Revolution #207, July 18, 2010
Needed: Mass Opposition to Attacks on Immigrants
July 29 is the day that Arizona's controversial anti-immigration law, SB 1070, is set to go into effect. The law makes it a crime to willfully be in Arizona without proof of legal status. Once the police have stopped someone, whatever the legal justification, it requires them to demand papers if they even suspect the person could be an undocumented immigrant. In effect, it legalizes racial profiling, exposing anyone and everyone to police interrogation and brutality if they "fit the description"—meaning they speak with an accent, have dark skin, dress in a certain way, or are found in the "immigrant" part of town.
This law will make the already precarious existence faced by undocumented immigrants even worse. People who yesterday faced being rounded up when they tried to search for work, shop for groceries, raise children, or just live in neighborhoods targeted for immigration sweeps, now must try to survive as virtual fugitives from the law—seen that way by neighbors, co-workers, or classmates who might turn them in at any time. If this doesn't make you think about the early stages of the Nazis' treatment of the Jews—it should.
The passage of SB 1070 sparked immediate outrage and alarm by people within Arizona and around the country. It has led to protests and civil disobedience, calls for boycotts of Arizona companies and sports teams, and even to official votes of condemnation by city governments and others.
The "Immigration Issue" and Conflicts in the Ruling Class
This system relies on, and has integrated into its functioning, a huge section of vulnerable, highly exploitable immigrant labor, the bulk of it from Mexico. It is an essential element enabling U.S. capital to successfully compete in the global economy. At the same time, U.S. imperialism has reached deep into Mexican society, dominating and twisting the economy to the point that millions can barely survive and see little choice but to head north in hopes of finding work and a chance to send money home to those remaining behind. As a result, there are now an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., working mainly in shit jobs for low pay, living in the margins and in many ways "living outside the law" as a fact of daily life.
There is widespread consensus in the ruling class that "the immigration system is broken." While there is agreement that a different system for dealing with the millions of undocumented immigrants is needed, there are sharp differences over what to do, reflecting differences over how much it threatens the country's social cohesion, and whether the proposed solutions will work or will end up causing even greater problems for the system.
SB 1070 has been crafted and championed by a hard core, right-wing section of the ruling class, and has become the rallying cry for everyone from leading Republicans to Tea Party activists to forces like the KKK and the open white supremacists. They see the character of the country—defined by its white domination and white privilege—being undermined by the changes that immigration has brought. The stated "intent" of the law is to bring about "attrition by enforcement," a form of ethnic cleansing aimed at forcing undocumented immigrants out of the state—and out of the country—by mobilizing every level of police authority to make life so unbearable, and the threat of deportation so pervasive, that people will simply pack up and flee. And these fascist forces see Arizona as just the first of many more efforts to put this program into effect. Similar legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and South Carolina, and many more states may follow suit.
Other sections of the ruling class, including those forces grouped around the Obama Administration and the Democrats generally, but also including some prominent figures in the Republican Party, see things like SB 1070 as a dangerous and risky course of action. They argue that trying to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is not possible and would throw the entire U.S. economy—and society generally—into chaos. They worry that the openly reactionary nature of moves like SB 1070 risk unleashing upheaval and resistance both from the immigrants being targeted as well as those in society who would stand with them, potentially leading to confrontation with the reactionary forces behind this program. They also see Arizona's move to craft its own immigration laws as a dangerous precedent and one that could interfere with the larger national interests of the imperialists as a whole, in particular in relation to Mexico. There are strategic implications for the U.S. empire in maintaining a level of stability within Mexico; and already the attacks on immigrants here, the disruption of the flow of remittances and the forced return back across the border are affecting the whole social fabric there, adding to an already growing instability.
Obama's Speech on Immigration
The growing tension surrounding the Arizona law, rooted in these complex contradictions, led President Obama to give a major speech on July 1 arguing for why the administration's program for comprehensive immigration reform, and not what is taking place in Arizona, should prevail. Five days later the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in federal court in Phoenix to block the implementation of the Arizona law.
But even as he opposed SB 1070, Obama conciliated and compromised with the reactionary forces behind it. He did not condemn this reactionary program, and did not call on people to take to the streets to oppose it. Instead, he went out of his way to say that he recognized the "frustration" of those behind SB 1070, that their program was "understandable but unrealistic." It was an expression of the fact that the Democrats can't and won't call the people into the streets to stand up to such fascistic measures, in large part because they fear the kind of social upheaval that could result and instead they work to keep people demobilized and paralyzed politically.
Further Militarizing the Border
Militarizing the border is the key way that immigrant labor is regulated and super exploitation is reinforced, and Obama made clear his administration agrees this militarization needs to increase. As a result of the policies he's already enacted, there are "more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history."
