Revolution #70, November 26, 2006


What the Elections Mean—and Don’t Mean—for Immigrants

In the wake of the recent elections, with the Democrats taking over the Congress and the seeming repudiation of Bush, many in the immigrant rights movement—as well as broadly among immigrants and the masses as a whole—believe that positive change and direction are in the works. And with the defeat of some of the most vociferous anti-immigrant voices in the House and Senate and the mobilization of Latino and immigrant voters, some are now saying that the Democrats “owe us” and will now have to listen and pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” But all along, the debate and differences in Congress have been over what combination of border militarization, new repressive measures, “guest worker” program, and illusions of legalization will be passed.

With control of Congress passing to the Democrats, “comprehensive immigration reform” may be passed. But what will this mean? Look at the bills supported by the Democrats. These bills have included expanded mandatory detention and deportation, authorization of indefinite detention, construction of more detention centers, greatly expanded grounds for denying legalization, deportation without the right to a court hearing, denial of legalization for anyone who ever used false documents to get a job (!), and many other repressive provisions.

Look at the “guest worker” and “temporary worker” provisions of some of these bills and Bush’s “guest worker” proposal. Enrique Morones of Border Angels (who place water stations in the desert in the U.S./Mexico border areas so that immigrants will not die of dehydration) hit the nail on the head. On the Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, he called Bush’s proposal a “rent-a-slave program.” All of these proposals would codify and legalize a de facto apartheid system for immigrants. Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and people outside the U.S. would be able to apply for and receive work permits—but the immigrants will have no guarantee that the permits will be renewed or that they will be able to obtain permanent residency or citizenship. They would still be in a very vulnerable position, required to return to their home countries if they go without work for more than 60 days. Just like in apartheid South Africa for Black people, immigrants would be able to come to the U.S. to work, but this would be temporary. The result would be an official caste system where millions of super-exploited immigrants have far fewer rights.

The “legalization” provisions for a “path to citizenship” only apply to people who have been here over five years—everyone else must leave the country. And those who have been here over five years and apply for legalization would face all kinds of hurdles after they have made the government aware of whom they are. Anyone who has ever used a false document, which the great majority of the undocumented have had to do in order to be able to work, would be disqualified and subject to deportation. Any false information in filling out paper work, even if it is the result of an unintentional omission or mistake, would subject the person to deportation.

Think about the process of someone proving that they have worked here for over five years. They would be required to turn over the names of everyone for whom they have ever worked, people who violated the law by employing them. And people would be turning over the names of their family members, whether or not they qualify for legalization. The result is the holding out of the illusion of a “path to citizenship” while bringing people “out of the shadows” so that this highly exploited section of people is much more under government control. Both Democrats and Republicans who support some combination of a “guest worker” program and a “path to legalization” (including Bush) all talk about the need to bring millions of immigrants out of the shadows. What they really mean is their need to bring millions of immigrants who have learned to function and live outside the law under the bright lights and scrutiny of Big Brother.

As I said in an earlier article,

“The Bush Regime is not going to somehow give full equality and a better life to immigrants on the one hand while rampaging through the world and this country, torturing, detaining people in secret prison, jailing people indefinitely without charges, imposing a fanatical fundamentalist government in the U.S., eliminating a woman’s right to choose and all the rest. Think about it. It is just not going to happen. Instead, it will be just the opposite, an even more horrific nightmare for immigrants than it is now. There is absolutely no prospect for a better life for immigrants and everyone else in the world as long as the Bush Regime stays in power.” (“The Movement for Immigrant Rights… And the Battle to Drive Out the Bush Regime,” Revolution #63)

Will the Democrats oppose this? The Democrats overwhelmingly supported the fascistic Patriot Act—which, among other things, includes many highly repressive provisions targeting immigrants. Where was the outcry and opposition from the Democrats to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allows the president to declare that an immigrant is an “unlawful enemy combatant” and hold that person indefinitely without charges and the right to judicial review, and which legalizes torture? Did the Democrats denounce the Bush administration for rounding up thousands of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants in the months after 9/11, holding many in secret without charges and without access to lawyers and family? The Democrats have supported or gone along with all of these measures as well as the horrific militarization of the border.

Just like the Republicans, the Democrats are a ruling class party that serves the interests, as they see them, of U.S. imperialism. And in this extreme period of war and repression, the rulers as a whole see immigrants as both a vital source of super exploitable labor and a potentially volatile force that must be suppressed and controlled.

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