Companion piece: No to the Pentagon’s “Dream Act”
May Day was once the day of massive working-class demonstrations against the oppression and exploitation imposed by capitalism. In recent years in the United States it has become a day of protest against the oppressive treatment of immigrants, especially undocumented workers. The global economic crisis has wiped out eight million jobs, driven millions of homeowners into foreclosure and multiplied the pressures and threats against all working people. Immigrants have been especially devastated by the retrenchment of industries in which many work. There have also been racist attacks and killings of immigrant workers. And now there is the racist law just passed in Arizona, which empowers local police to demand identification and papers from anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. While the law is aimed directly against people with brown skin speaking Spanish, obviously such racial profiling endangers all people of color.
Millions of immigrants and their supporters had expected that when Barack Obama was elected president, life for undocumented workers would improve. Obama had promised to target only real criminals and the “worst offenders” and stop going after workers and their families. Many people overlooked Obama’s obvious devotion to the interests of capitalism and imperialism, and hoped that under his administration, the great majority of undocumented workers, hard working and exploited, could breathe easier and no longer live in fear.
Unfortunately, these hopes were mistaken. Consider one statistic: deportations by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) increased in 2009 by over 10 percent compared to 2008 under George W. Bush. And even though so far in 2010 deportations are down, it was recently revealed that ICE was working toward a quota of 400,000 “removals” for the year, which would mean an increase over 2009. This policy has support all the way up through Department of Homeland Security (DHS) head Janet Napolitano and the president.
Obama and the politicians of both major capitalist parties continue the legal and police harassment of immigrants in order to serve the interest of the capitalist class. The Republicans do so more openly, while the Democrats, whose base is among workers and people of color, pretend to be our friends in order to prevent working people from seeking a genuine political alternative for their class. Given the depth of the economic crisis, the capitalists and their governments are stepping up their attacks on all workers.
One capitalist strategy is to use the growth of immigrant labor to divide the working class. Just as the capitalists have always used racism to keep Black people down, today they use racist and chauvinist lies about American superiority to set U.S.-born workers of all colors against immigrants. Whipping up sentiment against immigrants, “illegal” or not, creates a scapegoat to divert the mass anger against financiers and other capitalists who profiteer from the crisis.
Even those capitalists who rely on immigrant labor take advantage of harsh laws and restrictions. These capitalists want undocumented immigrants to keep coming into the country, but under conditions that grind them down and increase their vulnerability, so that they fear to fight back and are more easily exploited. The bosses offer the worst and poorest paying jobs to immigrants, since super-exploitation helps boost profits.
The scapegoating and super-exploitation of immigrants serve the capitalist class as a whole by keeping wages and working conditions down for all workers. If one sector of the working class is held back from fighting for a better deal, that lowers the floor for all. That is why even those Democratic and Republican politicians who claim to be on the side of immigrants do not favor straightforward legalization.
Immigrants will continue to arrive, often risking death or arrest, as long as the chance exists to find a job to help them survive. The imperialist countries super-exploit the remaining nations of the world. They use the IMF and the World Bank to crack open the semi-colonies, demand austerity measures and compel their rulers to meet the demands of the imperialist markets. As a result, the imperialists make huge super-profits, local rulers get rich, and the local economy is decimated, often losing any semblance of self-sufficiency in food production. This process leads to the destruction of jobs by the millions, and the remaining jobs often pay below-survival wages. Understandably workers flee these conditions and migrate to the wealthier countries, even though these are ruled by the imperialists that destroyed their home countries.
In our May Day 2009 statement, the League for the Revolutionary Party wrote, “This government will continue to repress undocumented immigrants, if not so much through workplace raids for the moment then through other means.” Indeed, Obama has pulled away from the high profile ICE workplace raids, but he has replaced them with “desk raids” that can attack many more immigrant workers with less ICE manpower. A couple of different techniques are used.
E-Verify is a computerized system set up by the Federal government that lets employers go online and immediately check the documentation status of their employees or potential employees. The program was established by Bush II, and was soundly attacked by liberals then. Some states require E-Verify, among them Arizona, which adopted it when Napolitano was governor, before Obama appointed her to be head of DHS – in fact, all the publicity about “getting tough on immigrants” was probably what made Obama choose her. It is noteworthy that all of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills in Congress would require use of E-Verify nationally. Napolitano has proposed to let employers put a special “I E-Verify” logo on their products if they voluntarily use the system.
