Analyzing the Immigration Bills: The Outright Attacks…And the Deadly Traps

Revolution #042, April 9, 2006, posted at

People widely know about—and hate—the cruel Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437) passed by the House of Representatives in December. Pushed by fascist anti-immigrant Tom Tancredo and others, HR4437 would, among other things, immediately criminalize millions of people by declaring it a felony just to be in this country without “proper papers”—and to provide any help to these people. The House bill also calls for further leaps in border militarization, including a 700-mile-long wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and it refuses to consider any possibility for undocumented immigrants to get legal status.

As we go to press, the Senate is taking up its version of an immigration bill. The focus is on the bill from Republican Senator Specter, chair of the Judiciary Committee, which incorporates a lot of the earlier Kennedy-McCain bill. The Specter bill has some differences with the HR4437—like a provision for a “guest worker” program and what seems like an opening for some undocumented immigrants to eventually get citizenship. But as we'll explain below, this bill is a dangerous trap.

The Specter bill was immediately denounced by Tancredo and his crew in the House for supposedly opening the door to “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. But the Republican Speaker of the House said he might consider accepting a “guest worker” program, one of the provisions in the Specter bill that those like Tancredo vehemently oppose (and which Bush supports). And Senate Republican leader Bill Frist is pushing his own proposal, essentially a mirror of the House bill. Whatever legislation the Senate agrees on will then be “reconciled” with the House version. The final Congressional bill would “split the difference,” so to speak, between the Senate and House versions—meaning that it will inevitably contain key elements of the Sensenbrenner bill.

The situation is in flux, and the exact features of a bill that will emerge out of all this are still unclear. There are divisions and infighting over the immigration issue within the elite at the top of the system, the imperialist ruling class. These differences have at times been very sharp—one Republican in the House said about the Specter bill that there was a “foul odor” coming out of the Senate, and refused to comment when asked if that applied to Bush as well. But these divisions in the halls of power are NOT over what is in the best interests of immigrants and other workers and oppressed people—this is struggle among different sections of the imperialists over what is in the best strategic interests of their class.

To get into this, let's take a closer look at the Specter bill, which is being widely described as a “compromise” or even a “pro-immigrant” proposal that gives hope to the undocumented and doesn't contain the most draconian features of HR4437.

All the Bills Would Severely Increase Repression

The first thing to note about the Specter bill is that it starts off—and goes on for pages and pages—discussing an increased build-up of border “security” and stepped-up repressive measures against immigrants. The National Lawyers' Guild notes that this bill “contains many of the same provisions of the enforcement-tilted bill that passed the House.”

Instead of a 700-mile wall, the Specter bill calls for a “virtual fence” along the entire border—with increased use of high-tech police and military equipment and an enlarged Border Patrol force. And it mandates a study on actually building a “system of physical barriers” on the border. Border militarization has led to the deaths of thousands of immigrants in the past decade, and the plans in the Specter bill would make the situation worse.

The bill authorizes the addition of 20 more immigration prisons with capacity to detain at least 10,000 people—including by converting closed military bases. It allows the Department of Homeland Security to keep on renewing the detention of certain immigrants every six months, without limit—basically permitting indefinite detentions. Like HR4437, the Specter bill would have local police act as immigration agents, turning in those without papers to Homeland Security.

These and other provisions for “enforcement” in the Specter bill — the bill that some are describing as “good” for immigrants – would represent a major ratcheting up of the government's repressive machinery on the border as well as in the cities and other areas throughout the U.S.

Phony Promise and Deadly Deceit of the Specter Bill

The Specter bill does contain provisions for “earned legalization”—undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. could get a temporary visa if they registered with the government and met strict requirements, like proving that they had no criminal records; passing health exams and English tests; paying fines and taxes. Only those who were in the U.S. by January 2004 would qualify. Then, after six years in temporary status—and if they haven't had any problems with the law or long stretches of unemployment—these immigrants would supposedly be able to apply for a “green card” (permanent residency), and perhaps get citizenship years later.

But as the National Lawyers Guild points out, “These extreme provisions [of the Specter bill] would effectively bar millions of people from even the chance to earn legalization.” Aarti Shahani of Families for Freedom explained on the radio program Democracy Now (March 29) that “the current bill has provisions around fraud, for example, so that if you are an undocumented worker ... that admits to committing certain types of fraud to obtain employment, you can’t actually legalize.” Many undocumented immigrants must do things, like using made-up personal information, that could legally be considered criminal “fraud” in order to get jobs. As Shahani points out, “that type of activity, technically, under the letter of this law...would make it so that you're barred from actually gaining legalization.”

