Straight Talk on the Border: Justice and Injustice

Revolutionary Worker #869, August 18, 1996

Official America insists, "Something must be done about taking back the southern U.S. border." And that "something" always boils down to punishing Mexican immigrants in the U.S. It means detention centers, raids, steel fences, and Blackhawk helicopters. It means more agents, troops and police--turning the 2,000-mile border into a occupied war zone.

President Clinton claims he is proud that his administration is arresting over a million people a year for crossing the border. The Republican Party insists even more extreme actions should be taken.

There is a growing movement of righteous resistance to this war on immigrants. During the fight against Proposition 187, hundreds of thousands took to the streets, walked out of schools and signed statements pledging to defy the anti-immigrant law. The videotaped beating of immigrants in Riverside--known as "the Mexican Rodney King"--shocked and outraged broad sections of society. People on both sides of the border are taking action during the Republican Convention, to oppose the hateful attacks on immigrants. This resistance is very positive--and we hope this article on the border is a contribution toward making this resistance bigger and stronger--to take on the intensifying anti-immigrant offensive.

How do the anti-immigrant forces justify their heartless actions on the border? They claim that the U.S. is being "invaded" by a foreign people. "Such policies may be hard," anti-immigrant forces say, "but, they are necessary to preserve the United States." And, the argument goes, "It is only common sense that every country has a right to defend its borders."

What stand should people who care about justice take?

Is it correct to uphold the right of the U.S. government to "control" its southern border? The answer to this question must be clearly and firmly NO.


The best place to start is with the people themselves--to understand what drives people to cross the border and what causes their poverty.

José Alvarez is a Mexican man who told his story recently. For years, José made his living on his father's avocado farm in the state of Michoacán, where his family had worked for generations. This way of life is being driven out of existence: Because of shifts in the world market, avocados keep selling for less and many small Mexican farms are being driven under.By the early '90s, José, like millions of other Mexican peasants, could no longer support his family on the farm. He went to Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, to find factory work. That pay was low, and it soon became even worse: International financial institutions forced Mexico into a massive devaluation of its peso. The money José made was worth less and less. And again, he could barely afford to feed and house his family.Even worse, that job didn't last. Every day, rapid movements in investment and markets cause factories to open and close throughout Mexico's industrial belts.José became unemployed. And with so many others out looking for work too, José couldn't find another job.In late 1994, less than one year after the NAFTA trade agreement was signed, and less than two months after California's anti-immigrant 187 law passed, José Alvarez stood on a hilltop outside Tijuana. San Diego's lights sparkled in the distance on the other side of the border.The fields below were lit with blinding klieg lights and bristled with heat sensors. Helicopters clattered overhead, pointing spotlights into the shadows. And, across those fields, the border police--La Migra--sat in their all-terrain vehicles, scanning the darkness with their night-vision goggles, hunting José and those like him who dared to head north."Something will open up," José said that night. "Some chance will present itself."

Border Inequality

Look at this story closely. At every stage, the desperation of José and millions of people like him is tied up with the workings of worldwide economic forces and with the harsh demands of international banking institutions. And when you look at these forces which hold Mexico in its grasp--you see the hand of the U.S. corporate and government institutions everywhere.

The relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is not a relationship of equal neighbors sharing a common border: The United States is an imperialist country, and Mexico is one of the countries most intensely dominated and exploited by U.S. imperialism. General Motors, for example, is Mexico's largest employer. Powerful U.S. corporations and financial institutions penetrate every aspect of life in Mexico:

Virtually every aspect of economic life in Mexico is twisted to serve the needs of profit in the U.S. So when millions of farmers and workers are impoverished south of the U.S. border and are forced to flee north to survive, the U.S. is not some "innocent bystander impacted by the troubles of others." U.S. banks, corporations, agribusiness, and government officials play a key role in causing that suffering, while profiting in many ways from the poverty they have caused.

Sanctuary activist Stacy Merkt, who was imprisoned for providing refuge to immigrants from El Salvador, described this situation well when she said that what the U.S. government is doing is like "setting a house on fire and then hunting down the people who escape."

Who Invaded Who?

The border between the U.S. and Mexico has never sealed off these two countries from each other--and the U.S. rulers have constantly disregarded this border whenever it suited them.

In fact, this current border was created by invasion and crude theft: In the 1800s, U.S. settlers crossed the old border, seized valuable farmland in California and Texas, brought in their language and their slave-owning ways, and then staged armed revolts against Mexico. These land seizures were then backed up by invading U.S. armies.

