Revolution#127, April 20, 2008

It’s the System…

Why Do Immigrants Come to the U.S.?

In the early hours of dawn or in the plain light of day, massive immigration raids at factories, fast-food chains, and neighborhoods have swept up thousands of people. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security) “removed”—that is, deported—276,912 undocumented immigrants just in 2007. These are the actions of a modern-day Gestapo, the fascist police that rounded up Jews and others in Nazi Germany.

This major intensification of raids has torn parents from their children. There are approximately five million children in the U.S. who have at least one parent who is considered an “illegal” immigrant by the government. Many of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants being rounded up and deported have children they were forced to leave behind. One recent study of ICE raids at three work sites where 900 adults were arrested found that 500 children were affected. (National Council of La Raza, “Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children”)

Why did these immigrants end up in the U.S. in the first place?

Manuel was 18 when he left his small town in the countryside of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. He traveled to northern Mexico. And then he risked his life to cross the border through the desert—where the heat and lack of water can mean painful death. He now works in a garment sweatshop in Los Angeles, living life in the shadows as an undocumented immigrant, wary every minute of being picked up in one of the raids by armed government agents.

Manuel didn’t want to leave his home. “I love the countryside and being among my people. But it was time for me to think about my mom and my younger brothers and sisters. It’s impossible to make a living off the land anyway, so I came here to make money and send money to my family and to build a little house in my town.” He said most of the guys his age had already left his town by the time he, too, left.

There are countless stories like Manuel’s—he is one of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., exploited in farm fields, sweatshops, meat-packing plants, restaurants, construction, and so on. Why have so many made that dangerous trek across the border, where hundreds die each year?

Let’s look at that border. It wasn’t always where it is. The United States seized huge chunks of Mexican territory in the mid-1800s. And as U.S. capitalism developed into a worldwide imperialist empire, it has dominated, oppressed, and distorted the economy and development of the whole country of Mexico, feeding off its people and its resources.

Then in 1994, this domination took a new leap with the so-called “free trade” agreement (NAFTA)—which gave the U.S. imperialists more “freedom” to squeeze even more profits out of Mexico. The results have been disastrous for the masses of people in Mexico.

Why does Manuel say “it’s impossible to make a living off the land”? Because NAFTA knocked down what protection there was for small farmers in Mexico. And they could no longer compete with the cheaper corn and other crops, produced by huge U.S. agribusiness corporations, that flooded Mexico. More than six million peasants have been driven from the countryside since 1994 because they can no longer feed themselves and their families by farming. And the shantytowns around Mexico’s cities, already swollen with the very poor and the displaced, offer no way out.

So that is why millions of immigrant workers have ended up in the U.S. as “illegals.” It’s not a matter of “choice.” It’s not that these immigrants want to willfully “break the law” or “freeload” off social services or “steal American jobs” or any of the other lies that the rulers of this system tell about them—and that too many people are taken in by.

The truth is that the immigrants have been forced across the border by the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system and the policies of those in power.

Once in the U.S., these immigrant workers are super-exploited—working the most low-paying and dangerous jobs. Again, the immigrants do not “choose” to work such jobs. Those are the only kind of work offered to them under the U.S. capitalist economy, which has become so dependent on the super-exploitation of immigrant labor that it cannot function without it. The immigrants have to work those jobs, or face starvation for themselves and their families.

And the capitalist rulers use the immigrants’ “illegal” status—which is the result of this system’s workings in the first place—to keep them suppressed and under control. “Step out of line,” the immigrants are told, “and you’ll not only lose your job—you’ll be arrested, deported, separated from your children.” Immigrant communities are being terrorized by a fascist crackdown—widespread immigration round-ups, massive deportations, racist vigilantes, more militarization on the border, etc.

The rulers of this country, aided by the mass media, work hard to keep the people ignorant of the truth, in order to use the immigrants as scapegoats for all the insecurities and problems that this capitalist system has forced on the majority of people. Many in the middle class feel their living standards and quality of life under attack, and they are being misled by the mouthpieces for the capitalist-imperialist system that is actually responsible for the bad shape things are in.

The ruining of Mexico’s economy that has driven millions into desperation…horrors for millions of immigrants forced into slavery-like conditions in the U.S….the prejudice against immigrants that is fanned to keep people divided…the fascistic roundups and cruel break-up of families… all of these are the products of this capitalist-imperialist system.

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