I-9 Audits and “No-Match” letters: ICE audits particular employers’ records and looks for inconsistencies in employee documentation. ICE then threatens the company with sanctions if it does not clear up these inconsistencies. Workers are often sent “No-Match” letters saying that their Social Security number or other documents do not match anything in government databases. If the workers do not rectify their documentation, the employer usually fires them. In November 2009, the head of ICE revealed that the work authorizations of employees in 654 companies were being audited, and that 267 others would be added.
All of this occurs under the requirements of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (passed by a Democratic-led House of Representatives). Employers must keep records on employees’ immigration status, and the law prohibits them from hiring those without documents. In effect, this law makes it illegal for undocumented immigrants to work. The thrust of this law is so-called “employer sanctions” which was pushed at the time by the AFL-CIO and Democrats such as Ted Kennedy. But these sanctions are in reality weapons against workers. In 1999 the AFL-CIO reversed its position on employer sanctions, but since they are deeply tied to the Democratic party and Obama – and to the capitalists’ state in general – the labor officials are keeping very quiet about this nominal disagreement with the president.
The entire mainstream political landscape in the U.S. is tied up with the idea of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) – including Obama and the Democrats, some Republicans, immigrants’ groups like La Raza and Reform Immigration for America (RIA), and the labor unions. CIR is a particularly complicated ruse, made up of small carrots and big sticks. First, it insists that what immigrants need is not amnesty or legalization for all the undocumented but instead a package of proposals that includes some gains along with further repressive measures. Secondly, the promised “comprehensive” reform never gets enacted anyway, but repressive measures do.
For several years Democratic politicians and their friends have promoted the idea of a “pathway to citizenship” as the centerpiece of CIR. All the proposals have called for a very restricted possibility of citizenship. Only a small percentage of undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a number of years and who can pay large penalty fees would get that prize.
CIR would satisfy the needs of some capitalists, not of immigrant workers. It would mean a deepening attack on immigrants, coupled with a more orderly and controlled immigration system that addresses the ever-evolving labor needs of the bosses. Most importantly, CIR will include a “guest worker” program that will codify a layer of second-class workers: permanently vulnerable and unable to fight back against their employers. This year CIR is represented by the Schumer-Graham bill in the Senate and the Gutierrez bill in the House. The Gutierrez bill is more liberal but is already doomed; the Senate bill includes more militarization of the Mexican border, a biometric ID card to pinpoint the undocumented and prepare for controlling all workers in the U.S., and increased use of the employer sanctions framework. Adopting either one of these fake “reforms” would be an attack on immigrant workers, not a step forward.
The prospects for CIR passing any time soon are very slim. Unfortunately, this is not due to a massive and militant immigrants’ rights movement that recognizes CIR as an attack and instead demands complete unconditional amnesty. In fact, the resistance is from the right. Most Republicans support an “enforcement-only” policy; and they are not prepared to compromise their reactionary principles. They also are wary of any “reform” that would create more citizens who might become predominantly Democratic Party voters.
The Democrats, however, are in something of a bind. They are afraid of a too-sweeping reform, not chiefly because it would heighten anti-immigrant sentiment, but also because as a capitalist party they understand that giving full rights to immigrant workers would strengthen the working class as a whole in its struggles against capitalist bosses. On the other hand, they were elected with significant support from the Latino communities. They are under pressure from their Latino supporters to fight for reform of an intolerable system – as was shown by the huge rally of at least 100,000 people in Washington on March 21. That they cannot even win such a false “victory” as CIR will further erode support for Obama and the Democrats in the mid-term elections in November.
The Democrats’ notorious lack of backbone in fighting for their supposed principles is part of their specific nature as a political party. Since their base is made up of potentially militant sections of the working class, they genuinely fear encouraging any mass mobilizations for the causes they nominally support. They know that working-class militancy can easily go beyond the minimal reforms the Democrats favor and could seriously threaten capitalist class interests.
That is why advances for immigrants’ rights cannot be won by supporting the Democratic Party. Workers and youth who already see through the capitalist parties have to join together to build an alternative, the beginning of a revolutionary party. Even a small force of revolutionary workers can start to fight for the united action of immigration workers instead of the capitalist electoral strategy that was doomed from the start and is now clearly failing. The huge immigrant marches and demonstrations in 2006 stopped Congress from passing the viciously anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill, and had the potential to spark wider struggles of the working class.
