As May Day approaches, migrants and refugees in the U.S. and around the world remain in a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. President Donald Trump’s continued move to the right is exacerbating this situation.
In the U.S., raids at courthouses and workplaces have increased. The National Guard has been sent to the southern border to further militarize the area. The U.S attorney general has strengthened repressive legal measures to terrorize immigrant workers and divide the working class.
Now more than ever, the struggles for migrant and refugee rights must be linked to the struggle against state police terror and to win workers’ rights.
It is easy to turn away from the spectacle that is the Trump administration or to laugh Trump off as no more than a no-talent, orange clown in a cheap circus. But Trump is extremely dangerous. In league with an ultraright faction, he has made his administration into a militaristic, white supremacist regime.
This has disastrous consequences for the workers and oppressed everywhere. This must be fought tooth and nail.
Hardline racist agenda
This month, Trump once again decreed his anti-immigrant agenda through a series of “Easter tweets,” in a nod to his white-supremacist “Christian nation” base. (CNN, April 5)
He called for new laws to make it even harder for immigrants to obtain refugee status. He acquired a whopping $1.6 billion from a willing Congress to build his racist wall on the Mexican border — and demanded more. He asked right-wing governors to send their National Guard troops to the border. He also declared he would assign U.S. military troops to patrol there, though that action requires congressional approval by law.
To fan the flames against immigrants, Trump again stated that immigration policies “have weakened the country” and “led to public safety risks.” (Washington Post, April 3) But that racist rhetoric is really a smokescreen to confuse white workers about where the real assault on their wages, health and education is coming from.
For instance, the total estimated cost for Trump’s white-supremacist wall would be about $25 billion — money that could and should be earmarked instead for health care, teachers’ salaries, and other needs of working and oppressed people.
The truth is that migration into the U.S. is at some of the lowest levels in years. The anti-immigrant climate that has grown since 2006 means fewer and fewer Mexican workers are coming into the U.S. while more are leaving to go back home.
In early April, Trump verbally targeted a caravan of migrants who were travelling from Central America through Mexico, aiming to reach the Tijuana border. Covered on Fox News with fear mongering rhetoric, the caravan was portrayed as a horde of dangerous criminals “snaking” and sneaking their way into the U.S.
Many such righteous caravans have made their way through Mexico for decades, as migrant rights advocates built support for the millions of displaced workers in the region. Every year, caravans travel throughout Mexico. They are not just for Central Americans but also for families in Mexico who have lost touch with their emigrating children or other relatives and are trying to find out what happened to them.
These families do not know if their loved ones made it into the U.S. or are in detention. Perhaps they lost their lives riding “La Bestia” (The Beast), the freight train that migrants jump on to make their way north, and where hundreds fall to their deaths or lose limbs in the attempt.
Trump specifically demonized a caravan organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders). Highlighting the concerns of Central Americans — many from Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador — the caravan began with more than 1,000 people. The logistics of arranging transportation, food and accommodations on that scale shows the courage and determination of the movement for migrants in Mexico.
Growing U.S. militarization
Why are so many caravaning north? Not to do ill, as racists rant, but because U.S. militarism and imperialism have destabilized their homelands, destroyed their homes and taken away their livelihood. For example, Honduras has become the scene of widespread instability and repression since the 2009 coup, when the progressive regime of President Mel Zelaya was overturned. That illegal coup had U.S. fingerprints all over it, particularly those of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
For Trump and his ilk to deny the racism they aim at these migrants is calculated hypocrisy. To deny political asylum to the hundreds of refugees forced to flee their region is not only wrong — it is a death sentence.
U.S. imperialism has militarized the beleaguered countries of Mexico and Central America, and now Trump aims to further militarize the U.S. border. Not the northern border with Canada, of course, but the U.S. border with Mexico.
In the wake of Trump’s call for troops at the border, conservative governors from Arizona and Texas deployed their National Guard units (Newsweek, April 7), although still at numbers lower than called out under both Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat President Barack Obama. Arizona deployed 150 members and Texas promised 250. The total from all border states is predicted to reach 4,000 eventually.
California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 11 that he would send troops to the border. This is alarming, as the migrant rights movement has been very strong in California. That a so-called liberal governor felt the pressure to go along with reactionary governors shows the Trump anti-immigrant hype is gaining momentum. Brown’s announcement is also an example of how the Democrats continue to sell out immigrants and their advocates.
Workplace raids increasing
Trump’s summoning of the soldiers is meant to send a chill through migrants and activists alike. This follows other policies to terrorize the migrant and refugee community. On April 5, Trump issued a directive that U.S. immigration enforcement agencies cease any “catch and release” practices. In this degradingly nicknamed procedure, undocumented immigrants who had been arrested at the border were released while their cases were processed.
In addition, the Department of Justice, run by archracist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will now set quotas for immigration judges in an effort to speed up deportations. According to National Public Radio, “to get a satisfactory rating on their performance evaluations, judges will be required to clear at least 700 cases a year and to have fewer than 15 percent of their decisions overturned on appeal.”
Immigration lawyers criticized the plan. “Decisions in immigration court have life-or-death consequences and cannot be managed like an assembly line,” said Jeremy McKinney, secretary of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. (NPR, April 3)
Meanwhile, in what may be the biggest workplace raid under Trump’s assault, 97 people were taken into custody and processed for deportation or detention on April 7, following an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at a Tennessee meat-processing plant.
This follows synchronized ICE raids at over 100 7-Eleven stores in early January. On one day alone, ICE agents stormed into 100 stores searching for undocumented workers. (Newsweek, Jan. 10)
The ICE acting executive associate director boasted at the time that they were just getting started: “It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big, medium and small. … This is what we’re gearing up for this year, and what you’re going to see more and more of.”
Nowhere to go
Immigrants and refugees in the U.S. are living under a state of siege right now. Whether out shopping or going to religious services, whether in school, at court or at work, while driving or walking anywhere, migrants and their families are living in sheer terror. The risk of post-traumatic stress is real, especially among children of migrant families, with long-standing consequences.
Migrants are forced to leave their homelands and migrate into the U.S. because of intolerable conditions, resulting directly from U.S. imperialist militarism. Only by shutting down this country’s predatory, racist system once and for all will this war on migrants end.
May Day 2018 must once again be dedicated to the struggle of migrants and refugees — whether they come from Honduras or Haiti, Syria or Somalia.
There are no borders in the workers’ struggle!
Teresa Gutierrez is a longtime immigrant rights activist.
Photos: Massive nationwide rallies in September 2017 defended immigrants, here in Los Angeles and Houston.