by this same capitalist system that drove them here in the first place.
An article in the New York Times (“NAFTA to Open Floodgates, Engulfing Rural Mexico,” Dec 15, 2002) gives a hint of how this works. The article profiled the plight of Eugenio Guerrero, a Mexican pig farmer, whose farm was ruined by cheap imported U.S. pork. In 1994 the U.S. and Mexico signed the NAFTA agreement—the North American Free Trade Act—which enabled U.S. capital to more thoroughly penetrate Mexico. Shortly after NAFTA went into effect, the Mexican financial system nearly collapsed under the burden of foreign debt. The big capitalists in the U.S. then engineered a so-called “bailout” deal, which forced the restructuring of the Mexican national budget to further serve external imperialist capital. In 1995, the Mexican government ended most agricultural subsidies, making it even more difficult for Mexican pig farmers like Eugenio Guerrero to survive. (According to this same Times article, a typical farmer in Mexico receives $722 a year in government subsidies, while the average American farmer receives more than $20,000.)
The combination of cheaper imported pork from the U.S. and the slashing of subsidies worked together to further chain the lives of the people of Mexico to U.S. imperialism. By the end of 2002, one third of all Mexican pig farmers who had farms when NAFTA was implemented had been driven out of business. Eugenio Guerrero told the Times, “[W]e are putting our independence at risk. We are becoming a country that depends on foreigners for food."
There are literally a million such stories—of vegetable, chicken, pig, and other farmers driven off the land in Mexico. According to a 2004 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at least 1.5 million Mexican farmers lost their livelihoods under NAFTA.
Some of those displaced campesinos ended up in the maquiladoras, the vast belt of sweatshops on the U.S.-Mexico border where workers, including large numbers of youth and women, have the life worked out of them for wages that are something like 1/10th those paid to workers in the U.S.
But the relentless motion of capital has swept even some of those jobs to Asia, where wages are even lower, and workers’ rights are even more brutally repressed. All this is just one expression of a whole worldwide setup that drives hundreds of millions of people from their homes, often across borders, to survive—and to be further exploited.
In fact, large numbers of immigrants from Mexico and other places have ended up in the U.S. meatpacking industry, where their low wages and repressive conditions have facilitated the restructuring and profitable revival of the U.S. meatpacking industry. And U.S. capital cashes in yet again when the packaged meat is shipped to Mexico, a country now largely stripped of agricultural self-sufficiency. The meat may turn a profit for the U.S. corporation, but the cost in human lives is huge. And it doesn’t stop there—these parasites who have destroyed Mexican agriculture and restructured it to suit their needs, who have driven workers from those farms to then slave in their industries within the U.S., now skin the ox one more time: using these same workers as scapegoats for the economic insecurity caused by their system.
Internationalism Versus Ugly National Chauvinism
It's worth one more look back at the history of this country—not so far back. After the Civil War, Black people in this country were re-chained to the Southern plantations as sharecroppers, living under constant threat of lynching, denied basic political rights, and living lives little different in many ways than slavery. Black people at this time were forged into a nation within the borders of the U.S.—but an oppressed nation, in a setup that enabled the agricultural barons of the South to superexploit them. But with innovations in cotton production that made them “no longer necessary” in that work, along with the growing demand for industrial workers in the factories and the fear of lynching, they were driven north in search of work.
The jobs Black people were sent into included the hardest and most dangerous jobs in on the bloody and disease-infested killing floors of the meatpacking plants—jobs chronicled in the blues songs of the period that talked about being “tied to the killing floor.” Like Mexican immigrants today, they were pushed from their homes and pulled into industry by the motion of capital.
There were Tancredo types back then too, whipping up racist attacks on Blacks (in this same period, there were also racist mob attacks on Chicanos—the “Zoot Suit Riots” as well as mass deportations of Chicanos and Mexican-Americans regardless of their citizenship). In the cities of the North, white workers in particular were told that Black people, not the system, were responsible for crushing their lives.
In the spring of 1943, three Black workers at a Packard auto plant in Detroit were promoted to the formerly all-white job of metal polisher. Up until that time, Black workers in the Detroit auto plants were kept in the most low-paying, dirty, dangerous jobs—often in the ferociously hot foundries. White workers went on a week-long racist strike known as the “Packard hate strike.” That June, fights between Blacks and whites broke out at Belle Isle, Detroit's largest park. Over the next 24 hours, 25 Black people (and 11 whites) died—at least 17 of the Black people who died were killed by police, who sided with the white mobs (see, among other accounts, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue). Just as they are now, the system promoted and enforced racist hatred at the same time it claimed to be waging a global war for democracy and freedom.
