RAZA/RACE: Why Support Immigrants?
Struggling against a throng of people, my oldest son asked: “Dad, what are we doing here?” To me it was painfully obvious why I wanted to lend support to immigrants. Leading my two small sons to an open space I answered: “We’re here to support your friends. If this mean law passes, it will make your friends’ lives harder. We’re here to support our friends. This law called HR4437 might make their parents bad criminals just because they work in the United States and were born in Mexico.” I paused and continued my impromptu political lesson. “You know all the meetings I attend and places I go with Sylvia? If laws like this pass, the community work I do might get me arrested for helping people.” I explained in the best way I could to an eight and five year old that laws like HR 4437 would spend millions to build a Berlin Wall-like structure on the Mexico-U.S. border, make undocumented working-class immigrants felons, and criminalize volunteer workers at non-profits and churches who assist the poor and undocumented.
Immigrants are my kids’ friends, our neighbors, and people we interact with daily. It’s obvious why I would take my kids to march with hundreds of thousands through the streets of Chicago. It is clear to me why I should march in unity with millions marching through Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta and dozens of other cities in the U.S. It should be obvious, too, why undocumented working-class immigrants and their children (see the thousands who have walked out of junior high and high schools in California) would want to oppose a law that further criminalizes them and will make their lives in the United States as productive workers more difficult than they already are. But, why should the rest of US support immigrants and oppose legislation like HR4437 that makes migrating to the U.S. in search of work without papers a felony? Not only is it our Christian/Muslim/Jewish duty to assist our sisters and brothers in most need, but it is in our own best interests as well. The elite assault on the undocumented working class is an assault on the documented working and middle classes.
First, immigrants contribute to our economy, culture and social fabric as immigrants have always done throughout the history of the United States. A current list of positive immigrant contributions to our quality of life would fill volumes. By way of understanding these contributions imagine life in the U.S. without them. Imagine a cheap head of lettuce that costs $3. Imagine $5 tacos at your local taco shop. Imagine a 20% increase in housing prices and home repair costs. Imaginate, unmade beds and unkept hotel rooms. Imagine the accumulation of trash and filth on college campuses for lack of janitorial staff.
Second, the attack on the undocumented working-class is an attack by elite global capitalists on all workers. The same neoliberal, global capitalist measures that have devastated millions of Mexican, other Latin American and Asian workers’ lives have undermined worker power and worker lives in the United States. The 1970s capitalist offensive against the worker, youth and cultural movements of the 1960s led to a new world economic order that has created extreme gaps in wealth between countries and between the working and upper classes within each country. Economic restructuring in the United States has made it easier to export jobs to underdeveloped countries, destroy unions, change the tax structure to benefit the wealthy (trickle-down anyone?), and invest in the military and disinvest in human capital such as schools and entitlement programs. Every year in this country more people are jobless, homeless, poor and incarcerated as a result of this domestic capitalist offensive against workers. Globally, free-trade agreements such as NAFTA and institutions like the World Bank/International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have devastated underdeveloped countries. Workers in these countries are forced to migrate because free-trade agreements and usurious banks have destroyed the economies of their regions or countries. In Mexico, for example, the opening of the Mexican market to cheaper subsidized U.S. corn has nearly wiped out the domestic corn trade in Mexico. Millions of Mexican peasants can no longer live in their homelands. They migrate north in search of a livelihood. Many come to the United States where employers welcome them as a cheap source of labor that will further condition U.S. workers to accept low wages, instability and dangerous workplace conditions.
The anti-immigrant discourse is a smokescreen and a divide-and-conquer tactic. The ideological forces of the political and economic elite convince us that the hollow sound emanating from our wallets is due to immigrants either a) taking our jobs and lowering wages or b) bankrupting public funds by using government programs for the poor. While our attention is diverted, corporate heads and stockholders send jobs elsewhere, weaken unions, destroy the environment, spend hundreds of billions of our dollars destroying Iraq and paying themselves to try to rebuild it, and continue to otherwise profit from the war. Our lives are being squandered in the “war on terrorism” and our liberties are being chained by domestic spying and other repression. Instead of the war and corporate plunder of our taxes and incomes, the ideological state apparatus teaches us to blame other working people. But the question should be: How could some of the most powerless and marginalized in a society destroy a country? Put this way it doesn’t even make sense to blame immigrants for unemployment, low and stagnant wages, and poor job prospects. The only forces powerful enough to implement strategies for job exportation to developing countries or other such measures weakening worker power in the U.S. are those who own the businesses, the land, the machinery and other means of production.
We should oppose the legislative assault on immigrants because ideologically it works as a divide and conquer tactic in the elite’s strategies of class warfare and it makes life difficult for immigrant and other workers and our families. Anti-immigrant legislation is part of global capitalism’s international class warfare. Resistance to globalization should likewise be global. U.S. citizens, especially the working and lower middle classes, should view support for immigrants as central to a working class strategy to regain power. International solidarity with all of the world’s immigrants, its dispossessed by war or famine, and its working classes ultimately means a better society for all. Recognizing the anti-immigrant stance as a divide and conquer tactic will help us develop a new class consciousness necessary for action toward positive social change.
Anti-immigrant legislation will not stop undocumented immigration, war profiteering, the plunder of our tax base, or terrorism. It will create a permanent underclass of a large and destitute immigrant population that will serve as a reserve army of labor. It will contribute to the evermore repressive police state that spies on us, incarcerates us, curbs our civil liberties, and proposes violence, war, torture and imprisonment as the solutions to our problems. Looking at immigrant issues from a class-based, class conscious, perspective, it should be obvious why the rest of US must support immigrants’ rights.
Pancho McFarland lives and works on Chicago's Southside.