Obama called for the anti-immigrant measures in response to a steep increase in the number of children entering the U.S. Republican congressmen demanded harsher measures.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it detained 47,017 unaccompanied children from October 2013 through May 2014, a 92 percent increase from the same period the previous year. Most of the increase is children from three countries: 9,850 from El Salvador, a 415 percent jump; 11,479 from Guatemala, up 656 percent; and 13,282 from Honduras, up 1,205 percent.
The increase in children crossing the border is in part a consequence of a 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush. The law, aimed at combating “sex trafficking,” gave protections to children entering the U.S. (excluding those from Mexico or Canada). It required that they be granted immigration hearings. Many are allowed to live with family members or are placed in a shelter while they await a hearing.
Over the last decade the U.S. government has doubled the number of cops on the southern border to 20,000, deployed six surveillance drones and built hundreds of miles of fencing.
The combination of tighter border control, anti-immigrant worker legislation and fewer jobs in the U.S. has led to a decline in the number of workers without papers entering the U.S. and in the number of deportations to a 40-year low.
While the total number of those expelled annually over the last two decades has dropped by nearly 40 percent, the numbers deported by official “removal order” — which means possible felony charges for those who return — has increased more than eightfold: from some 50,000 in 1995 to more than 400,000 in 2012.
The objective of the government’s deportations, workplace audits and expanding E-Verify program is not to stop immigration. It’s to increase control over the flow of immigrant labor while maintaining its lower-wage second-class status, which the bosses use to push down the living standards of all working people.
That’s why organizing immigrants with or without “legal” papers into unions is a life and death question for the labor movement. And why unions must oppose firings, deportations, criminalization and other measures that aim to maintain a pariah section of the working class.
The government crackdown has put wind in the sails of some rightists, who seek to scapegoat immigrant workers for the economic and social crisis of capitalism.
On July 1 dozens of protesters, chanting “go home” and carrying signs proclaiming “return to sender,” blocked buses bringing immigrant children from overcrowded facilities in Texas to a Border Patrol detention center in Murrieta, California, near San Diego.
On July 4 the rightists, including the Minutemen, held another protest outside the Border Patrol station. But this time dozens of counterprotesters, including local residents, stood in solidarity with the immigrants. Many joined a march from a nearby Walmart to the detention center.
“These people are just trying to make a better life for themselves,” said Ali Segura, 19, a student who helped initiate the pro-immigrant march.
After meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Dallas July 9, Obama said he was considering Perry’s request to send 1,000 National Guardsmen to the border. Perry began deploying them on his own July 21.
Ellie García from Los Angeles contributed to this article.
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