from Detroit Workers' Voice #64, May 1, 2007
(CV #40, August 2007)
. Immigrant workers, the so-called "illegals", are demanding their rights. This struggle deserves the support of all workers, regardless of nationality or country of birth. Immigrant workers, whether they came to the US legally or not, should have the same rights as native-born workers. It's the present immigration system that is criminal, not the so-called "illegals"! It is this unjust system that has turned poor foreign-born workers merely seeking a livelihood into outlaws hounded by the immigration authorities and easy prey for greedy business owners.
. Last year millions of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets when House .Republicans attempted to pass legislation (HR 4437) that threatened to jail or deport the estimated 11-12 million undocumented workers. Giant protests broke out, largely in Mexican nationality communities. Participation in demonstrations by immigrant workers shut down a number of workplaces. And walkouts from schools took place in several cities. The Senate's version of HR4437 didn't pass.
. But the abuse of immigrant workers by capitalist businesses continues. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has stepped up deportations, launching a wave of raids on the workplaces employing immigrants. Bush and Congress are now proposing new legislation that would perpetuate the oppression of immigrants. While they claim to offer a path to legalization, they aren't really interested in the well-being of immigrant workers. Their proposals are designed to help the capitalists have a ready supply of semi-slave labor. Both proposals contain huge obstacles to gaining even a limited legalization, and full rights will remain a distant dream for most "illegals." Meanwhile, they are full of police state-measures to further persecute immigrants.
. The capitalist exploiters and their political parties are the common nemesis of native-born and immigrant workers alike. All workers should stand together against the anti-immigrant policies of Bush and the Democrats.
. The Bush administration unveiled its new immigration reform in April. The Democratic majority in Congress is the main force behind another proposal, HR 1645, also called the STRIVE Act (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act. ) HR 1645 is sponsored by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Flake (R-AZ). Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. McCain (R-AZ) were working on a similar bill in the Senate, but this effort has collapsed for now.
Bush's plan: terrorism vs. immigrants and sham legalization
. The Bush administration has released limited information on its latest immigration reform plan. But what's been released is a slap in the face to immigrant workers. It is to have a new status of workers with no rights to do anything but work at whatever conditions the employers impose. Bush wants to legalize the presence of some immigrants, but only to keep them as a pool of cheap labor. He aims to do this by allowing former illegals to get new temporary "Z" visas allowing them to work legally but denying them basic rights. For this "privilege", Bush would charge each immigrant adult $3,500 to get the Z visa. These visas will last three years and can be renewed indefinitely in three-year intervals, with each renewal costing an additional $3,500. These costs will discourage many poor immigrants from even attempting to gain a visa. It will discourage them from leaving their employers no matter how badly they are treated. Or it may cause immigrants to go into debt to employers who put up the fees for them.
. If the immigrant worker is able to survive for a number of years under the "Z" visa, they could then apply for permanent resident status, with a fair amount of rights. However, this will be so difficult, most will not be able to meet the criterion. To qualify, immigrants would have to leave the US, and then apply at a US consulate or embassy. This would cut off the immigrants from their source of income while imposing new relocating expenses on them.
. Of course, there's no guarantee of being readmitted. These conditions alone would be enough for many immigrants to opt not to apply for permanent residency. But if the applicant is found worthy under the arbitrary standards of the immigration officials, they would then have to pay a $10,000 fine. According to an April 9 press release of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a group that finds nice things to say about Bush's plans despite their criticisms, total "fees for regularizing one's status would grow to well over $20,000 per person". These huge financial burdens make the idea of achieving permanent legal status a joke. And there's numerous other non-financial obstacles as well. It's no wonder that in early April, 10,000 people demonstrated against Bush's plan in Los Angeles.
. The only thing certain for immigrants under Bush's immigration policy is more terror. This past
December 12, for example, immigration agents raided Swift meatpacking plants in six states,
arresting 1,282 immigrant workers. Immigrant workers were swept away and detained in
unknown locations, while their children were left to wonder if they would see their parents again.
Bush promises more such police-state actions. He boasts about hiring thousands of new
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and supplying them with high-tech equipment to
hound immigrants, mainly at the Mexican border. Many immigrants will still try to cross the
border, but they will be forced into more desperate measures to do so, and there will be more
deaths crossing the border deserts trying to evade the authorities.
Democrats bow before anti-immigrant Republicans
. The STRIVE bill offered in Congress, largely with Democratic backing, takes the same basic approach as Bush. It too would build up the anti-immigrant police-state apparatus. In fact, it appeals to the worst anti-immigrant right-wing politicians by promising that none of the bill's legalization measures will go into effect until the head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) certifies that massive new police structures on the Mexican border are in place. This includes about 14,000 new border patrol agents and agents to hound immigrants at workplaces. It includes tanks, helicopters and high-tech surveillance equipment.
. The STRIVE bill also calls for expanding the capacity for detention centers by 20,000 to hold immigrants swept up in raids. This legislation also includes measures to push local and state police forces into enforcing immigration laws.
