Spring 2010 was a season of resurgence for the immigrant rights movement, with the largest demonstrations since the immigrant rights movement erupted in 2006. Anger was already building at stepped up ICE raids, deportations, and lack of action from Congress or Obama on comprehensive immigration reform. On March 21, 200,000 marched on Washington demanding reform.
Then the passage of the racist anti-immigrant law SB1070 in Arizona added high octane fuel to the already smoldering fire. Tens of thousands hit the streets in April as the bill moved through Arizona’s legislature. After it passed, hundreds of thousands protested nationally on May 1. On May 29, a national day of action against SB1070, over 50,000 in Phoenix marched, rallied, and walked out of school, alongside smaller protests across the country.
SB1070 requires Arizona police who stop someone for legal reasons to demand proof of legal immigration status if they suspect the person might not have legal status. If the person cannot produce documentation on the spot, the police can arrest them and turn them over to immigration authorities. This constitutes nothing less than a green light for racial profiling against anyone with brown skin and an accent, whether they have legal status or not.
As if this were not enough, Arizona also passed legal provisions banning heavily accented teachers from teaching English. They also banned any sort of ethnic studies courses in schools, lest they teach resentment, “promote the overthrow of the US government, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (Arizona Daily Star 29 April 2010).
Ten other states are considering similar laws on immigration status. Everything possible must be done to demand an immediate repeal of the Arizona laws and to prevent the anti-immigrant right wing from succeeding in other states.
Clearly, the shortsighted politicians in Arizona miscalculated. Looking for some cheap votes by whipping up anti-immigrant fervor, they have instead provoked a massive backlash from one of the most oppressed sections of the American working class. NY labor organizer John Delgado remarked, “I want to thank the governor of Arizona because she’s awakened a sleeping giant” (Los Angeles Times 2 May 2010).
Nevertheless, Obama and the Democrats are saying it will be tough to introduce any reform legislation at the federal level before the 2010 elections. This is especially shameful given the government data showing that under the Obama Administration, deportations of undocumented immigrants in the 2009 fiscal year rose to 387,790, up from 291,060 in 2007 under Bush. This has many newly politicized activists determined not to wait around for lackluster and hypocritical politicians to take any action, and to take the fight for immigrant rights into their own hands .
The Arizona Boycott
A significant movement to boycott Arizona is developing. Famous musicians, mayors, city councils, police departments, and sports stars are lending their weight to the boycott campaign. “[Dozens] of corporations and organizations have stayed away from or outright cancelled events scheduled for convention centers in Arizona” (Firedoglake.com 14 May 2010).
Unlike the right-wing politicians buoyed up by the Tea Party, most of the ruling class is opposed to SB1070. Many are actively supporting the boycott of Arizona to advance their own capitalist political and economic interests.
Meanwhile, politicians are trying to appeal to the growing block of Latino voters. Much of big business believes it’s time to provide a path to legal status for undocumented workers, expanding the guest worker program and other measures which codify into law immigrants’ position as a pool of super-exploited cheap labor. Leading political and business leaders, including many who rely on undocumented labor, recognize it is politically unsustainable to have entire industries resting on an “illegal” workforce.
Immigrants and the left, in contrast, are supporting the boycott for very different reasons. The workers’ movement should support the boycott. We support it as one tactic for defeating this racist, anti-worker law. It would be a victory for immigrants and the working class as a whole if the boycott ramped up enough pressure on Arizona to force the right-wing state government to repeal this vicious law. It would be a big step toward empowering immigrants and uniting workers to fight for immediate, unconditional legalization for all immigrants and living wage jobs for all, which the ruling class – including many boycott supporters – absolutely opposes.
However, we should not restrict ourselves to the boycott tactic alone, which gives most prominence to the role of business and amplifies workers’ identity as individual consumers, giving the impression that our main political power comes from what we buy. In the long run, the most effective tactics will help working-class people sense their collective power. This would include continued mass rallies, marches, student walkouts, and especially labor strikes and running independent pro-amnesty, pro-labor candidates in the elections.
The Democrats’ Immigration “Reform”
The main immigration reform bill making its way through Congress, crafted by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, emphasizes punishing immigrant workers through raids, deportations, and expanding border militarization. The bill’s so-called “path to citizenship” sets up multi-tiered, expensive, and conditional paths to achieve legal status. It also expands the guest worker program, which essentially amounts to indentured servitude and is rife with well-documented human rights abuses.
While Obama plans to wait until after the 2010 elections to bring immigration reform to a vote, socialists, immigrant rights activists, and working people in general should take this time to step up the mobilization to oppose this anti-immigrant legislation. A united movement is needed demanding immediate and unconditional amnesty for all undocumented workers.