Playing on and promoting white supremacy, directing the anger of exploited white workers at Black people has been a hallmark of this system, and those who see how this works with racism directed at Black people need to recognize how it is being used now, again, against another scapegoat—the immigrants.
The proletariat is one class, worldwide. Proletarians in every country share a common interest—a world without classes and class distinctions and all the oppressive ideas and institutions that go along with those distinctions; a world where the division between oppressor and oppressed nations has been overcome through struggle and where, ultimately, borders become a thing of the past. That is the outlook of proletarian internationalism, and it requires a struggle against the oppression of nations and against the persecution of any section of the proletariat on the basis of that oppression.
The bourgeoisie constantly fights to divide the proletariat along national lines, appealing to people on the narrow basis of “me first.” This is national chauvinism. It is the outlook and ideology of the enemy, and it must be defeated—in the realm of ideas and, very concretely, by getting out and joining in the struggle against national oppression.
An Indictment of the System, A Clarion Call to Resist
The outpourings among immigrants come at a time when dangerously radical changes for the worse are being implemented by the Bush crew, as a concentration of the motion of capital. The standard of living and relative economic security that imperialism granted to broad sections of the U.S. population is now under severe attack—not by the immigrants, but by imperialism itself, driven to more thoroughly exploit even ‘its own’ workforce. The rights that people had taken for granted are being stripped away, in the name of ‘security.’ There are also very positive changes—white supremacy and male supremacy continue to be challenged, and other cultures are finding expression.
In this situation, fear is being spread and there are fascist movements being promoted from on high which offer people “certainty”—and provide them with scapegoats—in a time when the ground seems to be disappearing from beneath their feet. The main fascist force is the movement led by people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson. These Christian fascists either blame the poor for their own condition or else give them false hopes of a “better life through Jesus.” Meanwhile, they seek to impose a cruel morality based on a literal interpretation of the Bible — which includes very harsh measures that will be imposed on the masses, including measures that have genocidal implications for Black people and other oppressed nationalities — and they demand that this be made the law of the land. Along with this, the Christian Fascist agenda provides a program to cohere or re-forge a “united Christian America” on a white supremacist, male supremacist, “USA Number One” basis.
At the same time, an anti-immigrant, nativist movement—like what you see with the Minutemen—is emerging with powerful backing from on high. Some of these forces try to be slick and some of them are openly racist, but they all bring to mind the vigilantes and lynch-mobs that are so integral to American history and culture. This fascist vigilante movement both overlaps and combines with the Christian Fascists, and also has its own dynamic. This state-sponsored nativism bases itself on backward sections of white middle class people, but it also seeks to mobilize white and Black workers (and even documented immigrants) against those whom, based on their real interests, they should be standing shoulder to shoulder with.
Think about it. This system of imperialism has militarily and politically dominated nations around the globe. It has ransacked their economies, chained people's livelihood to imperialism, and driven people from their homes to this country. It viciously preys on them when they are forced across the border into the U.S. And then, this system says these people are illegal, a threat to “national security,” and the cause of the problems of everyone else in this country. All this, in service of a system of global plunder.
To break these chains of global exploitation and oppression requires revolution — socialist revolution — leading ultimately a world without classes and without borders — communism. And revolution requires a revolutionary movement. This means not only supporting the current outbreak—important as that is— but also, and ultimately even more importantly, giving people a conscious understanding of what is driving these attacks, what they are a part of, and diverting this movement from being coopted into one or another form of program that make things worse.
In that context, we need many, many people now connecting with Bob Avakian, and the way of understanding and changing this world that he is bringing forward. We need people reading, subscribing to, contributing to, and distributing this newspaper.
From the perspective of the global victims of this system, the presence of millions of immigrants in this country, legal or not,is a great and powerful potential contribution to not only protest, but to preparing for and making a revolution that will bring down this system that causes such misery for the people of the world.