. Before any legalization measures take place, the DHS must also certify that a new electronic verification system is set up to allow employers and the government to track immigrant workers so that illegals can more easily be rounded up and deported. This verification system includes tamper-proof ID cards verifying the legal status of the immigrants. The bill thus sets the groundwork for a national ID card that will be used to spy on all workers, whether immigrants or native-born, so as to weed out organizers and progressive political activists. Yet the bill pretends it's against a national ID card.
. Meanwhile, the bill has harsher penalties for employers hiring undocumented workers. Such
measures not only punish illegals, but have historically been used by employers to discriminate
against anyone "foreign-looking." Immigrant rights lawyers also report that the STRIVE bill will
reduce due process protections for immigrants threatened with deportation.
STRIVE's roadblocks to legalization
. In the STRIVE bill, any efforts to legalize immigrants take a back seat to repression against them. Thus, it's no surprise that the legalization measures in the bill set up innumerable obstacles to undocumented workers seeking full rights. Under STRIVE, illegal immigrants can apply for "conditional nonimmigrant" status that can last six years. But if you have arrived in the US after June 2006, you are disqualified. Immigrant workers must also be able to document near-continuous employment since entering the country, which can be quite hard for workers in the underground economy. Each adult has to then pay a $500 fine plus application fees. There is a criminal background check, and anyone who has committed a felony or three misdemeanors is disqualified. Just as in Bush's Z visa program, such obstacles will force many immigrants to remain underground rather than risk being tripped up in the legalization process.
. And those who manage to get "conditional nonimmigrant" status still won't be able to breathe freely: they will continue to be subject to super-exploitation by their employers. The STRIVE bill pretends to provide more labor rights to the "conditional nonimmigrants". But the requirement, under pain of deportation, to maintain continuous employment will keep these immigrants chained to, and at the mercy of, their bosses. In fact, the bill does little to improve the lack of serious labor protections for immigrant workers and offers little to enforce the limited protections it promises.
. In order for a "conditional nonimmigrant" to get permanent residency status, and after that, full citizenship, there are more incredible roadblocks. The whole process from illegal status to citizenship would likely take 15-20 years. In part that's because the after six years of "conditional nonimmigrant" status, those who apply for permanent resident status are forced to go the back of the line behind others in the system which is backlogged for at least five years. During this whole period those seeking citizenship would have to not run afoul of their employer or the law, and maintain in order all sorts of records. In addition there's another $1,500 fee plus more application fees and payment of unpaid back taxes. There's also a requirement to learn English and US civics, another arbitrary hurdle for poor workers exhausted by their jobs and family responsibilities. To make matters worse, immigrants would have to leave the country (and their jobs and schools) and hope they can get readmitted.
. The STRIVE bill also creates a new status, H2-C, which is an updated and expanded version of
the notorious "bracero" guest-worker program. These workers can get a visa for three years and
renew it for another three years. They are recruited by specific businesses sanctioned by the
government. The bill allegedly provides certain rights for H2-C workers, but this is largely an
illusion. For instance, H2-C visas are supposed to be "portable", allowing the worker to change
jobs. But a worker needs previous government authorization to leave a job and must find new
work in 60 days. Further, the worker must already have a job offer from another employer, and
only from employers participating in the H2-C program. Failure to meet these rules could lead to
deportation. So in practice, the H2-C workers will usually be chained to their present employer
and forced to endure substandard conditions.
All workers should support the immigrant rights movement
. Both Bush's proposal and the STRIVE act are designed to help the business owners keep the immigrant workers subjugated. The capitalists want to drive down immigrant workers as part of their efforts to drive down the condition of all workers. Anti-immigrant politicians and media assist this effort by trying to turn native-born workers against their immigrant class brothers and sisters. Immigrants are scapegoated for unemployment and other social ills. But it's not the Mexican immigrants who've carried out massive layoffs in basic industries across the country, but the capitalists themselves. Immigrant workers didn't lay off auto workers or Detroit city workers. Nor has the school system and social programs been gutted by immigrants, but by Bush, Clinton, Congress, and local politicians of both capitalist parties.
. How convenient for the capitalists! First they exploit millions of immigrant workers, then they
blame them for their own crimes. Solidarity of all workers with immigrant labor is necessary to
combat this racist scapegoating and is necessary to raise the wages and conditions of immigrant
labor. Only when immigrant labor has rights and gets organized can the efforts of the capitalists
to use them to drive down all workers be foiled.
Mass struggle yes, capitalist politicians, no!
. Workers have never won their rights without a powerful mass struggle against the capitalist establishment. So it is today with immigrant rights. The White House and Congress are proposing immigration reforms designed to help the exploiters and keep the immigrant workers enslaved. Immigrant and native-born workers cannot rely on these dregs. We can rely only on building our own mass actions and fighting organizations independent of the capitalist parties. We workers must have our own immigration proposals:
No to raids and deportations!
No to the anti-immigrant plans of Bush and Congress!
Full rights for all immigrant workers, now!
Last modified: September 10, 2007.