What this has meant is that the number of Mexicans killed or wounded by U.S. immigration authorities has risen from 5 in 2008, to 12 in 2009, to 17 so far in the first half of this year alone. In a two-week period last month, one immigrant was tasered to death at the checkpoint south of San Diego and a 15-year-old boy was gunned down by a border patrol agent who fired across the border into Juarez, Mexico. Even more, amassing more and more troops along the Mexican border, at a time when there is growing instability and crisis on the Mexican side, increases the likelihood of a situation where those troops are sent across the border.
At the same time, huge numbers of people in Mexico and countries to its south continue to have little choice but to try to make the dangerous trip to "El Norte." But because of the "funnel effect" in the way the border wall has been constructed and the border is enforced, people are being forced to risk not just apprehension but death by crossing the treacherous and deadly Arizona-Sonora desert in record numbers. It was estimated that the remains of 85 people were found, ravaged by the heat and by animals, in the last 6 months of 2009. How many more have perished cannot be calculated.
All-Around Assault on Immigrants
Obama said there's still "more work to do" because the borders are "just too vast to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols." Since his election U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not ended its factory and neighborhood sweeps, but has added what some employers call "silent raids." By auditing their employee files they are forcing the employers to fire unauthorized workers en masse, working to create a climate where hiring the undocumented is no longer practical. ICE has been able to target far more companies than the Bush administration was able to reach by relying on workplace roundups. There has been a dramatic increase in the network of detention centers in recent years, many of them privately run, that are holding immigrants awaiting a determination whether they should be deported. It has come to light that in the past seven years over 100 immigrants have died in these detention centers.
While Obama did not address this in his speech, part of the immigration plan he supports, as described in an Op-Ed piece by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham in March, includes the introduction of a high-tech, tamper-proof identification card that would feature a biological identifier, like fingerprints or retinal scans. This high-tech national ID card would be required of everyone in the U.S. who wants to work, immigrants and citizens alike.
Obama spoke of the "need to provide farms a legal way to hire the workers they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status." What he's talking about has been named a "guest worker" program designed for admitting lower-skilled workers. Such a system of "circular migration" already exists on a small scale, but there are calls for a massive expansion. The system enables employers to import legal temporary workers for up to six months—and then send them home when they are no longer needed or wanted. Workers brought in through the "guest worker" program are required to hand over their immigration papers to the companies that employ them, making them virtual captive labor. This system creates an underclass of workers who can be easily deported if they're fired; are often cheated out of their wages; and are forced to live in terrible conditions.
"Out of the Shadows…"
Finally, Obama talked about the need to "demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship." This is the Democrats' plan to solve the problem of millions of people on the bottom of society "living in the shadows" while trying to avoid a major disruption of the economy. And no one knows how many of those who admit they broke the law could end up being jailed or deported instead of being integrated into this society with some form of legal status. In particular, if having used "fraudulent documents" to get employment disqualifies you from this program, it's estimated possibly 75 percent of undocumented workers could be excluded.
More fundamentally, the whole disgusting premise is that undocumented immigrants are criminals who must admit their guilt, accept punishment, and then go to the back of the line. It completely reverses right and wrong; it holds them responsible for the way their country has been economically and politically dominated and ravaged by U.S. finance capital, forcing them to come here at great risk and sacrifice, to be super-exploited in sweatshops with low wages and dangerous working conditions and hunted like criminals.
In essence, the goal of Obama's program, as much as that represented by SB 1070, is to find a different way to regulate the immigrants—further tightening the border; preventing the undocumented from being able to work; developing a guest worker program to reduce the need for them; and finding the most effective way to bring them "out of the shadows" and "into the reach" of the system and its authority. Taken as a whole, Obama's "compromise" version of comprehensive immigration reform offers nothing but increased repression, desperation, and criminalization for the millions of undocumented immigrants and their families.
The Need for Mass Opposition to SB 1070
The hearing on the federal lawsuit will be on July 22, and it remains to be seen what will come of this in the short run. Regardless of what happens, without a major challenge to the toxic anti-immigrant climate that is being generated, the reactionary forces who have been emboldened by this offensive against immigrants will not back down. They will find other ways to respond. And Joe Arpaio, the fascist Sheriff of Maricopa County who has announced that he will launch raids on immigrant neighborhoods beginning July 30, is not going to be deterred, whatever the result of the lawsuit.
What is urgently needed is broad, visible opposition to what all sections of the ruling class are pushing around immigration. Today, the battle lines are being drawn in Arizona. Everyone who is righteously outraged by the whole anti-immigrant climate needs to speak out against SB 1070 and struggle with many others to do the same. Come to Arizona on July 29. Be part of the fight.
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