Millions Demand Full Rights for Immigrants

April 18, 2006

A massive movement demanding full rights for immigrants is developing all across the country.

On April 9 and 10, hundreds of thousands of Americans from more than 120 cities, joined in actions to oppose new anti-immigrant legislation being prepared by Congress. A similar wave of mass demonstrations were organized last month.

On April 9, 500,000 people rallied in Dallas and tens of thousands more demonstrated in San Diego, Miami, Birmingham, Boise, Salem and other cities. Even more actions were organized on April 10, as part of a "National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice;" 180,000 rallied in Washington, D.C., 80,000 in Atlanta, 100,000 in Phoenix, 75,000 in Fort Myers, 50,000 in Houston, and scores of other cities.

People from all walks of life and dozens of nationalities - including Mexicans, Salvadorans, Haitians, Senegalise, Koreans, Chinese, Irish, people from many Arab countries and many more - joined in the actions. Workers were in the forefront along with students, teachers, clergy, and others. The flags of many nations waved in the crowds and slogans in defense of immigrant rights were shouted in many languages.

The immediate aim of the movement is to mobilize against various anti-immigrant bills working their way through Congress.

Already the House of Representatives has passed the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act." The bill is presently being considered by the Senate.

The bill would:

- make it a federal felony to live illegally in the country, even in cases of minor technical or procedural violations.

- make it a crime, punishable by 5 years in jail, for family members, social workers, lawyers, clergy or anyone to help undocumented immigrants in any way.

- build a 700 mile wall along the Mexico-U.S. border.

- dramatically increase federal policing against immigrants and require border patrol officers to deport - without even an administrative hearing - anyone within 100 miles of the border who an agent "thinks" is an undocumented immigrant present in the country less than 14 days.

- require every citizen and legal resident to obtain federal permission to work and require all businesses to participate in an employment eligibility verification program.

This outrageous bill would, overnight, turn 10-12 million undocumented workers and their families, friends and co-workers into criminals. It would further militarize our country and impose an effective national ID system on all Americans.

The "Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act" is inspired by and promotes anti-immigrant racism. The authors and proponents of the law present the question of immigration as one of "national security" and "opposing terrorism."

For example, Congressman Tancredo, a cosponsor of the bill, tries to create hysteria by writing: "the smuggling of drugs, weapons and violent criminals is a common practice across both of our borders. . . . a number of the aforementioned OTM's (immigrants from countries other than Mexico) have come from "Countries of Interest" such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - countries with heavy pockets of radical Islam."

Congressman Poe, another supporter, calls for "securing the border" in order to "tighten the noose of the perpetrators of senseless violence and terror who harm our citizens." Poe further writes "precious American dollars are being hijacked on unreimbursed medical care and education for illegal aliens, who, in the darkness of the night, manage to come across our borders. Have Texas, and other border States merely become free HMOs for illegals . . .?"

The unrestrained racism of such gentlemen is seen in their response to the massive demonstrations against their proposed law. Congressman Tancredo cursed the demonstrators as "hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens in the streets, waving foreign flags, and demanding, basically that they be allowed to continue to break our laws." Similarly, Brit Hume, anchor on Fox News, described the protestors, especially those carrying Mexican flags, as "a repellant spectacle." Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, called the marchers "ominous" in "their hint of a large, unassimilated population existing outside America's laws and exhibiting absolutely no sheepishness about it."

In short the ideology of these politicians is racism and their program is to hunt, capture and deport immigrants.

A different grouping of capitalist politicians present themselves as "pro-immigrant" and have proposed an "alternative" to the "Border Control Act." These politicians openly proclaim that their policies are driven by the need of the capitalists to maintain, today and in the future, a large pool of cheap, immigrant labor. They are proposing legislation which would create: 1) a "temporary worker" status for some currently undocumented immigrants and 2) a "guest worker" program which would allow capitalists to import 300,000-400,000 low-skill, temporary foreign workers every year. The essence of these proposals is not "pro-immigrant" but rather using the plight of undocumented and immigrant workers to force them into conditions of virtual indentured servitude.

Temporary work visas would be granted to those undocumented workers who have lived in the country for more than 5 years, have "clean backgrounds," who can prove a continuous work record, and pay thousands of dollars in fines and back taxes. If granted temporary worker status, these immigrants would have to work for 11 years before being considered for citizenship. Prolonged periods of unemployment or even minor offenses would result in deportation.

