Ray O. Light
The Growing Movement for Immigrant Rights in the USA
and the Question of Immigration
Immigrant Workers Protest Across the USA
Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers and their families took to the streets in cities and towns throughout the United States during the months of March and April in strong, united, dignified and just opposition to the threatened US government criminalization of undocumented immigrants. Significant mass demonstrations were reported in Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., New York City, Charlotte, Kansas City, Milwaukee and elsewhere. These protests included work stoppages, student walkouts and massive street demonstrations.
The biggest mobilizations to date took place in Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. On March 10, hundreds of thousands of mainly Mexican immigrants in Chicago, in a display of working class power unseen for decades in the United States, shut down numerous restaurants and over a hundred factories. On March 25, an estimated one million people took to the streets in Los Angeles in one of the biggest demonstration of workers in US history! On April 9 and 10, there was an additional round of protests that included as many as two million participants in close to 150 cities around the country, including an estimated 500,000 in Dallas.
These are very good developments for the struggle of the working class and oppressed peoples within the United States and around the world. We agree with Filipino revolutionary leader Jose Maria Sison, Chairman of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), who stated in a solidarity message issued April 3, 2006, "The massive rallies that surged up in the last few weeks in various US cities, signals the waking of the sleeping giant that is the immigrant communities and oppressed nationalities within the belly of the imperialist beast. It is a just cause to defend and fight for the human dignity and democratic rights of twelve million immigrants and their supporters against imperialist oppression, racism and the looming monster of fascism."
Already a sharp struggle has begun to win the hearts and minds of the newly awakened immigrant workers. On the one hand, under the influence of the dominant sector of US monopoly capital, the Catholic Church and other pro-imperialist institutions, there has been a diminishing presence of Mexican, Brazilian, Salvadoran flags and a growing presence of US flags and pledges of loyalty to the US state and economy among the new protesters. On the other hand, reflecting the militant labor traditions in many of their homelands, the upcoming general strike is scheduled for May Day, the international working class holiday (born in the USA!) that US imperialism has so persistently attacked as a Russian holiday, a communist holiday, etc. (Indeed, as in so many other countries, May Day is the official labor day of Mexico.) By holding this great event on May Day, the key link to the rest of the international working class is within their grasp. Which path will these immigrant workers take? Which side leads to freedom and which to slavery? This is the urgent question of the day.
To answer this question, we need to address a number of questions that have already arisen.
Question #1: Who are these new immigrant workers and why did they come to the USA?
In the epoch of imperialism and the proletarian revolution, (the last one hundred years or so), the principal character of migration from the oppressed and dependent nations of Asia and Latin America into the USA has been of a forced character. Especially in the sixty years or so since the end of World War II, when US imperialism became the leading imperialist power in the world, immigrants have come to these shores driven from their homelands by a combination of US imperialist-backed terror and by economic hardship based on the US imperialist-led economic control of their countries through international institutions like the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the US-based corporate monsters like Exxon-Mobil, GE, GM, Microsoft, Citigroup, etc. Such countries as the Philippines and Mexico as well as those in Central America and the Caribbean have had many of their most ambitious and confident working class and peasant masses migrate to the "mother country".
The liberal fiction that the immigrants risked life and limb, left their families, their homes and their culture "to come to build the USA" is a political "dead end" in which the immigrants can become entrapped in and enslaved to this corrupt, decadent and parasitic system. These migrants left US imperialist-plundered and pillaged homelands en masse in search of jobs motivated by the very survival of themselves and their families.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center Report of March 7, 2006, there are an estimated 37 million new immigrants (i.e. individuals who were born in another country) currently in the United States. This includes an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. In 2005, approximately 56% of undocumented immigrants were from Mexico; 22% from other Latin American countries; 13% from Asia, 6% from Europe and Canada; and 3% from Africa and elsewhere.
According to this same report, "The Mexican-born population in the United States, including both legal and unauthorized migrants, has grown by about 500,000 people a year for the past decade. Of the Mexican migrants in the U.S. less than 10 years, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that approximately 80 to 85% are unauthorized."
