Spring 2010 was a season of resurgence for the immigrant rights movement, with the largest demonstrations since the immigrant rights movement erupted in 2006.
Anger was already building at stepped up ICE raids, deportations, and lack of action from Congress or Obama on comprehensive immigration reform. On March 21, 200,000 marched on Washington demanding reform.
Then the passage of the racist anti-immigrant law SB1070 in Arizona added high octane fuel to the already smoldering fire. Tens of thousands hit the streets in April as the bill moved through Arizona’s legislature. After it passed, hundreds of thousands protested nationally on May 1. On May 29, a national day of action against SB1070, over 50,000 in Phoenix marched, rallied, and walked out of school, alongside smaller protests across the country.
SB1070 requires Arizona law enforcement to question the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be without legal residency status. It constitutes nothing less than a green light for racial profiling against anyone with brown skin and an accent, whether they have legal status or not.
As if this were not enough, Arizona also passed legal provisions banning heavily accented teachers from teaching English. They also banned any sort of ethnic studies courses in schools, lest they teach resentment, "promote the overthrow of the US government, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." (AZ Daily Star 4/29/2010)
Ten other states are considering similar laws on immigration status. Everything possible must be done to demand an immediate repeal of the Arizona laws and to prevent the anti-immigrant right wing from succeeding in other states.
Clearly, the shortsighted politicians in Arizona miscalculated. Looking for some cheap votes by whipping up anti-immigrant fervor, they have instead provoked a massive backlash from one of the most oppressed sections of the American working class. NY labor organizer John Delgado remarked, “I want to thank the governor of Arizona because she’s awakened a sleeping giant." (LA Times 5/2/2010)
Nevertheless, Obama and the Democrats are saying it will be tough to introduce any reform legislation at the federal level before the 2010 elections. This is especially shameful given the government data showing that under the Obama Administration, deportations of undocumented immigrants in the 2009 fiscal year rose to 387,790, up from 291,060 in 2007 under Bush. This has many newly politicized activists determined not to wait around for lackluster and hypocritical politicians to take any action, and to take the fight for immigrant rights into their own hands .
The Arizona Boycott
A significant movement to boycott Arizona is developing. Famous musicians, mayors, city councils, police departments, and sports stars are lending their weight to the boycott campaign. “[Dozens] of corporations and organizations have stayed away from or outright cancelled events scheduled for convention centers in Arizona.” (Firedoglake.com 5/14/10)
Unlike the right-wing politicians buoyed up by the Tea Party, most of the ruling class is opposed to SB1070. Many are actively supporting the boycott of Arizona to advance their own capitalist political and economic interests.
Meanwhile, politicians are trying to appeal to the growing block of Latino voters. Much of big business believes it’s time to provide a path to legal status for undocumented workers, expanding the guest worker program and other measures which codify into law immigrants’ position as a pool of super-exploited cheap labor. Leading political and business leaders, including many who rely on undocumented labor, recognize it is politically unsustainable to have entire industries resting on an “illegal” workforce.
Immigrants and the left, in contrast, are supporting the boycott for very different reasons. The workers’ movement should support the boycott. We support it as one tactic for defeating this racist, anti-worker law. It would be a victory for immigrants and the working class as a whole if the boycott ramped up enough pressure on Arizona to force the right-wing state government to repeal this vicious law. It would be a big step toward empowering immigrants and uniting workers to fight for immediate, unconditional legalization for all immigrants and living wage jobs for all, which the ruling class – including many boycott supporters – absolutely opposes.
However, we should not restrict ourselves to the boycott tactic alone, which gives most prominence to the role of business and amplifies workers’ identity as individual consumers, giving the impression that our main political power comes from what we buy. In the long run, the most effective tactics will help working-class people sense their collective power. This would include continued mass rallies, marches, student walkouts, and especially labor strikes and running independent pro-amnesty, pro-labor candidates in the elections.
The Democrats’ Immigration “Reform”
The main immigration reform bill making its way through Congress, crafted by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, emphasizes punishing immigrant workers through raids, deportations, and expanding border militarization. The bill’s so-called “path to citizenship” sets up multi-tiered, expensive, and conditional paths to achieve legal status. It also expands the guest worker program, which essentially amounts to indentured servitude and is rife with well-documented human rights abuses.
While Obama plans to wait until after the 2010 elections to bring immigration reform to a vote, socialists, immigrant rights activists, and working people in general should take this time to step up the mobilization to oppose this anti-immigrant legislation. A united movement is needed demanding immediate and unconditional amnesty for all undocumented workers.
Socialism and Immigrants’ Rights
By Teddy Shibabaw
To effectively combat the anti-immigrant “law and order” rhetoric, the most essential point to popularize is that the American corporate elite have created a vicious cycle with their free-trade, imperialist policies against Latin America. Decades of military adventures, covert operations and systematic economic pressures have geared much of Latin America’s economy toward the profit needs of U.S.-based multinational corporations, no matter the impact to ordinary workers and farmers in those countries.
The result is millions of economic refugees forced to flee northward for better opportunities. If the right wing is so interested in stopping the flow of immigrant labor to the U.S., then they should be loudly calling for a repeal of imperialist trade agreements and other policies that undermine independent local economies in Latin America. Not surprisingly, however, they choose not to bite the hand that feeds them.
While we continue to fight for full immigrants’ rights under today’s conditions, we need to keep in mind that under capitalism, big business’ attempts to maintain immigrants as an oppressed second class of workers will continue, even if some form of legal status is awarded them. Even reforms won through struggle will not be secure without a socialist transformation of society where the drive for profit no longer guides political policy.
The ruling class will forever find it convenient to use the time-tested divide-and-rule tactic to assert their assumed right for limitless profit extraction from all workers. A socialist transformation that puts the world’s wealth under workers’ democratic control would create a society with no incentives to deny people their basic rights. Furthermore, an international democratic plan of production and distribution will guarantee people’s right to live wherever they wish, with access to a decent job, housing, health care, and education for all.