Proposed New Immigration Law:
An Ominous Leap in Repression and the Need for Resistance
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“I’m 24 years old. In two months it will be two decades of living in this country illegally. I’m the youngest of five and came to the U.S. with my mother in 1993. We had nothing in Mexico and the only way we were getting through was by my father who was already in the U.S. to send us money. When we arrived two years later my father got deported. My mother worked in the fields picking tomatoes, green peppers, and strawberries so we could eat. It was still not enough. My older brother and sister, who were only 12 and 13 years old when we came to the U.S., had to give up their education and help my mother work. I can’t thank them enough for their sacrifice that led to the three youngest in the family to proudly graduate with a high school diploma. I have never felt like an ‘American.’ To me being an American means having freedom. Free to be whatever you work hard for and always having a fair shot and not being held back by your race, gender or sexuality. In my case it’s my illegal status that keeps me down and unable to better my life. To ICE I’m a criminal for being brought to this country when I was five years old.”—Rene, Tampa, Florida
“An operation by federal immigration agents in Detroit set off protests from Latino and church groups on Wednesday after the officers stopped two illegal immigrants as they were dropping off their children at school. Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement followed both immigrants, who are from Mexico, as they left their homes in southwest Detroit on Tuesday morning, officials from the agency said. Both men had children in their vehicles.
“One man, Jorge Hernandez, said he was pulled over by agents in unmarked cars across the street from his 4-year-old daughter’s school, the Manuel Reyes Vistas Nuevas Head Start center in southwest Detroit. Mr. Hernandez was questioned but eventually released. The other man, Hector Orozco Villa, told immigrant advocates that he had been detained by agents near the elementary school of two of his children, Cesar Chavez Academy, a few blocks from the Head Start center. Mr. Orozco remains in the custody of the agency, which is known as ICE.” —New York Times, October 17, 2012
There are 11 million stories like these—infants carried across deserts and mountains by their mothers; bold young people, full of hope, trying to start their own lives and families by working hard on back-breaking jobs at minimum wage or less in the kitchens, sweatshops, and farms of this country—until they are caught up in an immigration raid and deported; seeing their relatives, friends, and neighbors locked up for months in a detention center before they are sent to a country many of them barely know; families torn apart in the dead of night or while dropping the kids off at school; people dying horrible deaths when the water runs out as they try to cross the vast deserts of Arizona and California or while packed into the suffocation of trucks hurtling across the steaming Texas prairie.
In recent years millions of people this system calls “illegals” have rallied to a movement demanding an end to deportations, and demanding reforms in immigration laws so that a path to citizenship is opened up for them. From coast to coast, in large cities and small towns, people have rallied, marched, held sit-ins, faced arrest, bravely “come out” as “illegals” in public. And in the past few years especially, hopes of countless people have risen that with Obama in the White House something will finally be done to change their status and society will recognize their humanity.
But the “bipartisan” proposal for a new immigration law presented on Wednesday, April 17, by a group of prominent senators, four Republicans and four Democrats who call themselves the “Gang of Eight”—and which immediately received Obama’s blessing—has nothing at all to do with reforming an oppressive situation to benefit the people. It has everything to do with even further ramping up the brutal militarization of the U.S./Mexico border and instituting highly repressive attacks on and registration of millions of immigrants in this country, in order to better control and exploit a segment of the population that the ruling class of this capitalist-imperialist system both needs and fears—all under the guise of extending a “path to citizenship.”
The starting point for this “bipartisan” plan reveals a lot about its cold-blooded, highly repressive essence. Both Obama and Florida Senator Mark Rubio (one of the “Gang of Eight”) have stated that it is just not practical to deport 11 million immigrants living within U.S. borders. And indeed the proposed law contains significant provisions from both the “Gang of Eight’s” plan and from Obama’s proposals from earlier in the year.
Ugly Features of the Proposed New Law
- The bill allocates $4.5 billion for further heightening the military-style clampdown that already exists on the southern border. It requires that the Department of Homeland Security step up its monitoring of the border with Mexico to the level of intercepting 90 percent of the people attempting to cross. This includes adding up to 3,500 more Border Patrol agents, deployment of the National Guard, stepping up the use of drones and other forms of military surveillance, and extending the border fence—double and triple layers in some places—in what is known as the “Southern Border Fencing Strategy.” If the border is not deemed 90 percent “secure” within five years, a new “Southern Border Security Commission” made up of the governors of the four border states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—will be established with an additional $2 billion to achieve the goals.