The report continues, "About 7.2 million unauthorized migrants were employed in March 2005, accounting for about 4.9% of the civilian labor force. They made up a large share of all workers …including 24% of all workers employed in farming occupations, 17% in cleaning, 14% in construction and 12% in food preparation." These immigrants, with no legal status in the USA, thus make up a significant section of the working class producers that keep this society afloat.
Question #2: What is the key issue that has given rise to this massive, predominantly Latino mobilization?
The immediate impetus for the mass protests was a bill introduced by Congressman Sensenbrenner and passed by the US House of Representatives in December 2005 (HR 4437) which would make it a felony for an immigrant to enter, work or live in the United States without the proper "legal" documentation. Under this legislation, undocumented immigrants could be forced to serve jail time and would be deported and barred from re-entry into the country. In addition, any individual or organization that "assisted" an immigrant without documentation would be liable for criminal penalties and five years in prison.
The passage of this legislation would have a tremendous negative impact on all sectors of the working class and on all oppressed nationalities. Passage and the subsequent terrorist enforcement of such legislation might well be the final step in the drive toward fascism inside the USA that has been rapidly advancing since Bush initiated his "war of terror" on the world in September 2001. In fact, this House bill is another rotten fruit of the post 9-11 war against the working people and especially the immigrant working people "at home" being waged by the Bush Regime along with its war against the workers and oppressed (and US imperialism’s partner-rivals) in the rest of the world. It is in the tradition of the massive jailing and deportation of thousands of South Asian and Arab immigrant workers in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 and the more recent Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) backed Minuteman Project through which thousands of retired cops, firefighters and military men are patrolling the border with Mexico against the undocumented immigrants coming across this border. One provision of the House bill is the erection of a seven hundred mile wall along the Mexican border!
By launching their protest against this openly repressive and terrorist measure, the immigrant workers are affirming their dignity and self worth. As they have pointed out, far from being "criminals" they are an integral part of the economic lifeblood of the USA today. The threat of such blanket criminalization of immigrants (and anyone that befriends them) is the wake-up call that finally stirred this "sleeping giant". Certainly, all allies that can be rallied to oppose the passage of such a fascistic bill, that would bring widespread terrorist police state repression throughout most of the USA, need to be united to stop this bill.
Question #3: Does the "liberal" alternative to the House bill represent a path to liberation for immigrant workers?
Because the Sensenbrenner Bill is so openly fascistic in its approach to undocumented immigrant workers and their families and friends in the USA, it has provided a cover for a variety of other "immigration reform" proposals that would also serve to intensify the exploitation of undocumented immigrant workers and thus the entire US working class. The principal alternative to HR 4437 under consideration in the US Senate is a bipartisan bill introduced by Democratic Senator Kennedy and Republican Senator McCain.
The aim of US imperialism is to maximize private profit through exploitation and super-exploitation of workers both within the United States and around the world. The various proposals for "immigration reform" being considered by the US Congress represent two sides of a strategy to entice immigrants into the United States to work ("Bring ‘em here") and to maintain a workforce submissive and ripe for super-exploitation ("Beat ‘em down.")* Such exploitation and terror directed against one section of the working class serves also to further repress all sections of the working class ("Beat ‘em all down.")
*For the sake of corporate super-profits, the Kennedy-McCain bill contains repressive provisions that (like the Sensenbrenner House bill) would give state and local law enforcement officials the authority to initiate deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants.
The key difference between the Sensenbrenner House bill and the Kennedy-McCain bill (as well as various other "compromises" under Senate consideration) is that the Kennedy-McCain bill would provide a "path to legalization" (albeit tortuous) for a significant number of undocumented immigrants presently in the USA. Under the Kennedy-McCain bill, both the "path to legalization" for current immigrants and the "guest worker programs" for up to 400,000 new immigrants are tied to employment. This would lock immigrant workers in a type of indentured (semi-feudal) servitude and make them subjects of increased abuse and exploitation where any type of labor protest could result in deportation from the country. (A similar guest worker program already in existence for agricultural workers would be expanded under the Kennedy-McCain proposal.)
