By ANDY BARNS
The immigration crisis in the United States has two essential forces at play. One is the struggle of immigrant workers to find a better life, away from the horrors created by U.S. imperialism in their home countries. The other deals with the forces of capitalist class rule within the United States, who act to divide workers by means of racist myths, while super-exploiting vulnerable immigrant workers and controlling their movements.
Why are people coming to the United States? Why do they enter illegally? The reality is human: immigrant workers and families want to escape the danger of gangs, war, poverty, or domestic abuse. The immigrants, many of them women, want to find a home that is stable enough so they can get a job, put food on their children’s plates, and send them to school. This is the motivation of the vast majority of all who enter the country at the southern border, legally or illegally.
Often, immigrants who go through legal means to enter the country are simply rejected, told that “America is full,” and instructed to return to the horrors they are running from. These cast-off people choose to face the dangerous trek through the desert; exploitation, robbery, and brutality by criminal elements; and a dehumanizing round-up by U.S. border agents because they believe it still gives them a slim hope of obtaining better lives for their families.
Yolanda de la Cruz, from Guatemala, was arrested when she and her four-year-old son crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without having legal documents for herself. She had tried three times to file for asylum without success. In mid-July she was reunited with her son, after border officials had separated them for six weeks. She told a reporter from al-Jazeera that when agents arrested her at an airport: “My son stayed there sitting, and I said, ‘I’ll be back.’ He started to scream, calling ‘Mommy, Mommy!’ But I couldn’t go back.”
Her son was sent to a government facility in Texas and then to a privately run one in Oklahoma, the type of incarceration that thousands of immigrant children have been subjected to. Yolanda did not speak with her son for 30 days. “He is traumatized by what happened,” his mother said. “He has nightmares, wets the bed, and he tells me, ‘please, don’t send me back to that place.”
Human beings don’t bring their children to another country with the purpose of disrupting civil society or committing wanton violence. That is a racist myth, one that justifies ICE’s existence and guides every action they take. Indeed, that myth has underpinned the policy decisions, of not just Trump but of all past administrations, Republican or Democratic.
But this absurdity is what you would have to believe to support the actions of ICE. Many U.S. citizens understand this; tens of thousands took part in demonstrations in over 700 U.S. cities on July 30 to demand “Don’t break up families” and “Abolish Ice.” More recently, immigration activists have built Occupy encampments nears the offices of ICE in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, New York, and other major U.S. cities. Workers at Microsoft and Amazon have attempted to stop their technologies from being used to abuse and control immigrant workers.
To try to understand why immigrant workers are trying to find a new home, it is useful to look more closely at Guatemala. A 1944 revolution saw the establishment of a reformist democratic government. After the country’s land-reform program was seen by the United Fruit Company to threaten its interests, the CIA instigated a coup in 1954. Hundreds of peasant leaders were rounded up and executed.
Later, under Reagan’s watch, the genocidal Rios Montt presidency was fully supported under the guise of anticommunism. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered with full U.S. support. The kind of barbarity suffered in Guatemala at the hands of U.S. imperialism was repeated in El Salvador and Nicaragua, where the U.S. supported counterrevolutionary death squads.
We should not forget the 2009 military coup in Honduras, an operation Hillary Clinton has admitted to being involved with. Following the coup, the murder rate in Honduras skyrocketed—increasing by 50% from 2008 to 2011. Peasant organizers, LGBT activists, and opposition political candidates have been killed. Drug-related violence and governmental corruption have both mushroomed. Unemployment affects 44 percent of the working population.
The struggles that workers face in traveling to the U.S. border cannot be adequately understood without reference to the crushing of democracy and job opportunities in these countries. The “problem” of immigration must be placed squarely at the door of the U.S. government and the capitalist owners of industry.
Role of immigrants in the U.S. economy
There is plenty of work that must be done in the United States to improve the lives of its inhabitants. Public works are a constant need, and virtually every industry could use a reduction of working hours. Food and shelter are not in short supply, though often unaffordable. The U.S. alone grows enough grain, in caloric amounts, to end world hunger. There are more empty apartments in major cities than homeless people. In a rational society, willing laborers would be welcomed to the country.