- It requires immigrants who entered the U.S. before January 1, 2012 without official papers to obtain a “registered provisional immigrant” visa in order to continue to live and work in this country. Getting this visa would require paying a $500 fine and back taxes, passing a criminal background check and national security checks on a regular basis, and providing “biometric” data. Six years later another $500 fine would be levied. Anyone convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors would be ineligible and thus subject to deportation. Registered provisional immigrants would be allowed to work and travel but would not be eligible for any federal benefits.
- After 10 years of remaining in the U.S. continuously, passing a criminal background check, paying another $1,000 (for a total of $2,000) in penalties for having entered the country illegally and all back taxes, the “registered provisional immigrants” would be allowed to apply for green cards—all contingent upon the border having been deemed 90 percent “secure” according to the above provisions. After three more years they could apply for citizenship. (DREAM Act immigrants—students who came to the U.S. as children—will be able to apply for green cards within five years whether or not the border has been “secured.”)
- A universal employment identification program called “E-verify” is central to the new law. It requires that every non-citizen show a “biometric work authorization card” or “biometric green card,” and employers are required to match that exact photo with the same one in a national database. Citizens will also have to show a photo ID (e.g., passport or driver’s license) which will also be matched against the same photo in the national database. Everyone will be subjected to this E-verify system once it is fully phased in within four years.
- Homeland Security will be required to track all immigrants from the time they enter until the time they exit the country.
So, after submitting themselves to government registration, then living in limbo for another 13 years, somehow not running afoul of the police while living in urban and rural communities plagued by police terror of Latino people—and dependent upon the southern border having been militarily “secured”—an immigrant would be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Think of the thousands of youth and others routinely swept up by police using the pretext of “anti-gang injunctions,” the Latino youth constantly harassed and brutalized by police and often thrown into jail on little or fabricated pretexts, the youth who plead “guilty” to minor offenses because they are spending months waiting for trial in packed city and county jails—what will happen to them under these proposed changes?
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the U.S. on January 1, 2012, or later, or who do not go along with this program and turn themselves in to the government, or who cannot afford to pay the fines and back taxes and meet the standards of a clean criminal record, will be subjected to the constant terror of being arrested and deported if they are found to be unregistered.
Interlocking Web of Repression
The “bipartisan” plan is a product of a vitriolic debate that has been going on for years, driven by the most right-wing fascist elements in the country. After his reelection Obama put forward his own plan, many of the features of which are now enshrined in this repressive piece of legislation, which is the bipartisan deal—and the terms of this debate from the beginning have been set by who can take the toughest stand, casting as criminals millions of immigrants who have been forced to come here just to find a way to survive and eke out a living for themselves and their families. (See box, "Who Are the Real Criminals?")
When the outline of Obama’s plan was first released in February, Rubio, a right-wing Tea Party senator from Florida, said Obama’s plan was “dead on arrival.” This was because, according to Rubio, Obama’s plan “fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders.”
In the world of reality, as Rubio well knows, Obama has presided over an intensification and extension of military and police repression along the U.S./Mexico border that dwarfs even the massive militarization put in place by Bush, Clinton, and his other predecessors. The National Immigration Law Center, a liberal group focused on immigration issues, reported in February 2013 that increased “law enforcement” along the U.S.’s southern border means that “net migration from Mexico is now zero.”
More people have been deported in the Obama years than under any other president, by far—1.5 million people were deported, most of them to Mexico, in the first term of Obama’s presidency. National Public Radio reported that an “unprecedented 409,849 people were deported for the fiscal year that ended September 30 .” These figures are essentially double the number of people deported during the presidency of George W. Bush.
For decades now, the U.S. government has been deploying massive police and military force, high-tech spying and monitoring equipment, and multiple barricades of all sorts to wage a very one-sided “war” against the impoverished immigrants desperately trying to get into the U.S. to work. Obama has intensified that, and has instituted pervasive repression on the border and in the U.S. interior.
In October 2010, Obama signed a bill—passed with almost unanimous “bipartisan support” in Congress—pouring $600 million into increased militarization of the border. This included purchasing and deploying drones to monitor the border from just east of San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico. As Obama boasted in a speech in El Paso, Texas, in 2011, “We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents—more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a buildup that began under President Bush and that we have continued.”
Under Obama, immigrant detention centers have been built throughout the country, especially along the southwest border. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union points out that “in 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities across the country, and currently maintains a daily capacity of 33,400 beds…” The number of immigrants held in these centers has increased by 85 percent since 2005. As Revolution indicated in a previous article, “Hundreds of immigrants are being tortured through the use of prolonged solitary confinement in these detention facilities.”
But these measures, which have terrorized the border, destroyed centuries-old border communities, and driven hundreds of immigrants to their deaths by forcing them to cross in the harsh desert regions of the border, are not enough, according to the “bipartisan” senators. The bottom line of this bill is creating close to an impenetrable border.