Protest from Below & Bickering in the Halls of Power
The Debate over Immigration Bills
Last December the House of Representatives passed an immigration bill, known as the Sensenbrenner bill (or HR4437). Among the main figures behind this bill was fanatic anti-immigrant Congressman Tom Tancredo, who had pushed for even more radical measures not included in HR4437—such as effectively overturning the 14th Amendment by denying citizenship to children born in the U.S. of parents who are undocumented. The Sensenbrenner bill calls for a nakedly Nazi-like crackdown on immigrants. It would make it a felony to be in this country without legal status, and also make it a felony to extend any help to people who are undocumented. The House bill also includes the building of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a measure that will undoubtedly lead to more deaths among people driven to cross.
In early March, the Senate Judiciary Committee began discussions on a Senate version of an immigration bill. If the Senate passes a bill, it will then need to be “reconciled” with the House version into a unified bill that goes to the president for signing into law. Such a law—whatever its final shape—will bring on major changes in the situation of immigrants, and this could happen in the coming few weeks or months.
Bush has some differences with the Sensenbrenner bill. He has been proposing that whatever new repressive law is passed should include some kind of provisions for “guest workers.” Another Senate bill proposed by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Senator John McCain doesn't contain the most draconian aspects of the Sensenbrenner. It would give special visas to some people from outside the country who want to work in the U.S., and allow these “temporary” workers to apply for a “green card” (permanent residency) after several years of employment. And some undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. would be eligible for a temporary visa (provided they could prove that they are not a “security problem” and have a “work history” and a “clean criminal record”). They could then apply for permanent status—if they clear further security checks, pay thousands of dollars in fines and taxes, and pass English/civics tests. This opening to possible legalization is what distinguishes Kennedy-McCain from other proposals (like Bush's, as well as another Senate bill by Republicans Cornyn and Kyl) that have “guest worker” provisions.
But from the standpoint of the people, the problem with Kennedy-McCain is that, first of all, it accepts and operates from the basic premise behind the Sensenbrenner bill—that there's some big problem with a “broken border” that endangers U.S. “national security.” [See accompanying article, “What Is Behind the Immigrants’ Struggle—And Why We Must Support It!”, for a full exploration of the real causes of immigration, and the interests of the people in this whole situation.] And it makes the situation for immigrants worse in many ways. While Kennedy-McCain doesn't call for making immigrants felons or building a 700-mile border wall, it would mandate the Homeland Security Department to develop a “National Strategy for Border Security,” including such things as “aerial surveillance technologies” to “enhance border security.” The militarization of the border in the past decade—increased Migra patrols, walls, motion-detectors and other high-tech devices, along with “unofficial” armed vigilantes like the Minutemen—has already led to thousands of deaths, as immigrants are increasingly forced to cross through remote and dangerous desert areas. Any further build-up of “border security” can only mean more brutality and death for immigrants.
As for the “guest worker” program and the possibility for legal status in the Kennedy-McCain bill, a big part of why some ruling class forces back these proposals is that they see this as the best way to exploit these workers and also to enable the government to keep closer tabs on immigrants. Such a program would institutionalize a caste-like system where millions of immigrant workers are under “temporary” legal status and watched closely by the government, with deportation hanging over their heads if they raise their voices in protest.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the immigration bill, the committee chairman, Republican Arlen Specter, introduced his own “compromise” proposal. The Specter bill incorporates many of the fascistic provisions of HR4437, including classifying any immigration-related offenses as felony, but also includes a “guest worker” program. However, unlike Kennedy-McCain, Specter does not offer any path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
The Bush White House praised Specter's proposal as a “comprehensive approach to immigration reform.” Tancredo blasted Specter's bill as an “unmitigated disaster,” claiming the “guest worker” program would threaten the “national and economic security” of the U.S.
As we go to press, it is unclear what final form the Senate bill will take. But one thing is clear: none of the competing immigration proposals are in the interests of the people. These divisions around the immigration issue have to do with differences among the imperialists over how best to pursue their reactionary class interests as they move to extend their global empire, while they hammer down a new, more repressive social compact within their “homeland.” The differences within the ruling class over the immigration issue take place within this overall reactionary framework, and whatever “compromise” emerges out of this will not be any good for immigrants and the people as a whole.
Picking a lesser of two evils is a dead-end strategy. Case in point: look at the abortion battle, where the leaders of the pro-choice movement have refused to fight over the morality of abortion, and have agreed to concession after concession, and now the right to abortion hangs by a thread and the initiative is with the forces of women's oppression.
We have to break out of a logic that will have us start with McCain Kennedy, then get channeled into the Specter “compromise,” and then pretty soon ending up with Tancredo.