The real history of this border is captured by the popular saying among Latino people in the Southwest: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us."

It is stunning hypocrisy for the "Remember the Alamo" crowd to suddenly insist, in 1996, that "each nation has the right to its border"! Would they consider, for a moment, respecting that principle themselves?

U.S. interests have always operated brazenly on both sides of that border--exploiting the people of Mexico. This exploitation has been a cornerstone of the worldwide interests of the U.S. capitalist class.

On the U.S. side, ranchers and corporations have used Mexican people as a source of labor for 150 years. They have "imported" Mexican people to do the hard labor of laying the railroad tracks, herding the cattle, irrigating the fields and harvesting the crops. And, at the same time, powerful U.S. interests "crossed over" to the Mexican side whenever it suited them--to exploit labor, to seize minerals, and to intrigue in political life. And the U.S. government has never held back from crossing the border militarily, whenever they considered someone on the Mexican side their enemy--someone like Geronimo's Apaches or Pancho Villa's revolutionaries. The U.S. ruling class even arrogantly calls Mexico and Central America their "backyard."

In short, this border was established to serve the interests of the U.S. ruling class. It has been maintained to fatten the profits of that class. And it has been crudely violated whenever that served U.S. imperialist interests.

Given this history, isn't it outrageous for U.S. politicians to accuse the Mexican people of "an invasion"!?

Why would any fair-minded person consider "U.S. rights" along this artificial border to be legitimate in any way? Why should such "rights" be respected or reinforced?

Today, U.S. officials, media and anti-immigrant forces act like Mexican people are "foreigners" who cross over to "take what we have built up." But for over a century and a half, Mexican people labored, on both sides of the border, to create much of the wealth that has accumulated on the U.S. side. Is it any wonder that Mexican people feel they have the right to cross this border to escape the poverty imposed on Mexico? Aren't people justified to chant in the streets: Aquí estamos, aquí nos quedamos, no nos vamos! (Here we are, here we'll stay, we will not go!)

Put another way: Does every country have the right to defend its borders? No. Not every country, and not under all conditions. In particular, not an oppressor country like the U.S.

The U.S. imposes and defends this southern border as a way of imposing and defending the unequal and oppressive relationship between Mexico and the United States. And there is no justice in upholding that. On the other hand, the Mexican people are justified in fighting to drive U.S. imperialism out of their country.

Today the U.S. rulers look at recent developments and shudder. They saw the 1992 L.A. Rebellion rip the second largest city of the U.S. out of their grasp for days--and they noted that half of those arrested were Latinos. They look south of the border--at the peasant uprising in Mexico's Chiapas, the Maoist revolution in Peru, decades of anti-imperialist resistance in Central America--and they realize the tremendous explosive potential building among the people of Latin American countries.

A border war is unleashed--to "contain" the crisis and suffering in Mexico, so that the system that has caused such crisis and suffering will not be "destabilized."

And with that armed mobilization comes a political mobilization to justify all kinds of persecution. Powerful forces want to impose their hateful vision of a "white Christian English-speaking nation of traditional families." And some may even dream of violently driving out of the country millions who currently live and work here. There's a threat of "ethnic cleansing" in the air--and, at the very least, that threat is intended to push many to the sidelines, as permanent visitors-on-probation in a right-wing Amerikkka.

The system is moving to reinforce the wall between the oppressor country and the Third World it exploits. The system is deepening class divisions between rich and poor within the oppressor country--for a society of even more "tiers," a police-enforced apartheid-like structure of privileges and cruelties.

But as the system tries to carry out its plans, we need to carry out ours.

The system wants to contain its "backyard." But for the masses of people on both sides of that border there is nothing to gain by supporting or legitimizing those efforts. As RCP Chairman Bob Avakian put it, expressing the proletarian internationalist viewpoint, "They're frightened to death and want to clamp down on these unruly people coming into the backyard and the house. We want to invite them all in and make it even more strategically favorable, not only in terms of revolution in the U.S. but in terms of revolution all over--all over the Americas and, fundamentally, all over the world."

Who Has Been Feeding Who!?

In 1993, an "open letter" by California Governor Pete Wilson called for cutting off government social services to undocumented immigrants. His arguments are now commonly heard throughout the official political system.

