Angela Nagle’s shoddy remedies for the ‘migrant crisis.’

jan. 2019 border tents (marty)
As caravan migrants wait at the U.S. border in December, Mexican police roust them from a make-shift tent city near Benito Juárez Stadium in Tijuana. (Photo: Marty Goodman / Socialist Action)


In late December, Angela Nagle, author of “Kill All Normies” and a supposedly left thinker, penned a piece for the conservative journal American Affairs entitled “The Left Case Against Open Borders.” In her article she scores the “left” for employing the slogan “no human is illegal,” charging that it is an implicit demand for “no borders or no sovereign states at all.” Instead, she advocates the restriction of migration and the implementation of E-Verify-type registration measures, which in her eyes are a humane way to curb immigration.

The central logic of her argument is that big business uses cheap labor to undercut domestic labor and thus undermine the already embattled state of organized labor.

Despite its “leftist” tinge, Nagle’s article mirrors the recent summit of Hillary Clinton, Matteo Renzi, and Tony Blair, neoliberalism’s finest, who advocate the curbing of immigration in Europe in order to assuage the racist demands of swelling white nationalist movements in the EU. What they are really saying is: “In order to stop the far right, we must implement their policies,” or if you prefer: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

As a foundation for her diatribe, Nagle insists that the notion of open borders is a somewhat recent notion in left politics and that the embrace of such an idea makes “useful idiots” of us all on behalf of big business, which stands to capitalize on increased competition in the labor market.

Let’s set aside the fact that granting full legal status to all immigrants would immediately change the condition that makes them so exploitable to capitalists in the first place. The truth is that there has always been a strong current of internationalism and workers’ solidarity in left politics. There is no asterisk in the slogan “Workers of the World, Unite!”

Nagle is accurate, of course, in pointing out that “trade unions have often opposed mass migration.” She goes on to mention that racism and xenophobia have been an issue with trade unions. In fact, it was a central point of contention in U.S. labor history between the more reactionary AFL and the more radical IWW, the latter of which recognized that the bosses profited from imported cheap labor but that the solution, rather than a craft-centric narrow-mindedness, was to “recognize that all workers belong to the international nation of wealth producers” and end competition by “owning the means of production.”

In introducing her remedies for what she calls “the migrant crisis,” Nagle uses a quotation from Karl Marx about how the English capitalists used cheap Irish labor as a wedge to divide workers. And she notes Marx’s observation that English workers would help themselves by embracing the struggle of the Irish for their emancipation from British colonial domination.

Similarly, Nagle calls for the amelioration of the economic conditions that today’s migrants face in their own countries, as a way to keep them home. But she ignores the fact that Marx said nowhere that part of the solution was to restrict the immigration of Irish workers—the sort of immigration policy that she advocates for the United States today.

Nagle goes on to implore the left to embrace E-verify, a policy that would place the onus on employers to verify the immigration status of all of their workers, and would punish businesses for noncompliance. Proponents of this policy claim that it’s a humane way to encourage the self-deportation of undocumented people. Basically, their reasoning is that by creating more barriers between undocumented immigrants and jobs or services it would softly encourage them to leave or not migrate in the first place.

This is a polite way of saying that the best way to make “undesirable” people leave is to choke them of resources, so that their lives become unlivable. How humane!

Nowhere in the article does Nagle outline what this would look like for the 11 million undocumented people already living and working in the United States. She only talks about her “solution” in the abstract, and that’s because it looks horrifying in practice.

In reality, it would force many immigrant laborers into the black market, where they are even more desperate and exploitable. It would be to the delight of pimps, drug dealers, and human traffickers. It would uproot entire communities, and it would give ICE even more technocratic tools to carry out their systematic atrocities. Call this anything but humane.

A more rational conclusion should recognize that immigrants must be embraced in labor organizing efforts within the United States, as they are made even more vulnerable by their marginal status and are therefore more easily radicalized. Immigrants fleeing hardship have fewer illusions about the uncaring nature of the capitalist state precisely because of their lived experience.

This can be witnessed first hand with the leading role that immigrant workers are playing in organizing efforts at hotels, fast-food restaurants, and meat-packing plants.

Free movement around the planet should be, as Frederick Douglass put it, an “indestructible” human right. Beneath her poorly constructed arguments lies an implicit prejudice: Her shoddy veneer of compassion belies the same foul chauvinism that plagued the Social Democratic tradition of the Second International, which she is now trying to reproduce in the awakening U.S. left.

Given that Nagle is now officially on the payroll of a rag that changed its name from The Journal of American Greatness, it poses the question of who the useful idiot to big business might be.

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