Such a bill, "if passed, would create the largest guest-worker program since the Bracero program brought 4.6 million Mexican agricultural workers into the country between 1942 and 1960." (The Christian Science Monitor, 4-25-06) This "liberal" Kennedy-McCain approach to immigration reform is supported by President Bush, the US Chamber of Congress, the Wall Street Journal and other US monopoly capitalist interests who want to maintain the supply of new vulnerable immigrant workers coming to the US to be super-exploited so that the super-profits keep flowing into their corporate coffers. This is why a large number of US corporate leaders have encouraged participation by their workers in various immigrant rights demonstrations, including the May Day general strike!
Question #4: What is the significance of the growing presence of US flags in the protests, marches and demonstrations?
At this time the George W. Bush regime has lost much of its mass support. Its scandalous contracts with Bush crony capitalist corporations such as Enron, Halliburton, and Bechtel, its scandalous war crimes in Iraq leading to the current US imperialist quagmire there, its scandalous manipulation of the mass media to create "big lie" justification for war in Iraq as well as illegal "leaks" and intimidation to suppress intelligence exposures of the big lie (Scooter Libby et al), its blatant defiance of the laws of the land with regard to spying on its own citizens, the price gouging at the gasoline pump producing obscene profits for Bush’s oil company buddies, have all been exposed. In this context, the raising of US flags by the immigrant demonstrators represents an opportunity for the Bush Regime and US imperialism to gain a new source of strength from among the very strata of US society that has the least reason to support Bush and the most reason to oppose him!
Such flag waving objectively places these immigrants on the side of Bush and US imperialism and in opposition to the heroic Iraqi resistance fighters who are trying to liberate their country from US imperialist military occupation. Today, the US imperialist military has already reached strategic overextension and is in danger of failing to meet any more demands of the US Empire, as Afro-Americans, in particular, are less and less likely to be involved with military service. Indeed, the US military has increasingly targeted Latino youth for recruitment in this post 9-11 period of open US imperialist military aggression and intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines and elsewhere. And such flag waving could well pave the way to an increased use of immigrant Latinos as cannon fodder for US imperialist wars of plunder and pillage around the world.
The tragic irony of this US flag waving, symbolized also by the shrinking presence of Mexican, Brazilian, Salvadoran and other flags of the immigrants’ homelands, is that the country and system that is increasingly being supported in the demonstrations is the very one responsible for the national oppression of their homelands which has forced the immigrants to come to the USA!
Senator Ted Kennedy was quoted in the 3/11/06 Wall Street Journal as saying, "Immigrants have built this country and helped make it great. They have provided the labor and the services that are the bedrock of our economy. To our opponents who say so casually, ‘Turn them into criminals,’ we reply, ‘Turn them into Americans and make America a stronger and better land.’" In an article in April 18, 2006, Counterpunch, entitled "What Immigrants Must Learn from the Black Civil Rights Movement … and Soon", Los Angeles Chicano/Native American newspaper editor Juan Santos warns against the Kennedy-McCain led "compromise" legislation being considered in the Senate as an attack not only on undocumented immigrants but against what he called "All Brown people."
Santos opens his article addressing the question of flag waving with a quote from Malcolm X: "I’m not an American. I’m one of the twenty-two million Black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of democracy – nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-waver – no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream, I see an American nightmare." Santos correctly concludes his article: "As of May 1st, the day of the general strike – No more American flags."
Question #5: Do Black, white, Puerto Rican and other longtime working poor in the USA have a stake in supporting either Sensenbrenner’s House "criminalization" bill or the Kennedy-McCain "liberal" alternative?
The unskilled and poorest strata of the US working class are the hardest hit by the influx of undocumented immigrant workers because this influx serves to increase the pool (or supply) of available unskilled workers thereby decreasing the demand (and the price) for their labor. According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, Harvard University economics professor George Borjas and economist Lawrence Katz conducted a study in which they "concluded that immigration from Mexico alone depressed wages for native workers lacking a high school diploma by 8 per cent between 1980 and 2000." ("A sensible look at immigration," by Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe, 4/4/06)
The article further points out that "By keeping wages lower than they otherwise would be, low-skilled immigrant workers effectively transfer tens of billions in income each year from labor to employers. (Borjas estimates the total loss in labor earnings that results from all immigrants currently in the workforce at $280 billion annually.) Further, African-Americans without high school diplomas often get pushed to the end of the hiring line when immigrants expand the labor pool."