The bill also contains changes to the visa system, including setting up guest worker programs for agricultural and other “lower-skilled” workers, which are intended to sustain the profitability of key U.S. industries, especially agribusiness and housing construction, on a foundation of low-wage, super-exploited, tightly controlled immigrant labor. The U.S. ruling class is also concerned about strengthening its position relative to other capitalist powers in a highly competitive global environment, especially in high-tech industries, including as they apply to areas such as weapons development and the security of its computer networks.
But the heart of whatever final law emerges is an interlocking web of repression: enforced registration with the government, mandatory electronic identification, and heightened militarization and control of the U.S./Mexico border. This would represent an ominous, fascistic leap in repression of immigrants in this country, and would lay the foundation for truly monstrous crimes on a large scale in times of severe crisis and shock to the system.
The last major change in U.S. immigration law, the “Immigration Reform and Control Act,” was signed into law by then president Ronald Reagan in 1986. Over the past several decades, two major trends concerning immigrants in the U.S. have developed: the population of immigrants has grown enormously, and the repression of immigrants—including a vicious anti-immigrant atmosphere encouraged and promoted by powerful figures in the ruling class—has become ever more venomous.
A report from the Center for Immigrantion Studies indicated that “the number of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the country hit a new record of 40 million in 2010, a 28 percent increase over the total in 2000.” Immigration from countries throughout the world, but particularly from Mexico and Central America, has dramatically changed cities across the country. Latino people are the largest proportion of the population in all the cities of the Southwest, from Houston to Los Angeles. In cities like Brownsville and Laredo, Texas, well over 90 percent of the population is of Mexican descent; in the California cities of Oxnard, Pomona, and Santa Ana, over 70 percent.
But the population of immigrants from Mexico and Central America is not just growing in the Southwest and along the border. The fastest growing populations of Mexican and other Latino immigrants are in South Carolina, Alabama, and Iowa. Entire industries throughout the country, such as construction, agriculture, and much of the low-wage service sector, depend on heavily exploited—and, from the perspective of the capitalists who profit from them, “disposable”—labor of immigrants. Millions of immigrants slaving at low-wage jobs are essential to the functioning of this capitalist-imperialist system.
Vicious repression of immigrants has escalated during this entire period, and become an ever-present feature of life in the U.S.—millions deported; hundreds dying horrible deaths at the border; factory and neighborhood raids that tear apart families; detention centers, including for children; attacks and beatings by reactionary racists; degradation of the language and culture people bring with them.
Hateful anti-immigrant laws passed in states such as Arizona, Utah, and Alabama—laws that criminalize people without official papers—have foreshadowed much of what is now being developed on a national scale. Mother Jones magazine last year reported that 164 anti-immigrant laws were passed by state legislatures in 2010 and 2011. “English Only” is the law in over 30 states, and all but one of those states enacted this law in the past 20 years.
The sudden ruling class urgency to revamp laws almost three decades old is not because the Republicans lost the last election, and because they think very few Latino people outside of Miami’s communities of right-wing Cubans will ever vote Republican. It is also not because the powerful ruling class forces backing vicious anti-immigrant measures in Arizona, Alabama, and other states have suddenly come around to Obama’s way of thinking. It is because the U.S. system of capitalism-imperialism is facing great turbulence, challenges, and deep conflicts within this country and internationally.
Within the U.S., the coherence of U.S. society around long-standing pillars of white supremacy, male supremacy, and “English Only” has been undermined significantly by social and economic developments of the past several decades. The existence in this country of 11 million undocumented immigrants whose main language is not English, a potentially rebellious and destabilizing component of society that is outside the framework of government control—all this is unacceptable to the people who rule this country. Particularly in a time of great potential for global and regional destabilization of the capitalist-imperialist system, establishing domestic “security” on the basis of great repression is something all sections of the ruling class agree upon.
The contradictions that are driving both political parties of the U.S. ruling class to make certain changes in the legal status of immigrants are not going to be lessened or resolved by any law. These contradictions are thoroughly embedded in the system of capitalism-imperialism. The rulers of this country require a large pool of deeply exploited immigrants for the functioning and profitability of their overall system. But they fear the dissolution of a social cohesion grounded in white supremacy, male supremacy, and “English Only,” and the law under development is being molded to address both these tensions.
What is needed for immigrants is not a path to greater repression and control disguised as a “path to citizenship” but fierce defiance and resistance to renewed assaults upon immigrants, from all sections of the people who oppose oppression and injustice. What is needed from communists is resistance to these attacks built as part of the entire movement for revolution, with the orientation of “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution."
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