But the capitalist does not want you to be rational. They want you to be racist. Racism is used primarily to divide the working class into easy-to-chew bits. If immigrant workers can be made afraid, then they won’t report abuse, they will take lower wages, they will eschew benefits, accept worse housing and health care, if only to avoid deportation.
This is all very profitable. After all, workers are only exchangeable cogs in the bosses’ eyes. Why not hire the cheaper form of labor—those who are most vulnerable? And likewise, migrant labor is much easier to maintain if the rest of the workers are too scared of foreigners to see that the real enemy is at home, sitting on top of them—the capitalists who profit from their labor.
The barbarisms of the Trump administration are only the manifestation of a longstanding policy that criminalizes immigration and scapegoats immigrants as the source of our economic and social problems—rather than the capitalist exploiters.
The Obama administration saw the largest number of deportations to date, and both the Obama and Bush administrations laid the legal groundwork that made the Trump barbarisms possible.
If the Trump and Obama administrations differed at all on this issue, it was simply in regard to the degree of cruelty with which immigrant workers could be treated—not on whether they warranted being treated like human beings in the first place.
Both Obama and Trump are dedicated to the capitalist system of exploitation for private profit, which necessitates tight control of the labor force within a country. The question of the “legality” of an immigrant worker is one that only capitalism asks.
The call to abolish ICE is certainly timely. A Pew poll in mid-July showed that a slightly larger grouping of Americans view ICE unfavorably (47%) than those who view it favorably (44%). Even many liberal Democratic Party politicians have gotten on the anti-ICE bandwagon, in an attempt to increase their support from among the progressive-minded electorate. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon referred to ICE as a “terrorist organization!” In July, three House Democrats even put a bill on the agenda of Congress to do away with ICE within one year, but more senior Democrats later indicated that they would vote against the bill.
New Democratic Party star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), made the slogan “abolish ICE” one of the cornerstones of her successful primary election bid for U.S. Senator in June. More recently, however, Ocasio Cortez has hedged on her statements, saying that she wants to see ICE replaced with an “updated INS-like structure,” referring to the earlier Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Principled immigration activists and socialists point out that it is worthless to call for the abolition of ICE, while accepting an agency that restricts immigration with only slightly less cruelty. Detentions of immigrants were already high in the decade before the national security crackdown that followed the 9/11 tragedy (ICE was created in 2002). In the earlier decade, over 1,200,000 immigrants faced proceedings in U.S. federal courts, slightly less than two-thirds of the number after 9/11.
And today, the arrests and repression on the border are handled by several agencies—not just by ICE. We have to demand that ICE and the entire police and prison apparatus that is used to persecute immigrants be dismantled.
Change the system!
“Providing jobs and education to all the refugees would be too expensive” is often bleated out by people in government who are more than willing to vote for yet more billions into the capitalist war machine. This is to say nothing about the stockpiles of tools, equipment, and food that are simply sitting in warehouses waiting to be sold for a profit! It is not a matter of funds but political will. If the workers decided to remake society, to create a new system in which fulfilling human needs came first, it would be hard to stop them.
Could these demands, these calls for basic humanity, be achievable today? Yes! Revolutionary socialists do not put off socialism and workers’ control of the economy to some far-away utopian date. It is achievable now. Dignity, safety, and democracy for all workers—including immigrants—is possible today. In the process of organizing against racist deportation and the vile immigration system, working people will hopefully see that they have the power to tear down the entire rotten edifice of capitalist society.
The fundamental solution is with the working class, and it requires action and solidarity throughout the world. The spread of capitalism over the 20th century resulted in the worldwide penetration of industry and the exploitation of workers for the capitalist market. Because of this, the working class in this country has a stake in the survival and wellbeing of the global working class.
Solidarity of the workers and their allies against the exploiters is key, and this path has been bravely blazed by many, from those in the Occupy encampments against ICE to outright refusals at the workplace or in our communities to cooperate with them. This resistance must become universal and ongoing if the workers are to win. Abolish ICE! Welcome all war refugees! End solitary confinement and family separation! Money for jobs and education!