Wilson accused immigrants of being a "burden on the taxpayer" because states have to "provide and pay for the exploding costs of their health care, education and other benefits."

How upside down!--to accuse the worst-paid workers in the U.S. of somehow "getting" something for nothing and acting as if a few pitiful social services are driving down living standards of the middle classes!

Governor Wilson asked "why does the U.S. government reward illegal such cost to the American people."

"Reward"?!? To watch your children die from cholera or diarrhea or malnutrition because of the poverty imposed on your country. To watch your family and friends threatened or murdered by U.S.-trained government forces in Guatemala, or Chiapas, or El Salvador, or the Philippines. To face the slow ruination of a country like Haiti under U.S. direction, to have to brave the seas in tiny boats, and dodge U.S. naval ships sent to "contain" you. And then, if you make it to the U.S., hoping to survive, how generous these gentlemen are to you--to be packed into tiny apartments, working the dirtiest, most humiliating jobs of this capitalist society!

What right does a Pete Wilson have to complain about people being unfairly rewarded--when his class is the biggest bunch of parasites and bloodsuckers in the history of the world!

All this talk of "tax burden" and "rewarding illegality" completely ignores who really feeds who in this world. Let's ask Pete Wilson and the rest of his ruling class: Whose labor created those profits you live on, who picked your lettuce, assembled your car, hung your drywall, watered your lawns, washed your dishes, sewed your clothes, nursed your children, swept your offices, chauffeured your limos, built your computer chips, unloaded your container ships, drove your trucks....

As the old revolutionary song says: "We have fed you all for a thousand years, and here we are, still unfed."

What is all this talk about "immigrant burden on taxpayers" used to justify? California's 187--to cut all kinds of social services to undocumented immigrants in California. And now, the same arguments are used to justify cutting off $23 billion in welfare, food stamps and social security disability to legal immigrants. This is simply unjust and cruel.

Whose Laws? Whose Standards of Right and Wrong?

There is much talk about immigrants who are "illegal." When the videotape recently showed immigrants being beaten by police along a freeway in Riverside, California--there were pro-police people who said that "criminals who violate U.S. laws" should expect such punishment when they get caught. Pete Wilson, California's governor, argues publicly that "people who break laws" should not be "rewarded" by getting any legal rights or social services in the U.S.

But laws and law enforcement are being used to "criminalize" people whose only real "crime" is poverty and crossing some arbitrary line without documents. And it's not just immigrants who are criminalized--look at how the younger generation of Black people is treated by cops, just for hanging out or being in the "wrong side of town" or because they fit some racist police "profile for likely criminals"--like D.W.B. (Driving While Black).

"Criminalization" is a way the system keeps sections of the people "under the gun."

Imagine the profit made by some capitalists because of the persecution of undocumented immigrants. If you are an "illegal" farmworker, who do you complain to when you get cheated and underpaid? Do you dare file for workman's compensation when you get hurt in the factory? Can you file for unemployment when you are laid off? What do you risk if you complain or strike?

The latest Republican Party platform proposes new ways for expanding the status of "illegal": Their platform calls for amending the U.S. Constitution, so that the children of undocumented immigrants will no longer become U.S. citizens. This is a move toward hereditary criminalization--to create a section of society, including many people born within U.S. borders, who would be permanently denied the legal rights granted to everyone else. It reminds us of Nazi racial laws and the multi-tiered distinctions of apartheid.

Just because this system, its Congress and legislature creates their standards and declares people "illegal"--why should these laws be accepted by the rest of us? We need our own standards based on a broad view of the world and a desire to oppose oppression. La Resistencia says: "Being an immigrant is not a crime. Human life is more important than laws."

It is not criminal for poor people to cross some border to survive. And it is criminal when uniformed agents pursue, brutalize, and rape the immigrants. It is criminal when people are exploited--and forced to live with a constant feeling of persecution and danger.

Is it wrong to break unjust laws? As Bob Dylan once said, "Sometimes to be honest, you must live outside the law." And in times like these--to be honest you must take a stand with the persecuted. "We are all illegals! Todos somos ilegales!"

This Is About
the Future

Dig at the arguments of anti-immigrant forces, and their basic rap boils down to this: "If we don't stop the immigrants from entering, the U.S. will be changed forever." They think that's horrible. But we say "What's wrong with that?!"

The struggle over the border is a part of a larger struggle over the future--what kind of future, what kind of future society will be created out of the present. And clearly major changes are long overdue.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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