Update on the Immigration Bills: They're All No Good

Revolution #043, April 16, 2006, posted at revcom.us

Millions of immigrants have defiantly taken to the streets in recent weeks, demanding to be treated as human beings. Thousands of children of immigrants have walked out of high schools and more marches are planned. Protesters have targeted the fascist Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437), which would make it a felony—punishable by criminal prosecution to be or help an undocumented immigrant.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437). The other body of the Congress, the Senate, has been debating their own version of an immigration bill. After much debate and backroom maneuvering, the Senate, Thursday, failed to agree on a bill. When the Senate does pass a bill, a conference committee will negotiate how to handle differences between the two versions. The final version is voted on again in both houses and becomes law when signed by the President.

There are divisions among the rulers—whose economy depends to a large extent on superexploited immigrant labor, and who fear immigrants as well (see “Welcome the Immigrants”). But these divisions being debated out are NOT over what is in the interests of the people—but what is in the strategic interests of the ruling class.

In the Senate, a bill pushed by Senator Specter has been portrayed in the media as pro-immigrant. But it's not. The Specter bill would seriously increase repression of immigrants in some unprecedented ways, as outlined in last week’s issue of Revolution, (issue #42).

A “compromise” on the Specter bill, which came closest to uniting the Senate, would divide immigrants into three categories. The first category is immigrants who have lived in the country at least five years—about 7 million people. The plan is that these immigrants could apply for citizenship after a very repressive process—without any real guarantees of getting it. The process, taking six to eight years, would require learning English and passing a civics test (evoking the literacy tests used in the south to keep poor Blacks from voting). It would impose fines of $2,000 plus payment of back taxes, proof of continual employment for six years, and background checks. These checks include a criminal background check, which presents a “Catch 22”—an impossible situation—since immigrants are often forced to live outside the law in order to survive. While it is being presented as a way millions of immigrants could “gain citizenship,” in actuality it is a very highly repressive and selective process.

The second category is for those who have lived in the U.S. for two to five years—about three million immigrants. These immigrants would be forced to leave the country, then report to an American port of entry to be classified as temporary workers or refused entry. They would not be guaranteed citizenship and would have to leave after six years of being exploited as temporary workers. And the third category, about a million immigrants in the country less than two years, would be forced out. They could try to sign up to be exploited without a guarantee of getting a temporary work visa. Just think about what it would mean if literally millions of immigrants were forced to leave the country by law and what that would look like.

The failure of the Senate to pass any bill so far is a result of both infighting among the capitalists, and also the courageous protests of immigrants. Part of the strategy behind this “compromise” was to deal with and divide up millions of immigrants who have actively taken to the streets. The Senate bills were not, as some have claimed, a “step in the right direction.” What direction were these bills going? Where immigrants will be tracked down and categorized? Pitting older immigrants against newer immigrants? Forcing them to turn themselves in to the authorities—where the best outcome is tightened control, repression and more systematic exploitation? And this “compromise” was added to the already dangerously repressive proposals in the Specter bill—increased immigrant jails, unprecedented legal detention of immigrants, an apartheid-like work system—and militarizing the border—leading to even more death among those forced to cross by the workings of this global capitalist-imperialist system.

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