Republican governors in Arizona, Florida and Texas have been sending busloads of migrants who’ve crossed the Mexican border to liberal northern “sanctuary” cities, saying authorities there should be glad to get them. Democratic mayors, like New York’s Eric Adams, and other politicians have responded by blaming the Republicans for using the migrants to strain their city’s resources.
This cynical demagogy from both sides aims at increasing divisions among working people by scapegoating immigrants for the unfolding crisis of the capitalist system today.
“We want to transport [them], because, obviously, it’s expensive if people are coming here. It taxes social services and all these other things,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Sept. 15. “Every community in America should be sharing in the burdens.” The day before DeSantis had sent two planes with 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy liberal enclave off the shore of Massachusetts. They were quickly moved off the island to temporary housing on a military base.
After being dumped in places where most of the arriving immigrant workers have no family or other connections, the migrants’ main concern is being able to provide for themselves and their families here and back home. “What we need the most is work,” Gabriel Hernández, from Venezuela, told Univision in New York Sept. 23.
While decrying Republican governors for their inhumane and cruel treatment of migrant workers, Democratic Party officials hide the fact that their policies and practices differ very little.
Contrary to accusations that President Joseph Biden isn’t doing anything to “deter illegal immigration,” some 1.5 million people had been apprehended by the immigration police by the end of 2021, and the Border Patrol had expelled or deported over 1 million more. As of one month before the end of fiscal year 2022, over 2 million immigrants have been apprehended along the southwestern border. These are numbers not seen in the last two decades.
Since 2014, the Obama-Trump-Biden administrations have been pushing their counterparts in Mexico to take on a bigger share in slowing the flow of migrants from Central America. Single adults and families from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who cross the Rio Grande are immediately expelled back to Mexico.
In recent years even larger numbers have been arriving and calling for asylum from Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Neither the anti-immigrant rhetoric nor the more genteel-sounding “plans” in the mouths of politicians are primarily intended to stop immigration. The central aim is to instill fear among undocumented immigrants, and sow divisions among all workers. The bosses use this to keep wages and working conditions low for all.
Rulers turn immigration on and off
The U.S. rulers turn immigration on and off to meet the bosses’ need for labor. Some of it is done through temporary guest workers programs that supply workers to the fishing industry, sugar cane mills, hotels, resorts and many other industries. Some capitalists simply use undocumented workers who’ve managed to get into the country. “Immigrant labor and first-generation refugees have been excellent sources of labor,” Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO for the North American Meat Institute, said in May.
Workers and peasants in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa are forced to migrate by the worsening economic and social conditions they face.
“I used to grow beans, but with the high price of seeds, renting a small piece of land, and low prices, at the end it was no longer worth it,” said a 30-year-old worker from Nicaragua, now living and working on a goat farm in Wisconsin. He asked the Militant not to use his name.
No ‘sanctuary’ from exploitation
Whether in self-professed Democrat-run “sanctuary” cities or places where Republican politicians blame migrants for all their city’s problems, the pariah status and superexploitation of immigrant workers is very much the same.
Until 2019, for example, when the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act was passed, farmworkers in New York state were excluded from overtime pay, a guaranteed day of rest per week, and compensation when injured on the job. That law says they should get overtime pay after 60 hours a week.
Wage differences between union and nonunion construction workers in New York City — where more than 60% of construction workers are immigrants, with 41% of them undocumented, most of them working in nonunion jobs — is stark, and quite profitable for the bosses. But the biggest cost is in the number of deaths and injuries on the job among undocumented construction workers without union protection.
“The bosses’ practice of using immigrant labor to drive down wages and working conditions isn’t new, and neither is the solidarity necessary to break down divisions and organize all workers into unions,” said Willie Cotton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor of New York.
The capitalist ruling families and the politicians who represent them — Democrats and Republicans alike — accuse immigrant workers of being the cause of unemployment, crime and drug trafficking, and limit funding for health, education and other social services, said Cotton. “They use this scapegoating to trap working people into supporting measures that divide us and strengthen the position of the bosses and their government over all who work for a living — native- and foreign-born,” he said. “The labor movement needs to fight for amnesty for all immigrants in the country. This will put the unions in a stronger position to unite and organize all workers.”
“We have to stand up, organize, and fight for permanent residency,” José Molina, speaking for the National TPS Alliance, told Univision Sept. 19. Temporary Protective Status allows refugees from countries devastated by wars and natural disasters to work and live legally in the U.S. TPS holders joined parades to celebrate Central America’s independence in Los Angeles, New Jersey, and other cities in September, demanding the extension of their status and for amnesty.