Given these statistics, it appears on the surface that the US "working poor" should favor penalizing and even criminalizing immigrant workers (and thus provide a mass base for fascist motion in this country.) These are facts that the liberals, revisionists and Trotskyites try to deny which only serves to sow more confusion among the poorest strata of current US workers.
There is a proletarian revolutionary answer to this question, however. "Criminalization" of the poor, unskilled immigrant workers will not stop their emigration to the United States and the explosion of the size of the cheap labor pool in the USA for the following reasons:
A. The government and laws and "armed men" that compose the US STATE serve the interest of the ruling class of monopoly capitalists and imperialists. Therefore, the US government will not prosecute the large US agribusiness and sweatshop capitalists who reap super-profits from the labor of these so-called "illegals" in the USA.
An article in the March 23, 2006 New York Times by Eduardo Porter, pointed out, "according to farmers’ own estimates, about 70 percent of the 1.2 million hired workers tilling fields and picking crops [in the USA] are illegal immigrants.… Despite the ostensible sanctions against businesses that hire illegal workers, few employers were ever punished. So rather than go through the more complex process of importing temporary workers legally, most chose the cheaper and generally risk-free route of hiring illegal migrants who presented themselves with forged papers."
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), "The number of ‘notices of intent to fine’ issued to employers who employed illegal workers dropped to three in 2004 from 417 in 1999. The number of arrests of unauthorized workers at work sites decreased to 445 in 2003 from 2,849 in 1999." (WSJ, 3-11-06) In the same issue, the WSJ editorial board stated that "it makes little sense to start raiding businesses and driving foreigners further underground without first expanding the legal ways for the economy to get the workers it needs." (Our emphasis, ROL)* In other words, don’t mess with the sources of cheap labor and capitalist super-profits.
*The recent series of worksite immigration raids in nine states resulting in the arrest of 1,187 workers and 7 current and former executives at IFCO systems (a manufacturer of crates and pallets) appears to be in contradiction to this point. However, it is noteworthy that the target of these immigration raids was not a US but a Netherlands-based corporation. And US imperialist chieftain President Bush, serving his corporate masters, made his position loud and clear on this issue in the immediate aftermath of these arrests – "Massive deportations of the people here is unrealistic. It’s just not going to work."
B. Driven by desperate economic conditions in their homelands, immigrant workers have risked their lives to come to a hostile, disrespectful, and oppressive US environment where they are separated from their families and their culture in order to get a terrible job that nevertheless helps their family to survive. It will take victorious national democratic revolution in the nations oppressed by US imperialism and the subsequent improvement of the fortunes of the immigrant workers’ families and communities in their home country to stop this flow.
Because of the imperialist nature of the US government and society, to the extent that the immigrant workers are criminalized, this intensified persecution of them will only serve to beat them down further and thus further beat down the entire pool of the poorest strata of the US working class (and ultimately the entire US working class)! *
*One dramatic historical example: On January 2, 1920, US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, with a young J. Edgar Hoover as his key aide, launched his infamous raids simultaneously in seventy cities. Ten thousand workers, both citizens and non-citizens alike, were "hauled from their beds, dragged out of meetings, grabbed on the streets and from their homes, and thrown into prison by the federal police. The raids…purported to be for the purpose of seizing aliens for deportation, … But thousands of citizens were also seized." (Labor’s Untold Story, p.212) This massive assault led to a decrease in the membership in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from over 4 million in 1920 to less than three million members three years later! This dampening of working class militancy was accompanied by sharp decreases in wages and working conditions for the entire US working class which lasted for almost two decades until the birth of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) in the midst of the Great Depression.