When the working class grasps the power that it can wield through mass actions, mass strikes and general strikes, then it can fight for political measures our class really needs by hitting capitalism where it hurts and shutting down profit-making. Mass actions also unite the working class across national, ethnic and racial lines, bringing together union and non-union workers as well as the employed and the unemployed.
In fighting for mass actions by immigrants and other workers, we in the League for the Revolutionary Party expect that the politically advanced layers of workers and youth will learn in the course of their struggles that the source of their oppression is not just a cabal of anti-worker politicians but the capitalist system itself. Our goal is to convince fellow workers to join with us in building the only party that can really fight for workers’ interests independently of capitalist needs – an internationalist revolutionary party with the goal of overthrowing capitalist rule here and abroad.
Many workers would like to be free of capitalism’s dictates but do not see that an alternative is possible. The working class has tremendous potential power when mobilized in mass struggle, but an array of entrenched misleaders stands in the way. That is why politically conscious workers have to band together to build our own revolutionary party – so that the misleaders can be pushed aside, and imperialism and capitalism can be overturned once and for all.
Today the working class in the U.S. looks weak and badly divided. On top of the perennial racist and anti-immigrant campaigns, these days the economic crisis drives workers increasingly to compete with each other for fewer jobs and an ever-shrinking economic pie. Workers must recognize the need to fight all forms of racism and national chauvinism. By defending themselves from this society’s denial of equal rights, Latino, Black, and immigrant workers can play a key role in pointing the way forward for all workers.
There have been some inspiring recent examples. In North Carolina, a multi-year battle by immigrant, American Black and Puerto Rican workers at the huge Smithfield Foods factory achieved class unity in a fight for union representation. In Chicago, the workers of Republic Windows & Doors, many of whom were immigrants, occupied their plant in 2008 to win the back wages and other payments owed to them. The worldwide economic crisis is sparking other struggles. In Europe today, where a revival of the financial crisis is on the verge of breaking out, workers in Greece and other countries are engaging in mass protests and general strikes to prevent the ruling classes from making them pay for the crisis.
Revolutionaries advocate a strategy that champions the needs of the entire working class, especially the most oppressed. At every opportunity we fight for such demands as jobs for all and free and decent housing, healthcare and education for all.
While the class struggle in the U.S. is at a low point, the economic and social conditions will inevitably force more strikes and struggles. The wave of terror against immigrants takes place at a time when the situation for all workers in the U.S. is getting worse. There is a real basis for unity, if a revolutionary party leadership can be built to provide a way forward for day-to-day struggles. A workers’ socialist revolution would seize state power and replace the capitalist state with a workers’ state on the road to socialism. The task of workers who understand the need for socialist revolution is to join together to show the way to their fellow workers. That is why we stand for an internationalist workers’ revolutionary party. Composed of the most advanced workers and youth, together it would fight alongside our fellow workers in order to strengthen the working class, win victories and prove the need for revolution.
No to the Pentagon’s “Dream Act”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The “DREAM Act”), a proposed bill in Congress, is supported by many immigrant rights activists. If adopted in its current form, it would expand access to college for some undocumented immigrant youth. But its main purpose would be to provide military recruits for the U.S. armed forces to be used as cannon fodder for the Pentagon’s neo-colonial occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The act is supposed to assist immigrant youth by granting temporary residence permits to those who have a high school diploma or GED – and then offering permanent resident status to those who complete two years of college. But the reality is that few immigrant youth will be able to afford college, since under the DREAM Act they won’t be eligible for federal education grants. Education is not what the act is really about.
DREAM Act supporters downplay the fact that the more realistic path to permanent resident status in the bill is to “volunteer” to serve two years in the army. This scheme will reinforce the disproportionate recruitment of Latino and Black youth into the military by economic pressure. The bill was introduced as an amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense Authorization Bill, appropriately so because of its military recruitment goal. It was backed by several Pentagon spokesmen and elected officials. “The DREAM Act would address a very serious recruitment crisis that faces our military,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the bill’s author.
The Association of Raza Educators in California said that the DREAM Act “will create a de facto military draft for our undocumented youth. ... As educators, we also know that in predominantly Latino high schools, military recruiters outnumber college representatives five to one. ... If the DREAM Act passes, military recruiters will further mislead and seduce our youth with false promises of instant legalization and a well-paying job.”