As immigration spikes, workers look to unify the working class

By Alyson Kennedy
January 29, 2024
Farmworkers harvesting onions near Alamo, Texas. The SWP calls for amnesty for all workers living in the U.S. regardless of where they come from. Overcoming the divisions between immigrant and native-born workers is essential to beating back attacks by the bosses.
Alamy/Bob DaemmrichFarmworkers harvesting onions near Alamo, Texas. The SWP calls for amnesty for all workers living in the U.S. regardless of where they come from. Overcoming the divisions between immigrant and native-born workers is essential to beating back attacks by the bosses.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Over 300,000 immigrants crossed the southwest border of the U.S. last month, the highest number ever recorded. In one week in December some 12,000 migrants crossed the Texas border with Mexico at Eagle Pass.  

Last month Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4, which will go into effect in March. It authorizes local and state police to arrest and deport anyone illegally crossing the 1,200-mile-long border. 

In response, the Biden administration’s Justice Department sued Texas, saying the law is an unconstitutional violation of federal government authority over immigration.  

State officials’ stepped-up efforts to curtail immigration date back to “Operation Lone Star” in 2021, which included constructing 29 miles of concertina wire along the Texas-Mexican border near Eagle Pass and allocating $11 billion for more state troopers and National Guard. 

Abbott blames the Democrats for what he calls “the Biden immigration crisis.” The Democrats blame the Republicans. In fact neither of the bosses’ parties have a solution that will advance the needs of the working class.

In 2022 Abbott, a Republican, began sending undocumented immigrants to Democratic-Party-dominated “sanctuary” cities by bus and plane. So far, over 12,500 migrants have been transported to Washington, D.C.; 35,600 to New York; 29,400 to Chicago; 15,000 to Denver; and 1,400 to Los Angeles.  

Most of the hundreds of thousands of workers crossing the border today come from Central and South America, as well as Asia and some Eastern European countries. 

The immigration policies of the U.S. capitalist rulers, and of the Democrats and Republicans alike, aren’t to stop it, but to allow enough immigrants in to meet the needs of the bosses for cheap labor. And they create the divisions between native-born and migrant workers to drive down the wages and conditions of the working class as a whole. 

The capitalist rulers’ profit-driven immigration policies are a deadly threat to the working class. Charting a course to overcome the divisions that bosses foster between immigrant and native-born workers is essential to strengthening our unions and beating back the attacks of the bosses. 

Workers discuss what must be done

Members of the Socialist Workers Party here have been discussing these questions in working-class neighborhoods and with co-workers on the job. “It’s bad what is going on,” Juanita Castillo, a retired factory worker, told this Militant  worker-correspondent when I knocked on her door and said I was the SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from Texas and wanted her opinion. “Immigrants who are coming now don’t care about the law. Before when immigrants were coming they were scared they were going to be deported or put in jail, now they are not,” Castillo said. 

“I am from Mexico and have been here since 1975. Then the laws were different, it was easier to get papers,” she said. “The Democrats say they are ‘helping,’ but it isn’t true. The Republicans are kind of worse, but what Trump says is good.” 

I said the SWP supports fighting for an amnesty for immigrants who live and work in the U.S. “The bosses pay immigrant labor cheap wages and use this to lower wages for all workers. We must build unity between native-born and immigrant workers and not let the bosses pit us against each other. Fighting for an amnesty will help strengthen the fight to unify the working class and build strong unions we can use to defend ourselves.” 

Castillo said, “In Texas the minimum wage is $7.50 and many jobs pay this, especially for immigrants. I worked in a warehouse that paid $8.25 an hour and they lowered it to $7.25. With the cost of living today you can’t survive. I agree that there should be an amnesty for immigrants who are here.”

Another worker I met was Raul Rubio, who was born in Mexico and has lived here 20 years. He works at a recycling factory. “Today things are worse. Before it was easier to come here,” he said. “With the cost of living today everything is more expensive. When I came you could buy a house for $20,000 to $30,000. Today it costs over $200,000. The solution is not to come to the U.S. There should be more security at the border.” Both Castillo and Rubio bought a copy of the Militant  to find out more information about the SWP.

SWP campaigners Dennis Richter and Alex Huinil met Colton Sullivan when they knocked on his door in Crowley. “Immigration isn’t being handled as it should be,” he said. “People are being demonized. Those who want to come to the U.S. in the right way are lumped together with everybody else and called criminals. The media doesn’t show the big picture, why people want to come and work. 

“They show a little piece of the problems and make it look like all immigrants are bad. People should have the right to come into the U.S. if they need to.” Sullivan bought a copy of the Militant. 

While campaigning in Fort Worth, I met Alejandra Drado and her husband, Saul Ramos. “In other countries the wages are really low and that is why a lot of people are coming to the U.S.,” Ramos said. Drado added, “The government doesn’t see immigrants as human. They spend more money on the border instead of housing. Everything costs more since the pandemic.” Drado and Ramos got a subscription to the Militant  and a copy of The Low Point of Labor Resistance Is Behind Us.

“It started with the Trump administration that was trying to control immigration,” Jerome Crawford, a union steward for Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 111 at Bimbo Bakery in Grand Prairie, told me. “Then Biden stopped the wall and ever since then it has spiraled out of control. When people leave to flee to another country, it has to be bad. Some drown crossing the river, some died in locked trucks. If you do make it, it is going to be better than where you came from.”

Immigration is a union question

“I work with immigrants from Cuba and El Salvador. In Minnesota I worked with workers from Romania and Bosnia at a bakery,” Crawford said. “They came from war-torn countries for a better life. You have the president telling them they are welcome and the governor rebutting this. It is a union issue because you can’t join unions if you don’t have citizenship.”

The deepening crisis of capitalism worldwide and absence of any revolutionary leaderships that present a road forward for working people throughout the hemisphere means many toilers will look for ways to get into the U.S. to escape from economic misery and state repression. 

But what is needed is the construction of parties and leaderships that can chart a course to take political power and organize working people to transform their countries and their lives. In fact what these fellow workers face is the same challenge as working people do in the U.S. — to fight to defend our class interests. 

Liberals and middle-class radicals say to resolve this crisis we should demand, “Open the borders.” But this would just create chaos. Borders, like currencies, laws and other facts of life, will continue to exist as long as capitalism exists.

Under capitalism workers compete for jobs. Opening the borders would vastly intensify that competition, fueling unemployment and spreading misery among working people, immigrant and native-born alike.

Instead, the call for amnesty for all workers living in the U.S., regardless where they come from, coupled with support for revolutionary battles abroad, is the road forward for the working class.