Why immigrant activists oppose the new bill

By Arturo J. PĂ©rez Saad,, June 1, 2007

The U.S. Congress is discussing a new immigration bill supported by President George Bush and major groupings in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. This bill is being presented as a “great compromise” to regulate immigration and make the situation stable for immigrant workers and their employers.

It is true that diehard reactionaries in the Congress oppose the bill. These racists display open hostility to all immigrants here without legal papers and engage in what amounts to a chauvinist appeal to U.S. citizens. Of course all the racist and chauvinist politicians and commentators—of whom Lou Dobbs is the best-known example—must be answered, opposed and protested.

But what is important to take up now, and what this article will discuss, is that many in the immigrant rights movement here also find this bill completely inadequate to the needs of immigrants. Many activists consider it a violation of immigrants’ human rights.

What the bill proposes

If this bi-partisan immigration bill is allowed to become law, it will fundamentally change immigration laws that have been in place since 1965 to ones that are considerably more pro-corporation and anti-worker. While the bill promises “amnesty” or “legalization” to immigrants, it first demands that the following three benchmarks be completed:

First, the militarization of the southern border with an additional 18,000 troops or patrol personnel. By international standards, this deployment resembles an act of war. The latest technology will be employed to detain poor peasants and workers leaving their countries and trying to cross the southern border to find work here. And of course technology will also track who arrives by plane from other regions of the world.

Second, the construction and completion of a 370-mile apartheid wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. This wall will force the migrant workers to attempt to enter over more treacherous terrain. The migrant mortality rate, currently by some accounts over one person a day, will undoubtedly increase.

Third, the construction and completion of 20 additional concentration/labor camps or detention centers, which can hold and process more than 25,000 migrant workers a day! During World War II, the U.S. government—under the Democratic presidency of Franklin Roosevelt—carried out a program removing and incarcerating all people of Japanese origin into concentration camps.

After the above three benchmarks are accomplished, the undocumented worker can then apply for the temporary four-year “Z”-status visa. The worker must pay $5,000 to begin the process. At the time of renewal she or he must reapply, pay another fine, leave the country, apply from the home country and pay an additional fine. The cost, at a minimum $10,500, excluding legal fees, still guarantees nothing.

Nowhere is it acknowledged that the unemployment in these workers’ home countries was caused by neo-liberal policies imposed by Washington. These policies have resulted in increased poverty in and greater migration from those countries where the free trade agreements are in place.

On July 30, the fees for application of a change of status will increase drastically up to three times their current rate due to the government cutting social program budgets to fund the war. Who can afford these fees? Does the government really want to recognize the rights of current immigrants? Or does it just want to permit the entry of an increased work force that will have no choice but to work without rights, as “guest workers.”

This won’t be the first time. In the 1940s through the 1960s the Bracero program imported from Mexico “unskilled workers” to work in the agricultural sector in slave-like conditions with no rights and low wages—some were not paid at all. Then the U.S. government sent them back home. Many of those uncompensated for their work during that time protested on May 1 last year on the Mexican-side of the border in solidarity with the undocumented workers currently in the U.S. These workers have continued to put pressure on the U.S. government for just compensation now.

It is ironic that in May, as the immigration bill was being discussed, the self-confessed terrorist and CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles was set free after being detained for entering the U.S. and staying without documents since 2005. The message here is that if you are a pro-U.S. terrorist, you will be allowed to walk with impunity, even if you don’t have the proper documentation.

Devil in the details

There are many more macabre provisions in the bill including authorizing state agencies to act as border enforcement agencies, a bio-chip demanded for identification, separation of families made almost inevitable, the point system and the so-called Dream Act. This last Act will allow children of undocumented workers access to either 720 days of higher education or military service. Since the U.S. military is stretched thin and in the midst of a troop buildup in Iraq, the Pentagon sees these youths as potential cannon fodder.

In sum, this “great compromise” bill is far from “amnesty” or “legalization.” This bill will create a permanent underclass of workers who will be barred permanently from having legal status. Since it will grant legalization to those having advanced degrees and special skills, it will thereby promote a brain drain from developing countries. It will also make it easier for immigrants from the other imperialist countries in the northern hemisphere to come to the U.S.

In the 1980s, the U.S. government made similar maneuvers regarding immigrants, finally passing the Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) as the “Great Amnesty” in 1986. While IRCA legalized 2.7 million undocumented workers, it left out over 1.5 million, penalized undocumented workers with hefty fines and criminalized the act of employing them, although employer sanctions never really occurred.

The Bush administration depends on the existing political climate of fear, brought about by daily terror raids on immigrant communities, to prevent a progressive struggle against the new law. But the sentiment of the masses is to continue to struggle.

On the day that the “great compromise” was announced, May 17, over 30,000 immigrants and supporters protested in Los Angeles, demanding the resignation of the police chief William J. Bratton, a full investigation of the LAPD for the attack of May 1 in MacArthur Park and “legalization now!” The immigrant movement apparently realized that the only way justice has ever been won is in the streets.

Congress is in recess until June 4, and the lobby groups for finance capital are positioning themselves and nit-picking those portions of the proposed legislation that will hold them accountable and prohibit them from super-exploiting workers. Immigrant rights activists are putting pressure on elected officials. Yet as the 19th century Black freedom leader Frederick Douglass stated then: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and never will.”

As was shown by the mass protests on May 1, major sectors of the immigrant community know that movement in the streets is what will achieve the defeat of this bill and win full rights for immigrants.

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