The heartbreaking image went viral: Oscar Ramirez and his daughter Valeria, 23 months old, both dead, facedown in the waters of the Rio Grande — Salvadoran migrants, drowned attempting to cross into the U.S.
Reports had come in, almost simultaneously, from legal and medical observers that migrant children were suffering brutal concentration camp conditions in U.S. detention at the Southern border.
A wave of revulsion surged through the U.S. population, breaking through the big-business media chatter that minimizes the depth of the im/migrant crisis. The humanitarian group Border Angels estimates that since 1994 about 10,000 people have died attempting to cross the Southern border, many but not all reflected in the official statistics.
But what’s mostly been visible on TV are the current presidential campaign debates and talk-show comments on “How did the Democrats do with immigration?” Republican Trump’s goal to “Make America White Again” and the Democratic Party’s failure to mount an aggressive, anti-racist fightback were on display on June 27.
That’s when the Democratic-majority House of Representatives acquiesced to a Senate-initiated “humanitarian” bill that included millions of dollars to keep the Pentagon active in border surveillance and enforcement and included more millions for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol.
Conspicuously absent were added protections for the jailed im/migrant children. Proposed had been three provisions: a 90-day limit on the time children would be allowed to spend in temporary intake facilities, funding of legal services for detained children, and mandatory notification of lawmakers within 24 hours after the death of a child in government custody. None of those measures made it into the final bill.
It is no accident that racist Trump has been declaring a crisis at the Southern border since his election campaign. What’s almost never stated in the corporate media is that this “crisis” is rooted in home-grown, ruling-class-fomented white supremacy.
The U.S. “border crisis” is over 200 years old, starting with the massacres of Indigenous peoples and theft of their lands and the kidnapping of African people into slavery. It was made official in the first U.S. immigration law, the Naturalization Act of 1790, which offered citizenship only to a “free white person.” It continued through the racist nativist Know Nothing Party of the 1840s, the second wave of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1900s, the White Citizen Councils of the 1960s, the up-to-the-minute neo-fascists who assaulted protesters, murdering one, in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
The racist definition of which people really “belong” in the U.S. was voiced by Fox talk-show host Brian Kilmeade, speaking of im/migrant children separated from their parents by Trump’s decree in 2018. Kilmeade said: “These aren’t our kids. … [I]t’s not like [Trump] is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas. These are people from another country.”
Meanwhile, Indigenous, Black and Brown children and their families suffer state brutality in Idaho, Texas and everywhere else in the U.S., while people from “other countries” try to cross the Southern border for life-and-death reasons.
They are fleeing both economic desperation and violence directly connected to right-wing governments that owe their existence to U.S. overt and covert interventions. For almost a century, U.S. big business has reaped huge profits in Central America through a “favorable business climate” created by corrupt regimes that repress workers and peasants.
This is especially true of El Salvador, the country Oscar Ramirez emigrated from. During a civil war in that small nation in the 1980s, U.S.-trained and armed military brass ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of workers and peasant farmers — closing off any chances they had for a better life in their own country.
Now, both the racist right wing and the apologists for “immigration reform” would disqualify Oscar Ramirez as a candidate for “legal immigration” into the U.S. because as a worker he was seeking not “asylum” — but a better life for himself and his family.
This is where we as communists must draw our battle line. We must defend Oscar Ramirez in the name of international workers’ solidarity. When people migrate because of the impact of class war, that truly is “seeking asylum.” The global “immigration crisis” is happening because millions of immigrant workers and oppressed people are having to flee from destabilization and imperialist wars and climate disasters put in motion by capitalism.
They are being attacked in a class war — and they are trying to find a way through.
We must pledge to welcome and defend these immigrants in every way possible — through our unions, through informal job actions such as the Wayfair workers’ walkout in Boston, through our community networks against their deportation. In every way possible.
We are one class, and we will only grow stronger when we say: “We won’t be divided by the bosses! No borders in workers’ struggles!”
Solidarity with immigrants, especially at the Southern border, is worker self-defense.