With each passing year, the attacks on immigrants and their rights get progressively worse. In just this past year, we have seen campaigns against bilingual education based largely on exploiting anti-Latino bigotry and prejudice; a Supreme Court decision (Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) which denied that the right to free speech protects immigrants from being selectively deported for their political beliefs; and the brutal 41-bullet massacre of the Guinean immigrant street-vendor Amadou Diallo by New York City police.
Against the national chauvinism of liberals and conservatives, the Marxist position on immigration is internationalist. National boundaries are bourgeois institutions that defend capitalist rule by dividing the working class. Starvation wages and horrendous conditions inflicted by imperialism on the poorest countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America drive millions to leave their homelands and families. They have every right to seek refuge and jobs wherever they want, especially in imperialist countries like the U.S.
Migration from South to North has grown rapidly in the past two decades. As the economic crisis of capitalism has intensified, the Stalinist and nationalist regimes of the East and South have collapsed one by one, leaving social devastation in their wake. The imperialists seek to bleed dry the so-called Third World with “free trade” policies like NAFTA and the “structural readjustment” policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. They have demanded the privatization of nationalized industries, leaving millions unemployed, and wiped out millions of small-scale farmers, turning them into landless refugees.
For the capitalists to complain that immigrants are the source of economic hardship is the height of imperialist arrogance. But this is precisely what they do. Facing working class struggle against their domestic policies of austerity and intensified exploitation, the imperialists seek the support of the most privileged workers by stoking the fires of racism and nationalism. The rulers of every imperialist country blame immigrants for unemployment and debt, and enact new laws against them. Germany has anti-Turk policies, France anti-Arab, Britain anti-Black and anti-Asian, even the ANC government of South Africa is anti-African immigrant. These measures have helped produce a dramatic increase in violent, often murderous, racist attacks on immigrant communities.
In the U.S., anti-immigrant attacks have focused most sharply against Latinos in general, and especially against Mexicans in the Southwest. Though the notorious Proposition 187 was struck down in the courts, it has served as the model for broader attacks against the welfare of the poorest workers. The capitalist strategy of first denying benefits and public services to immigrants, then broadening the attack to all social welfare programs and to all the democratic rights of immigrants and people of color, has only become more ferocious.
SSI benefits for the elderly and handicapped have been eliminated, as has, in some states, Medicaid. Barriers to citizenship have been increased, so that a single conviction on a misdemeanor charge, or overstaying a visa by a single day, have become grounds for immediate deportation-even, in some cases, for refugees who could be tortured in their home countries. INS judgements on political asylum cases are no longer necessarily subject to judicial review. As a result of the militarization of the border, hundreds of immigrants have died as a result of desert heat, lack of water, starvation and INS attacks.
Clinton links increasing the Border Patrol and expanding regular cop forces; the former’s responsibility is to terrorize immigrants, the latter’s to harass and murder civilians for the crime of being dark-skinned. But the truth is the vast majority of illegal immigrants are white, while the masses of Latinos who come to the U.S. fill the ranks of superexploited workers. The racism is blatant!
A supplementary line of attack is the campaign for “English Only” laws, which mandate that government documents be produced in the English language only and deny funding for bilingual instruction in the schools. The English Only drive has scored a number of victories, including California in 1986 and once again in 1998, Arizona and Florida in 1988, and Georgia in 1996.
The imperialist bosses are divided over immigration. On the one hand, they know that many “third-world” countries are ready to explode; they see migration as a safety valve to defuse mass discontent. And bosses in imperialist countries like the U.S. are happy to have a larger pool of workers available to exploit.
On the other hand, they campaign against immigrants, stirring up nationalist and racist fervor to divide workers so as to better exploit us. Scapegoating immigrants also promotes imperialism, justifying U.S. political and military intervention in other countries.
As well, immigrants who live in constant fear of arrest and deportation are less likely to challenge abusive working conditions. So the ruling class allows superexploitative bosses to get away with violations of labor laws that workers fought for decades to win.
Finally, anti-immigrant legislation, constitutional or not, endangers all working people who can be harrassed and denounced as illegal. Language, accent and skin color will be used as targets for discrimination in hiring and INS raids on workplaces, even more than they already are.
The workers most subject to replacement by new immigrants are the lowest paid with the least job protection–in the U.S. today, that means Blacks, Latinos and youth in general. Unfortunately, that reality leads a large minority of Black, Latino and Asian workers to support attacks on immigrant rights.
Some bosses say they prefer immigrant workers to U.S.-born Blacks, because of their perceived hard work and passivity to employer demands, and the long history of struggle on the part of Blacks. They are finding, however, that a new record of struggle is being written by immigrant workers, like the Latino janitors, drywallers and garment workers in southern California. The multiracial Los Angeles class rebellion also put the lie to the myth of Latino passivity.
Because the attack on immigrants is a leading edge of the capitalist onslaught against all workers, it is shameful that the AFL-CIO endorses much of the anti-immigrant legislation, like upgraded border enforcement and a federal ID system. This fits with the labor bureaucrats’ enthusiasm for trade protectionism, a self-defeating way to protect U.S. jobs; in reality, it undermines class solidarity by caving in to racist and chauvinist sentiment and stirring up U.S. workers against their brothers and sisters abroad.
Bourgeois experts counter the racists’ claim that immigrants are economically strangling the U.S. BusinessWeek and Forbes have noted that immigrants pay far more in taxes than they get in services. But it’s not just taxes that bosses squeeze from workers. Immigrants, like all workers, produce surplus value beyond their wages, which goes straight to capitalist pockets. That’s why most anti-immigrant politicians call not for banning immigration, just for tougher restrictions to hamper immigrant workers’ ability to fight the bosses.
Under capitalism, competition among workers is inevitable. Capitalism needs its “reserve army of labor,” a pool of unemployed workers: both to supply masses of labor when the need arises without disrupting ongoing production, and as downward pressure on the wages and combativity of employed workers. Jobs for all at a living wage is incompatible with capitalist profit making.
That is why all workers, and especially the most oppressed, must fight to take power in the imperialist and the oppressed countries for mass immiseration to be ended. A workers’ state would decisively smash national and racial discrimination and would move to overcome divisive working-class competition and build a socialist society. The labor needed for production and services would be divided among all: the more workers there were, the more society would gain and the less time we would each have to work. In contrast to rational planning by the working class, the capitalist “free market” in labor is an outright obstacle to the egalitarian organization of work.
In the imperialist U.S., communists stand for full rights for immigrants, jobs for all, and freedom for all economic and political refugees to enter the country and work. Only through such a program can the inequalities and divisions among workers be overcome. We fight for these demands under capitalism, but we say explicitly that only a socialist planned economy makes them possible.
An international campaign to fight for high wages and decent conditions everywhere should be the highest priority of workers’, immigrants’ and anti-racist organizations. Only a world party of socialist revolution would really fight for the common interests and unity of the international working class. Capitalism’s inequities cannot be abolished while the system itself survives. But we must expose the chauvinism of U.S. unions and demands that they at least start a campaign on behalf of the international class struggle.
Communist policy is determined the needs of the proletariat as a whole. As Karl Marx explained, the capitalists form a veritable fraternity defending property and profits from the workers. The working class will emancipate itself only when it learns to overcome the racial and national antagonisms nourished by capitalism. That is why revolutionaries stand for an international proletarian party-the re-created Fourth International-and international revolution to put an end to imperialism.