The poorest strata of the US working class, despite and even because of being the hardest hit by the influx of poor, unskilled, undocumented workers, has the greatest stake in fighting shoulder to shoulder alongside immigrant workers to oppose the criminalization of their immigrant working class brothers and sisters. The poorest strata of the US working class has a direct stake in fighting for the victory of the liberation struggles of the peoples of the nations oppressed by US imperialism over US imperialism, which is the main bulwark of world reaction, the world’s number #1 Exploiter and #1 Terrorist. The poorest strata of the US working class, the "working poor", have the greatest stake in fighting for and winning a Socialist USA. Such a society will be based on the elimination of the exploitation of man by man and the elimination of the national oppression of one group of (oppressed and dependent) nations by other (imperialist oppressor) nations.
Question #6: Where do the interests of the immigrant workers lie – in immigrant rights or in immigration?
Emigration of many of the best and brightest workers and peasants from the oppressed and dependent countries deprives these societies of many of the best fighters for justice in their homelands.
The "safety valve" of immigration strengthens the ruling comprador and national bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations. One powerful example is the Philippines where the corrupt and brutal regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is able to remain in power largely on the basis of the remittances of the millions of Filipino immigrants dispersed throughout the world from the Middle East to the USA. Such remittances provide the largest source of income for the US puppet Philippine government. No doubt the Fox- led Mexican government is advocating a "guest worker" program in part to gain such similar financial support for their reactionary state, currently deprived them by the anarchy of the present immigration policies of the United States.
Forced imperialist immigration rips peasants and workers away from their homes, families, communities, language, history and culture. Loved ones are split from loved ones, spouses from spouses, children from parents and siblings, sometimes forever, while parents work in the United States, in many cases unable to visit back home. Peasants and workers are forced to give up everything they have for a dangerous voyage, often resulting in theft, death and sexual exploitation. A peonage system is sometimes in place where the trip to the US is paid back in forced wages. Just a few years ago immigrants from Thailand were found chained to machines and locked in a Los Angeles factory, in virtual slavery. Health is undermined by diet, poverty and trauma, like the kind faced by the recent Hurricane Katrina immigrants, and the inaccessibility of adequate health care.
Immigrant youth are overwhelmed by the "dog eat dog" mentality of imperialist life and drug and youth culture. The "gangsta" culture, so prevalent among oppressed nationality youth in the USA, has captivated so many Salvadoran immigrant youth, for example, that a Salvadoran gang now functions in cities and towns throughout the USA. Today it has been transported to El Salvador itself where it has become an additional obstacle to the liberation of El Salvador from the yoke of US imperialism.
Once in the United States the immigrant workforce, particularly the undocumented section of it, is forced to work in the most dangerous and low-paid occupations, from asbestos removal to the agricultural fields of pesticides. The once unionized and decently paid meatpacking industry is located in the US heartland. Yet it is now almost completely run on the backs of low-paid, non-union immigrant workers and injury rates of 100% a year are common. Barriers to even limited rights of workers compensation, health care and other workplace rights are denied the marginalized immigrant workers, including in this now dangerous industry, due to immigrant status, language barriers, isolation and discrimination.
US government proposed bills to initiate either a "guest worker" program and/or a "legalization" program will do little to change these facts, since such processes are tied to having a job at all costs – making immigrant workers even more beholden to and under the heel of the boss.
All immigrant workers, both documented and undocumented, have a stake in fighting for immigrant rights, against criminalization, and for more rights and benefits as workers. The struggle for equal rights is part of the struggle for a better life.
But immigrants also have a direct interest in opposing forced imperialist immigration and its negative impact on their lives, their families and their nations. The overthrow of imperialist oppression and the winning of national liberation and socialism will bring an end to forced immigration based on the inequality of nations.
Jesus Colon, Puerto Rican working class fighter and communist fighter for Puerto Rican Independence and a Socialist USA, in the title essay of his book, A Puerto Rican in New York, had this to say:
"I suddenly realized that there was no future for a young man in Puerto Rico, but the future of the sugar cane field, with starvation wages. The future of an upward struggle with great odds against you. Today I realize after forty years of experience that there was another future: The pleasure of fighting hard and furiously against the conditions imposed by the colony".
