Bush's Immigration Trap

by Travis Morales

Revolutionary Worker #1229, February 15, 2004, posted at rwor.org

On January 7, President Bush announced a proposal for major changes in immigration law, He claims it will make the nation's immigration laws "more rational and more humane."

These proposals are "rational" from the standpoint of a class based on exploiting labor. They are "rational" from the point of view of strengthening Bush's post-September 11 police state.

But for the people there is nothing "humane" about it.

The proposal has a number of aspects, but the heart of it is the creation of a new "temporary guest worker program." The proposal would allow undocumented immigrants already in the United States or someone abroad to apply for the right to work legally in the U.S.--but only for a three-year term that could be renewed (or not!). And such "guest workers" would only be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they are working in the lowest-paid and most difficult jobs that U.S. citizens supposedly "do not want."

Immigrant workers are supposed to register with the government. But the White House proposal does not say how long their "term" will be. This much is clear: This proposal is not about allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. permanently (or get any kind of stable, permanent legal status). The workers must return to their home countries at the end of the term -- whenever that is -- or be treated (once again) as "illegal aliens."

This plan means that undocumented workers in this country are being told to come forward, register with the government, and be temporarily "legalized" -- but at the same time, be identified (by that same process!) for possible later expulsion by the government. They will need to announce their presence in the country, their address, their employer, and details of their life -- all for a chance of temporary legality!

This proposal is not a law yet. It is a recommendation to the Congress (which is controlled by Bush's party), and will work its way through a larger debate in the ruling class and then through the legislative process. But the larger policy it is part of--militarizing the southern border, establishing some new temporary "guest worker" plan, continuing the super-exploitation of immigrants, etc.--has broad support within the U.S. ruling class, and both main political parties.

What Is the U.S. Government Up To?

First, it is pressing ahead with its long-standing campaign to militarize, control and close off the southern border with Mexico. Since 9/11 it has greatly intensified these efforts.

Second, at the same time, U.S. capitalists need cheap super-exploitable immigrant labor. They want to control the southern border, but NOT give up on the huge profits and advantages they get from having an underpaid, desperate immigrant workforce.

And, third, the U.S. government does not want to destabilize Mexico, economically or politically. In 2003, Mexicanos working in the U.S. sent $13.3 billion home to Mexico, more than tourism and direct foreign investment. This is Mexico's second largest source of income, second only to oil. Any action that would significantly reduce this stream of money would have devastating consequences in an already economically ravaged Mexico. The U.S. government doesn't want to trigger some explosion by suddenly preventing Mexico's "surplus labor" (the millions of impoverished and desperate peasants and workers) from leaving and finding work--which serves as a kind of safety valve for Mexico's crises.

So the Bush administration is coming up with a solution similar to what the system did during World War 2: While securing the border the U.S. government would legalize some immigrant labor tem- porarily.

This proposal would only legalize part of the existing undocumented workers in the U.S. There would still (inevitably) be a large undocumented "tier" and continue to be a multi-tiered working class, with immigrants--legal and "illegal"--at the bottom suffering from discrimination, dangerous working conditions, and poverty wages. And, very importantly, it will force millions of undocumented workers who are in a desperate situation to turn over their names, addresses and places of employment to the government in order to legally work and survive. This proposal provides a temporary relief while tightening the noose of permanent insecurity and government control.

To be clear, this proposal is really about continuing the intense economic exploitation of low-wage workers--while carrying out a new wave of registration and control of undocumented immigrants, mainly Mexicanos.

Some immigrant rights and Latino organizations have called Bush's proposal an election year ploy to appeal to Latino voters in the 2004 presidential election. While there is certainly an element of trying to rope in the Latino population and defuse anger and discontent with the deaths of immigrants at the border and the "criminalization" of millions of undocumented people, this is not an election ploy to win votes. Much bigger and more profound contradictions are the driving force for this proposal.

Baiting a Trap with Lies

"We see millions of hardworking men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive undocumented economy.. Decent, hardworking people will now be protected by labor laws with the right to change jobs, earn fair wages and enjoy the same working conditions that the law requires for American workers."

George W. Bush

These are false promises used to disguise a dangerous trap. Bush is holding out the promise of higher wages and better conditions if people turn themselves in to the very government that has spent billions to keep them out at the border and to hunt them down.

