Revolution #73, December 17, 2006
The Battle for Immigrant Rights vs. the Strategic Needs of U.S. Empire
Millions of people feel relieved or even euphoric at the Democrat victory in the mid-term elections and think something good will come of this. But something happened in these elections which has actually strengthened very bad terms around the U.S./Mexico border and immigration. This may pave the way for a rapid move to pass a set of dangerous new laws with far-reaching consequences when Congress reconvenes in January.
Nancy Pelosi, new Democratic Speaker of the House, has announced that immigration is one of the first fronts of bipartisan efforts with the Bush White House. This is a key and immediate issue that will not only set the terms for the border and immigration, but overall for the Bush/Democrat partnership. Bush has made “comprehensive immigration reform” his top priority domestic issue, one where he sees “common ground with the Democrats.” And all top Democrat leaders, from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton (who chastised Bush for not “exponentially” beefing up the Border Patrol as she had suggested), are lining up firmly behind the Bush program of “comprehensive reform” (which is a codeword for the guest worker program).
There is broad consensus among ruling class circles and their political representatives (both Republicans and Democrats) on “securing” the border with Mexico.” What remains is to hammer out how to forge a temporary work program that satisfies the need for a super-exploitable labor pool (especially in U.S. agriculture, where immigrant labor comprises over 70% of the work force).
The bipartisan consensus may be one reason why Bush rushed to sign the Secure Fence Act in late October. It authorizes the construction of a 700-mile fence, additional checkpoints and advanced technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles to track and hunt immigrants at the border. This new law, which only awaits funding to implement, was originally part of the House Sensenbrenner bill (HR 4437). That bill was rightfully seen by millions as a fascist-like clampdown, with its provisions to make felons of anyone who hired or assisted immigrants, and provoked massive protests last spring.
A so-called “compromise” bill that passed the Senate, while not making felons of everyone, is nearly as repressive and in line with the Bush plan. This bill was supported by a coalition of Bush, the Democrats and some Republicans. It calls for a triple-layer border fence, huge increase of Border Patrol and detention centers, AND makes English the official language. The authorization for the fence passed when the rulers could not achieve the necessary consensus to choose which bill to pass between the Sensenbrenner bill and the Senate immigration bill. But now that the Democrats have won the elections, many think that the Senate “compromise” of last spring will now pass.
Many among all sections of the people, including many pro-immigrant and otherwise progressive forces, see these “compromises” as a positive thing. But this is a very bad program for the people, with strategic implications, not just in terms of ramping up repression against immigrants (which it does), but even more fundamentally with how the U.S. ruling class is going to shape U.S. society, and relations with Mexico, as they pursue their war on the world.
Setting Terms of Debate/Shaping Public Opinion
Look at the dynamics of what happened in Arizona. Some candidates who spouted a vicious anti-immigrant line, similar to the Minutemen, were defeated. But some very ugly anti-immigrant laws were passed. These initiatives restrict undocumented immigrants from posting bail, restrict public benefits, deny punitive damages to the undocumented, and establish English as the official language. While the Minutemen-backed candidates didn't win, they were able to set the terms of the debate and make the Bush/Democrat reactionary anti-immigrant program the consensus and the “best you could get”--again, a program that is bound to be very bad for the people. Meanwhile, the whole dynamics in this election gave credibility to the Minutemen vigilantes. They lost--but were able to establish themselves as a “possible alternative” in the discussion over what to do regarding immigration. They were considered a legitimate part of the political debate (like when Ku Klux Klan vigilante leader David Duke ran for office and was treated as a legitimate, serious candidate who should be listened to).
Many among the ruling class political representatives from Colorado’s ultra-reactionary Tom Tancredo to Hillary Clinton, argue for situating immigration and control of the U.S-Mexico border in the context of the U.S.'s so-called “war on terror” as a national security issue. FBI Director Robert Mueller has claimed that “individuals from countries with known al Qaeda connections have attempted to enter the United States illegally using alien smuggling rings and assuming Hispanic appearances.” And the House Committee on Homeland Security recently released a report that claims Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is supplying fake documents to enable terrorists from all over the world to enter the U.S. All this, coupled with the same kind of hate-and-fear-mongering stuff from TV news anchor Lou Dobbs every night, also became injected into the terms of debate through the election campaigns.