Some Marxist-Leninist Conclusions
The question of immigration in the imperialist stage of capitalism is a complex issue.
The Marxist-Leninist understanding of the imperialist political-economic system, including how this system impacts the formation and development of nations and peoples informs our conclusions about this important question. From the standpoint of the world proletarian revolution:
The struggle against the criminalization of immigrant workers in the USA is a just and noble one. The successful defense of immigrant workers rights, including on this important question, serves to raise the status of the immigrant workers in the USA. This uplifting of immigrant workers, in turn, uplifts the rest of those in the labor pool with them – namely, the Black, white, Puerto Rican, Asian-American and Native American working poor. The raising up of the status of the US working poor, in turn, lifts up the status of the entire US working class. Consequently, all sections of the working class in the USA have a stake in uniting against the criminalization of immigrant workers in the USA and such working class unity is vital to the success of this struggle.
In the struggle against the criminalization of immigrant workers in the USA, the broadest possible united front must be created that welcomes liberal church folks, pacifists, Democratic and Republican party politicians, representatives of organized labor, anti-fascists of all types as well as the working class and oppressed nationalities within the US multinational state. But the progressive coalition that is built needs to move in the direction of working class power and socialism and not toward a strengthening of the current imperialist power.
Within the US multinational state, the massive popular upsurge of the immigrant rights movement should inspire all the oppressed minority communities to rise up and fight for their rights. Strategically, the oppressed Chicano, Puerto Rican and Afro-American nations in their respective territories should be inspired to renew their struggle for self-determination against US imperialism.
A successful immigrant rights movement in the USA needs to be linked to the movement against the Bush-led US imperialist war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, the Philippines, Colombia, Iran, etc. and to the movement against imperialist globalization which is the source of much of the current immigration waves in the USA and world-wide.
There is no "legislative remedy" to the oppression and exploitation of immigrant workers in the USA today. Both the Sensenbrenner Bill and the Kennedy-McCain proposed alternative are examples of this fact as they both attack immigrant workers and the entire US multi-national working class.
Liberals, Revisionists and Trotskyites slide over from the struggle against criminalization of the immigrant workers and support for immigrant workers rights to support for immigration with its forced character under imperialist domination. These opportunist elements absolve themselves of responsibility to fight for the national liberation of the nations oppressed by US imperialism and aid US imperialism in keeping these nations in bondage by encouraging immigration instead of liberation struggle. "Wave the US flag and forget your homeland."
At the same time the opportunists create the illusion that Socialism is not necessary in the USA in order for the working people to achieve a decent future. They promote the illusion that integration into and support for current US monopoly capitalist society is the path to the "good life". "Wave the US flag and join the US Marines."
Furthermore, these petty bourgeois opportunists, from Catholic Church liberals to the revisionists and Trotskyites, deny the negative impact that a large increase in the number of desperate and dislocated workers has on the general well being of the working poor---the most vulnerable strata of the US working class. Such liberal posturing helps pave the way to fascist mobilization of this section of the class on the demagogic appeal of great nation chauvinism, jingoism, immigrant bashing and scapegoating for the harsh problems this strata faces under the monopoly capitalist and imperialist system.
Marxist-Leninists support the right of nations to self-determination and fight for their realization by any means necessary, including national democratic revolutions against imperialism, (today) headed by US imperialism. As these revolutions achieve victory in concert with each other and with the struggle for socialism in the oppressed and dependent countries as well as in the imperialist countries themselves, free and voluntary immigration will emerge. To bring about maximum unity of the various sectors of the international working class and their unity with the struggles of the oppressed and dependent countries of the world, a new Communist International, armed with a Leninist understanding of the dialectical relationship between nationalism and internationalism, is on the order of the day. The victory of socialism worldwide is the condition for the free flowering of nations based on equality of nations and proletarian internationalism. It will include the free flowering of voluntary migration.
For an Anti-imperialist Movement for Immigrant Rights!
For National Democratic Revolutions and For Socialism!
Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples Unite!
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