Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Senate Immigration Bill: A Program for Increased Repression and Legalized Slavery
Sixteen days after the brutal LAPD assault on May Day immigrant rights protesters in Los Angeles, new assaults against immigrants were launched in Washington, DC. Liberal Democratic senators (including some with a reputation of being for immigrant rights), conservative Republican senators and the Bush administration came to an agreement that represents, if passed into law, a major leap in repression against immigrants.
At this point the government is not seeking, as advocated by some in the ruling class, the roundup and mass deportation of the estimated 12 to 20 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. In reality, the U.S. economy would collapse without super-exploited immigrant labor. Ruthless exploitation of immigrant workers is critical to the functioning of the American imperialist economy. Instead, at the heart of this Senate proposal are: (1) a significant escalation in the militarization of the border; (2) a slave-like “guest worker” program; and (3) a “legalization” scheme to force undocumented immigrants to register with the government in exchange for a probationary permit to work, with the possibility of permanent residency a dozen years in the future; (4) a revamping of the ability of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to legally bring family members into the U.S. which will result in splitting families apart.
Militarization of the Border, Concentration Camps, and Living With No Rights
The proposal calls for whole new levels in the deployment of Migra agents (border patrol), hi-tech surveillance equipment, and detention of immigrants at the border (see "Major Provisions of the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007"). Since the stepped-up militarization of the border began during the Clinton presidency in the mid-1990s, an estimated 4,000 immigrants have died trying to cross according to figures compiled by Coalición de Derechos Humanos based in Tucson, Ariziona. On top of the already militarized border, the proposal would add 370 miles of fencing and 18,000 Migra agents. These new measures will force greater numbers of desperate and hungry people to cross through the more remote and dangerous areas of deserts, mountains and rivers, resulting in even more people dying.
The proposal will implement a 32% increase in the number of immigrants that can be held in detention centers (concentration camps in reality) – from 20,750 per day (last year) to 27,500 per day -- by constructing new detention camps. According to a 2006 New York Times article, “By the fall of 2007, the administration expects that about 27,500 immigrants will be in detention each night, an increase of 6,700 over the current number in custody.” Numerous reports have cited the inhumane and torturous conditions under which men, women and children are being held, some indefinitely, for the “crime” of crossing the border in order to survive.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 million immigrants must live outside the law in the U.S., lacking any basic rights and liable to be arrested and deported at any moment. And there is a way that this comes into conflict with the efforts by the system to implement a qualitatively greater level of repression in society as a whole. In this light, a key element of finding a way to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows legally, while still keeping them in a highly vulnerable and exploited position, is this scheme for “legalization.”
The Cruel and Dangerous Illusion of Legalization
In looking over some of the provisions in this Senate proposal, several elements jump out.
One, the process for actually becoming a legal permanent resident will take years, up to a dozen by some estimates. In the meantime, people will either have a probationary permit or a “Z” visa, neither of which guarantees the right to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
Two, while holding out the prospect of legalization, this would amount to a cruel illusion for the great majority -- with long waiting periods, onerous fines and penalties, and the requirement that heads of household go back to their home country to apply for permanent residency. And any slip-up in this period, or a change in law could result in immediate deportation.
Three, the proposal stipulates?? that none of the legalization process will begin until the “border is secure.”
These points underscore that as a whole, this proposal is aimed at registering and controlling immigrants while keeping them highly vulnerable and exploitable.
Guest Workers: "Close to Slavery"
A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center on immigrant workers, “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States,” estimates that 121,000 guest workers were brought into the U.S. in 2005 for work that is categorized as “unskilled.” Such workers are only permitted to enter the U.S. as an employee of whatever company or contractor brought them here. They face immediate deportation if they stop working for that employer for whatever reason: if they quit, are fired, or are injured and unable to work. These slave-like conditions would be greatly intensified if the Senate proposal becomes law. (see Revolution #83 Online Edition--Immigrant Workers: “Close to Slavery”)
Think about this. How different is this guest worker proposal from what existed under apartheid South Africa? Yes, after slaving away all day, “guest workers” will not be required to return to Bantustans (segregated areas set up like Indian reservations in the U.S.). But won't this set up similar economic and social relations and living conditions? No right to change jobs or quit work, subject to firing and deportation at any time, low wages and dangerous and horrible working conditions?
A particularly hypocritical and cruel provision of the proposal is the one that will reduce the number of foreign-born family members that U.S. citizens and permanent residents may legally sponsor to immigrate to the U.S. The Bush regime never tires of emphasizing the importance of family and “family values.” But the hypocrisy is seen in this proposal that will tear apart families.
Beginning shortly after the massive outpourings of immigrants last spring against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill, the government began a whole series of raids and deportations as punishment and to crush resistance. As I said in a statement after the LAPD attack on May Day, “This brutality is a critical part of U.S. imperialism’s program for immigrants: killed at the border; worked to death like slaves; Gestapo-style ICE raids with La Migra dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night; deportations and tearing families apart; terrorizing communities with street sweeps; concentration camps for captured immigrants including children; and armed vigilantes hunting down immigrants like modern-day slave catchers.” In essence the government is holding a gun to people’s heads. With it, they will try, in part, to force people out of the shadows to register with the government for some illusionary legalization. They are attempting to present immigrants with a deal they cannot refuse.
This entire proposal is no good. It is not “a great starting point for (comprehensive immigration) reform getting done this year.” It is not a “step in the right direction” that through lobbying and negotiation can be made better. From beginning until end, it is a trap and a program for control, increased repression, and legalized slavery. We cannot and must not accept it. This proposal underscores the importance of mobilizing even greater levels of outrage and resistance among immigrants, together with many other people, to stop this entire anti-immigrant onslaught.
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