Despite the hullabaloo about the recent announcement of the possibility of bipartisan legislation to pass so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” the vast majority of immigrant advocate groups are skeptical or not at all impressed by the announcements.
Four Democrats and four Republicans, labeled the “Gang of 8,” came together in what is heralded as surprising bipartisan unity on an alleged contentious issue in an attempt to finally “fix broken immigration policy.”
The Gang of 8’s plan was announced about the same time that President Barack Obama gave a keynote address on immigration in Las Vegas on Jan. 29.
Since 2006, millions of immigrants, especially the undocumented, along with their supporters have fought for a just and fair pro-worker immigration policy, especially immediate legalization. Millions have taken to the streets on more than one occasion, held forums, sit-ins and organized countless events demanding a humane policy.
This upsurge of immigrants helped to revive May Day in the United States, a welcome development for the class struggle in this country.
Obama’s immigration speech
But President Obama’s address on Jan. 29 and the Gang of 8’s plan both indicate business as usual for the more than 12 million undocumented workers in the United States. A look at the fine print reveals that what is most likely in store for workers is more of the same: more repression and exploitation, more deportations and an exceptionally slow if not stalled path to legalization. It is a program that will not just affect workers born outside the U.S., but has dangerous consequences for all workers.
The eight senators revealed the outline of their immigration plan the day before Obama’s Nevada speech. The statement of principles sets out four pillars: “1) a tough but fair path to citizenship . . . contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country as required; 2) reform our legal immigration system with a greater eye toward our economic needs; 3) workplace verification; and 4) setting up a system for admitting future workers.”
Republicans reportedly joined this effort as a result of the heavy Latino/a vote for Democrats in November’s election.
President Obama spoke in Las Vegas, where the Latino/a vote helped him into the White House in both elections. Obama said that immigration is a “defining challenge of our time” and that “differences are dwindling; … a broad consensus is emerging; and … a call for action can now be heard.”
When he intoned, “Now is the time, now is the time,” the audience responded with “Sí se puede!” (“Yes we can!”).
President Obama recognized the contributions of 11 million undocumented workers who “may have broken the rules,” but are “contributing members of the community,” often working where “employers may offer them less than the minimum wage or make them work overtime without extra pay.”
He also recognized the need to keep the “brilliant students from all over the world at our top universities” in the United States. “That’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.”
Perhaps most informative, Obama recalled that “during my first term, we took steps to … patch up some of the worst cracks in the system. … We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.” He took credit for deporting “criminals.”
“And … we took up the cause of the DREAMers — the young people who were brought [here] … as children, built their lives here, have futures here.”
Regarding his proposed bill, Obama said:
“First … we need to stay focused on enforcement … continuing to strengthen security at our borders … cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers.”
“Second, we have to deal with the 11 million … here illegally. We’ve got to lay out a path [to citizenship] … that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line, behind [those] who are trying to come here legally.”
“And third … we’ve got to bring … the immigration system into the 21st century … so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest all around the world.”
Overwhelmingly, just about every organization that is working to defend immigrants had criticism of both Washington developments, even those groups tied to the whims and will of the Democratic Party. Even organizations that were invited to the high school where President Obama spoke in Las Vegas were critical.
Some of the immigration groups reported to be there included the National Day Labor Organizing Network and Voces de la Frontera from Wisconsin.
The day before Obama’s address, NDLON issued a statement that called for a massive nationwide petition to Obama to demand an end to the deportations:
“The time is now for words to become actions. … Our communities cannot wait for eventual relief … as more than 1,000 people continue to be … deported every … day. Stopping deportations would be a down payment on the legislation to come. … President Obama should use his power to suspend deportations. Otherwise, he’ll be removing the very people he says he wants to be included on the road to citizenship.”
A Dreamer organization wrote: “The promise of the DREAM Act has taken more than a decade and nothing has happened; meanwhile more undocumented youth age out without the chance to benefit. There are families who have lived here for decades. … Would not those years of hard work count? We stand on an immigration plan that focuses on family unification first, supports an effective pathway to citizenship, stops the criminalization of our communities and is open to all undocumented immigrants without discriminating against their profession of choice.”
An AFL-CIO press release stated that also in Las Vegas were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and labor leaders from UNITE-HERE, United Auto Workers, American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and other unions who “joined President Obama’s call for immigration reform.”
Critical moment for working class
This is an opportune moment not only for the immigrant rights movement but for the workers’ overall struggle. The immigration program on the table is a blow, especially to the undocumented. Enforcement based immigration policy is only beneficial to the capitalist system.
For the capitalist parties to use immigration to appeal to the Latino/a vote is a cynical ploy. Latinos/as have more to gain by voting with their feet and using their power as workers than going to the ballot box.
Immigrant advocates are now studying the heinous guest-worker aspect in the current immigration debate. This is an important study as it has bearing on union campaigns and for Black, white and all workers. Based on its virulent racist and wage-theft history, it must be opposed and stopped.
Every single undocumented worker in this country has earned legalization a hundred times over. There should be no requirement to get at the back of the line. There should be no line at all, given that what forced workers to come here in the first place were U.S. imperialist policies.
What is the task at hand? Immigrants and their supporters must continue the struggle for immediate legalization and full rights for the undocumented. Despite the political winds in Washington, this is winnable if workers flex their muscle and tap into people’s power.
Solidarity and unity between workers born here and around the world and between organized and unorganized workers will be critical and decisive in the period ahead as the same bosses and corporations that want to militarize the border are the same ones creating massive unemployment and cuts in services. Only our unity can turn that tide around.