At the same time, the politicians who are pushing for "guest workers" and "temporary workers" want to beef up security and enforcement just as much or more as those who call for hunting, capturing and deporting immigrants. The temporary and guest worker bills include a national ID system, with a biometric ID card, as well increased money and manpower for immigration and border enforcement.

On the surface, it appears that there are two opposing trends within the capitalist class - one which wants to close the borders and severely limit immigration and one which wants to increase immigration. These trends have argued and debated for decades.

In practice, however, these "opposing trends" produce a situation which is most advantageous to the capitalist class. New waves of immigrants continually come (and are recruited) to the U.S. but on arrival they are branded as "illegal" or "temporary" so that they can be superexploited by the capitalists and denied their basic human rights.

To begin with, the government has created a complex system of exclusionist immigration law. This includes country or regional quotas on the number of legal immigrants and a system of preferences which discriminates against poor and less educated immigrants (Foreign capitalists, on the other hand, can legally buy citizenship by "investing" enough money in the U.S.).

Yet the needs of the U.S. capitalists for cheap labor have always exceeded the legal quotas set by immigration law. Thus the capitalists have always recruited and relied on a large pool of "undocumented" workers. Today there are 10-12 million "undocumented" workers in the U.S. They are paid the lowest possible wages and forced into the dirtiest, hardest jobs. Under constant threat of detention and deportation, undocumented workers are often denied vital public services, including even health care and schooling, They are prevented from exercising such elementary rights as the right to unionize, to speak out, etc. Every year, millions are deported - forcibly separated from the homes, their jobs, their families, etc.

One step "above" the caste of undocumented workers, the capitalists have created a caste of guest workers who are given short-term work permits which allow (and require) them to work for the capitalists for a specified period of time at fixed wages and working conditions. When these temporary permits expire, these workers must return to their home countries. The current proposals call for a big expansion of this guest worker program.

Even at the "top rung" of the immigrant ladder, workers are deprived of basic rights. Immigrants must register and report to the government. During the hysteria after September 2001, many immigrants were forced to undergo special reporting procedures. Immigrants are denied the right to vote, restricted in their right to participate in political activities as well as to travel abroad, etc. At all times, immigrants remain under the threat of deportation and repression. This was sharply brought home after September 2001, when thousands of immigrants were arrested, hundreds deported, tens of thousands harassed for no reason except that they were immigrants. Even after fulfilling the 5-year residency requirement, most immigrants are arbitrarily forced to wait for indefinite periods of time before becoming citizens.

This exploitation and oppression of immigrants has been a way of life for the U.S. capitalists from the beginning when they brought the African peoples here as slaves and many Europeans as indentured servants. Over the decades, the capitalists continually brought new waves of immigrants here to meet their need for cheap labor and to hold down the wage demands and rights of the American working class and people.

With the rise of U.S. imperialism in the 20th century, the superexploitation of immigrant labor in the U.S. became a corollary of U.S. colonial oppression of other nations. U.S. imperialism plundered the economies of Latin America and other countries, depriving millions of workers in these countries of any means of a livelihood. In turn, these workers were forced by economic necessity, and encouraged by ruthless U.S. capitalists, to migrate here. Once here, the immigrants again faced the merciless exploitation of U.S. capitalism which deliberately keeps immigrants in an illegal status, denied the most basic rights except, of course, the "right" to be superexploited by the capitalists who stole their homes in the first place.

Today, U.S. imperialism's program of so-called "neo-liberal" economics - its drive to completely take over the economies of Latin America and other countries - is only accelerating the economic migrations to the U.S. For example, since the passage of NAFTA, "illegal" immigration from Mexico to the U.S. has nearly doubled (from 250,000/year to 460,000/year). The capitalists have no intention of giving up either their stranglehold over the Mexican economy or their ability to superexploit the Mexican workers. They will continue to hold illegality and the threat of deportation over undocumented workers as well as expand a legal category of "temporary and/or guest workers" who have no more rights than indentured servants.

In opposition to the chauvinism and exploiting aims of the capitalists, the American working class and people have always fought for equal rights for immigrants and all human beings.

The ongoing demonstrations in support of immigrant rights are part of the long tradition of the American people. We have always considered this a land of refuge for all the working and oppressed peoples just as we have continuously struggled to create a society in which equal rights are guaranteed for all. Nothing less than this can fulfill the aspirations and demands of the movement to defend the rights of immigrants.