Under the “guest worker” sections in the Specter bill, people from outside the U.S. (including 1.5 million agricultural workers) would receive temporary work visas for three years, which can be renewed once. This will in effect create a caste-like system with a separate section of the workers who are under close government watch, with deportation hanging over their heads if they “step out of line.” The bill requires employers to pay the “prevailing wage” to these temporary workers—but there is no guarantee that the workers' rights would be protected if, for example, they take part in union organizing or protest dangerous working conditions. If temporary workers are fired and can't find another job within 45 days, they are required to leave the U.S.—and if they are arrested, they could be deported and barred from re-entering this country. These are only some of the dangerous elements of the bill.

HR4437 would slam the door on any possibility of legalization for the undocumented, including temporary work visas. The Sensenbrenner bill aims to drive millions of immigrants deeper into the shadows, totally vulnerable and living in fear, or even subject to mass deportations and unpunished vigilante violence. In contrast, Specter and others seem to be arguing (to others in the ruling class) that holding out a faint and ultimately fraudulent hope of legalization is needed. They want to stabilize the situation of this section of the workforce on an oppressed basis so that the capitalists are able to more systematically exploit them—and to better enable the state to keep close tabs on people. (The Specter bill, in fact, would require employers to check with the government to ensure that all job applicants, immigrant and non-immigrant, are legally eligible to work in the U.S.)

On the one hand, totally hunted and criminalized; on the other, locked into place in a subordinate status and closely under the controls of the state, and still vulnerable to deportation at the merest hint of resistance. This is NOT the choice that the millions in the streets want or need!

What is needed is a determined and massive insistence from below for an immediate end to the persecution of immigrants (both by the government and by vigilante groups like the Minutemen), a halt to and reversal of the brutal militarization of the border, and full rights for all immigrants.

from the Draft Programme of the RCP,USA

Socialism Will Abolish Discrimination Against Immigrants

The following excerpt from the Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gives a vision of how the situation of immigrants will be radically transformed under socialism, the rule of the proletariat:

Great numbers of immigrants have come to the U.S. from Mexico, Latin America, Asia/Pacific Islands, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world, including many from countries oppressed and plundered by U.S. imperialism. The bourgeoisie considers many of these immigrants—some of whom have a bitter hatred towards a system that has raped their countries—a potential source of instability and upheaval inside the U.S. The proletariat for its part welcomes these immigrants, who strengthen the internationalist character of the revolution here.

Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the shadows of U.S. society without the most basic rights, constantly facing arrest, deportation, and sudden separation from their families. Each year hundreds perish trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. Entire groups of immigrants, such as Arabs, are scapegoated and demonized, and non-European immigrants generally are targets of racism.

The proletariat in power will abolish all forms of discrimination against immigrants in jobs, housing, health care, education, etc. No human being will be treated as “illegal,” ending the labels used by the imperialists to degrade people and keep them in super-exploited conditions. The apparatus that terrorized immigrants—la Migra, the police, military border patrols, and paramilitary vigilantes—will be smashed.

The proletarian state will apply to immigrants its overall orientation and policies for achieving real equality, including equality of languages and cultures, and it will encourage and cherish the full participation of immigrants in all aspects of building the new socialist society.

(The Draft Programme of the RCP,USA can be read and downloaded online at

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If You Think That Driving Out The Immigrants Will Help You Get A Job, Read This:

Dana Rohrbacher, a Republican Congressman from California, has his own plan for dealing with any labor shortage caused by driving immigrants out of the United States. According to the March 31 New York Times, Rohrbacher said,

“Let the prisoners pick the fruits. We can do it without bringing in millions of foreigners.”

This “Rohrbacher Plan” has been tried before. After the defeat of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Black people in the South were widely arrested and quickly convicted for things like “vagrancy.” They were then forced to work, often on the very plantations that they had slaved on before the Civil War. Don’t think that with more than two million people in prison—the majority of them Black and other oppressed nationalities—that these bloodsuckers won’t try this again.

They’re even telling us they will.

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