On one hand, it is revealing that even Bush is acknowledging here that millions of workers in the U.S. have not been protected by labor laws, have not been able to quit when they are mistreated, are not paid "fair wages," and do not have the same working conditions as U.S. citizens. But he is acknowledging these outrageous conditions in order to trick people by promising to end this extreme mistreatment.

But can anyone seriously believe that millions of immigrants without legal papers are about to get a pay raise, health insurance, paid vacations and shorter work weeks when they register, thanks to the U.S. government? No!

The whole point of Bush's proposals is to assure a dependable supply of low paid workers who can be deported more easily when they are no longer needed.

What Bush left unsaid is that millions will not become "legalized" and will suffer even more intense exploitation, persecution and brutality. And all of this has a real aspect of "divide and conquer."

First, let's not forget that this proposal comes in the context of greatly escalated repression against immigrants. This repression has been aimed especially at Muslims, Arabs and South Asians in the wake of Sept. 11. But it has also involved an intensification of militarized conditions at the southern border--which has resulted in over 300 deaths of immigrants every year.

It is worth noting that it is Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge who has been openly advocating that millions of undocumented immigrants be given some sort of "legal status." In other words, by offering temporary legality to those who register, the government is seeking to intensify their internal security.

Bush got to this point when he said (in his speech proposing this plan):

"Our homeland will be more secure when we can better account for those who enter our country, instead of the current situation in which millions of people are unknown, unknown to the law. Law enforcement will face fewer problems with undocumented workers, and will be better able to focus on the true threats to our nation from criminals and terrorists."

I must ask: Does anyone really think, given the hell to which immigrants have been subjected since 9/11, that anything good will come from millions of immigrants giving the government their names, addresses and where they work?

Here is an infuriating event worth learning from: A year ago, 82,000 immigrant men and boys from two dozen mainly Muslim countries voluntarily went to register at the offices of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement --because the government asked them too. As they registered, the government simply arrested many of them without warning, and held them in degrading conditions. Afterwards, the government began deporting 13,000 of them!

Continued Exploitation Plus "Internal Security"

"The Secretary acknowledges that we have several million people here illegally, and he understands that for homeland security reasons, at some point in time, there needs to be a better way to identify those who may be a threat to our country."

Spokesman for Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge

"Our immigration and visa policy must ensure employers are able to fill jobs critical to our economy when American workers are not available."

Randel Johnson, U.S. Chamber of Commerce VP for labor, immigration & employee benefits

"Among the roughly 30 million immigrants living in the U.S. at the beginning of the 21st century are millions from countries dominated and plundered by U.S. imperialism. The ruling class fears that these immigrants may weaken the internal cohesion and fabric of the U.S., and potentially undermine the power of U.S. imperialism as an international tyrant."

Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party

Millions of people, a large percentage of whom are Mexicanos, have been driven from their home countries because of economic devastation of their home countries --largely produced by U.S. domination.

Since its implementation in 1994, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has mangled the Mexican economy. In just one example, tens of thousands of Mexican corn farmers have been unable to compete with cheaper imported U.S. corn. Many have been forced to abandon their farms and head to the cities or El Norte in a desperate search for work. They come here -- not because they "love" the U.S.--but literally in order to survive.

The capitalist rulers of the U.S. are not about to try and drive out all of these people. From their viewpoint, it is better to keep them here and exploit them. Let's be real. If they did expel all of these people, it would throw some major sectors of the U.S. economy into crisis, and would affect the larger economy very deeply. Important and key sections of the economy are extremely dependent on cheap immigrant labor such as construction, meat-packing, food service, hotels, electronics, health care, garment, agriculture and others.

Millions of people have been driven into the U.S. because U.S. domination of their home countries. They face the choice of seeing their children starve before their eyes or making the dangerous trip to El Norte to find work. Once here, millions live as if they have a gun to their heads, forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions for minimum wage or below, suffering from discrimination and police brutality.

But, at the same time, this is a section of the population the government is ruthlessly determined to police and control. This was true under the Democratic presidency of Bill Clinton, and it is even more true today after September 11 and the U.S. launching of aggressive military moves around the world.

This is not just the "latest stage of U.S. immigration policy"--it is part of a sweeping set of moves to increase government and police control over everyone who lives and works inside the U.S.

Bush's proposal is a trap--disguised as a plan for helping the people. It is a plan of ruthless imperialists to maintain a stable supply of cheap labor, militarize their southern border, intensify their police control of life within U.S. borders, and further dominate Mexico.