Debate over the U.S. rulers’ immigration policies jumped back on the front burner since Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ May 7 announcement that from now on there would be “zero tolerance” of “illegal” immigration. Not only could those caught without papers be deported, they could also first face prosecution and jail even for misdemeanors, such as first time “illegal entry.” This led immigration cops to take children to shelters, separating them from their parents who were detained to face charges.
Previous administrations also separated parents who faced criminal charges under immigration law from their children. But prosecutions for misdemeanors — and thus the number of separations — were far fewer.
The Socialist Workers Party demands: Amnesty for all immigrants in the U.S.! No deportations! No raids!
By June 20, more than 2,000 children had been taken from their parents and placed in facilities across the country. Photos and recordings of crying children — including some that were misidentified as being of children who were separated — were used to focus on the issue.
Some liberals and the left used the attention to bolster their “resistance” campaign to oust Trump at all costs. Liberal California Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged people to take action against representatives of the administration, saying that everyone should “absolutely harass them” wherever they go.
Some liberal media bosses ran pictures of children locked in cage-like cells, claiming they were taken this year.
But some of the most appalling pictures they published were actually taken under the Barack Obama administration’s detention of unaccompanied minors in 2014. These pictures highlight the continuity of the U.S. rulers’ immigration policy.
11 million without ‘proper’ papers
On June 20 President Donald Trump — who claimed he opposed the separations, but wanted Congress to vote for an overall immigration policy, including funds for a wall on the Mexican border — ended the policy.
But the single-minded liberal-led crusade targeting Trump as somehow especially evil and focusing only on the children leaves the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. who don’t have “proper” work papers and who live with the daily possibility of deportation out of the debate. They’re not mentioned in the so-called immigration reform bills currently before Congress nor by those who claim to speak in the interests of the immigrants.
Neither the current administration, nor previous ones, has any intention of deporting all but a small minority of immigrants in the U.S. without “proper” papers. Far from wanting to get rid of them, U.S. capitalists depend on undocumented labor they press to work for less to compete more successfully against their rivals.
Under the impact of the uptick in production, trade and hiring in the U.S. and Mexico, and the tightening up of the U.S.-Mexico border, many bosses in the U.S. are facing a shortage of labor. To make up for the decline — at least in part — more than 200,000 H2-A short term “guest worker” visas were awarded in 2017, up from 77,000 in 2011, a 159 percent increase.
The so-called guest workers have fewer rights than U.S.-born workers. If they are fired or quit, they can be deported. Capitalist bosses are pushing the government to grant more of these visas.
But they still need millions of undocumented workers.
The goal of the rulers is to instill fear in these workers and to pit foreign-born and U.S.-born workers against each other. They seek to maintain a source of cheap labor, to use immigrant labor to keep down the wages of U.S.-born workers, and to divide the working class and undermine its ability to organize the unorganized and fight capitalist exploitation.
That’s why demanding amnesty for all 11 million immigrants in the U.S. and for an immediate end to deportations is a life and death question for the working class and our labor unions.
Millions win amnesty in 1986, 1990
The fight for amnesty has been won before. In 1986 then President Ronald Reagan pushed through Congress an immigration law that made undocumented workers who entered the U.S. before 1982 eligible for amnesty. Nearly 3 million people got amnesty.
But many spouses and children of immigrants who qualified for amnesty were excluded, leading to protests over families being divided.
In 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed a law to cover those in this position and granted amnesty to another 1.5 million.
In 2006 millions of immigrant workers took to the streets to protest the Sensenbrenner bill in Congress that would have made it a felony to be in the U.S. without a visa. They carried placards that said, “We are workers, not criminals,” demanding amnesty. On May 1 more than 1 million went on strike, shutting down hundreds of factories and businesses across the country.
Not only did these actions force defeat of the federal legislation, they won tremendous respect from fellow workers. Following May 1, more and more immigration raids were met with protests. U.S.-born workers often helped co-workers hide or escape. President George W. Bush suspended the raids in mid-2008.
Today there is less prejudice against immigrant workers than ever. Immigrant and native-born workers work and live side by side all across the country.
The changing attitudes among U.S.-born workers can be seen in the response to a government raid April 5 at Southeastern Provision meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee, one of a handful of new workplace raids the administration has undertaken.
In 2016 some 77 percent of the surrounding county voted for Trump. After the raid, residents of nearby Morristown, where many of the workers live, raised $60,000 for those who were detained. A number of U.S.-born residents joined an April 12 march through Morristown where participants carried signs saying, “Families belong together,” “No more deportations” and “Immigrants make America great.”
A sustained, labor-backed battle for amnesty would find a powerful response.