Border Concerns of an Empire
The U.S./Mexico border dates from the U.S. invasion in 1846, which stole half of Mexico’s land in order to expand its slave system in the south. For 160 years, U.S. capital and capitalists have continually crossed this border to dominate and plunder Mexico’s economic and human resources, and wreak havoc on its political, social, and cultural institutions. And the U.S. didn’t hesitate to send its military across the border in 1916 to try and crush the Mexican Revolution.
Since 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has ruined millions of Mexican peasants who couldn’t compete with cheap U.S. agri-products flooding the Mexican economy. Mexico’s many border factories/maquiladoras that make cheap products for U.S. corporations have moved to China, where the term “starvation wages” is even more literal. This global process of exploitation has meant unprecedented human migration and misery within and between many countries, including Mexico.
The border with Mexico is not an incidental question for the imperialists. It is essential for an empire to control its borders, especially during its current rampage to establish itself as an unchallenged and unchallengeable empire. This is not just a question of monitoring who crosses it in some general sense. There is a larger dimension at work in Bush’s proposal to further militarize an already-militarized border. It has to do with the real fear this government has of social and political upheaval, even revolutionary upsurge, that could cross the border.
That is, beyond simply scapegoating immigrants for all of society’s problems, they are trying to deal with real necessity and fears as to the political and social stability domestically and “in their backyard.” The U.S. pays close attention to things like the recent upheaval in Oaxaca. They see the border with Mexico and the millions of immigrants here as part of centrifugal forces which potentially threaten America’s national cohesion--a cohesion founded on white supremacy and imperialist chauvinist domination of countries like Mexico. The U.S. is the only imperialist country that has a country it directly plunders pressed up against the “belly of the beast” and one that has pulled millions they ruthlessly oppress into its very belly to further ruthlessly exploit.
Out of the Shadow and into the Fascist Light
Given this, there is ruling class consensus on forcing millions of undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows.” This is meant to address the system’s economic compulsion for cheap labor while keeping this section of workers in a caste-like status--and as a preemptive measure to monitor and shut down any kind of resistance or upheaval. With an international agenda of endless war, the U.S. ruling class and their political representatives need stability on the homefront--i.e., a compliant populace and work force, including millions of super-exploited and exploitable immigrants. This means millions of people simply cannot be permitted to continue living “outside the law.”
This is especially the case with a section of people at the base of U.S. society who have some experience and knowledge of the ugly role the U.S. plays in Mexico and other countries. Given this U.S. imperialist history and the present reality of the Bush program, what are the implications of tens of thousands of U.S. Border Patrol and, now, National Guard troops constantly stationed right at the U.S./Mexico border as to U.S. intervention in any serious political upheaval in Mexico, Central or Latin America? And what prevents these same troops to be used to crush any upheaval on THIS side of the border?
Resistance and Revolution
What is needed now is for the struggle begun last spring to intensify and broaden. There must be no compromise on the fundamental rights of immigrants and on opposition to the militarization of the border. This means no common ground with the Bush regime’s overall program, including his comprehensive immigrant repression. This means waging ideological struggle among the working class and oppressed, as well as others, to see that the same interests and forces that are behind people being forced to immigrate to the U.S. (and that create the oppressive and exploitative situation in the countries they come from) are the same interests and forces (and system) that are oppressing and exploiting Black people and other masses as a whole in the U.S. It means helping people to see that people have a common oppressor and a common interest in fighting and getting rid of this system.
This kind of potential was expressed in embryo when there were immigration raids in the Bible-belt town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Black workers, white middle class people, and even city officials came to the support of immigrant workers (reported in the Boston Globe , July 24, 2006 “Raid on Immigrants Violates Sense of Community”). This was also indicated when the Minutemen, nominally led by a Black homeless man, staged a fanfare in the African American Leimert Park of Los Angeles. A handful of vigilantes were met by many more angry protesters--Black and white. The resistance to the Minuteman speech by students at Columbia University was another instance of this.
Alliances among different sections of the people, including the oppressed and proletarians, urgently need to be forged to beat back the immediate attacks on immigrants, but also with an eye towards greater upheaval to come, including potentially revolutionary upheaval. The intensifying current crisis provides the backdrop for things to go in a multitude of directions. Left on its own, things will develop in ways that are even worse for the masses, on both sides of the border and across the globe.
The complex and underlying dynamics of this system are driving the Bush Regime and the Democrats to unite on controlling the border and repressing immigrant masses. And what is called for is mass resistance, in various ways and dimensions--to change the situation and work towards hastening the possibility of any future openings for revolution and being able to seize on such openings if and when they develop--on either or both sides of the border.
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