The government shutdown which began on January 20 ended with a wave of fury from immigrant rights groups and progressives. The Democrats had taken their most radical action yet in the fight against Trump’s bigoted agenda, vowing to not pass a budget without protection for 800,000 DACA recipients, sometimes referred to as Dreamers. These Dreamers came to the U.S. as children and are now threatened with loss of jobs, loss of health care and deportation because of Trump’s decision to end the DACA program, set to take effect on March 5.
But less than 72 hours after shutting down the government, with nothing more to show than a “promise” from Republicans to address DACA in a few weeks, the majority of Democratic Senators caved, shamefully surrendering the cause of the Dreamers. Eighteen voted against the resolution to fund the government including all those who appear to be considering presidential runs in 2020. The divisions in the Democratic Party have now come fully to the surface due to the massive pressure from the base to take a stand against Trump.
The key question facing the movement now is how to force the racist Republicans and the Democrats who caved to protect the Dreamers before DACA expires. And to be clear, the Democrats still have leverage because the bill that ended the shutdown only funds the government for three weeks until February 8.
But we must learn the lessons of previous struggles: We cannot rely on the Democratic Party to fight for immigrants and working-class people generally. Instead, we must mobilize immigrants and U.S.-born working and young people alike in the streets and in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and campuses, to demand a DREAM Act with no strings attached!
The Republicans can in no way be trusted. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that it is his “intention” to address the status of the Dreamers sometime in February is hardly a promise, and, even if it was, what’s the merit of a resistance strategy predicated on the notion of trusting the very people we’re resisting? The Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives, will load down any new DACA bill with as many anti-immigrant measures as they can. The real goal of the right-wing of the Republican Party, is to turn a DACA bill into a general anti-immigrant bill.
If the Democrats were a party actually representing immigrants and ordinary people, they would be using the next three weeks to mobilize the millions of Americans who support DACA into the streets to back up their fight in the halls of power. But the Democrats are not that party. The Democrats are the party that couldn’t even manage to pass the DREAM Act when they controlled both Houses of Congress between 2008 and 2010, which is why Obama had to enact DACA by executive order. The Democrats are the party that, under Barack Obama, deported more immigrants than under any other president in U.S. history.
Even before the shutdown happened, Chuck Schumer, was prepared to give almost anything in exchange for letting Dreamers stay. In fact, in a desperate attempt to avoid the shutdown, Schumer disgracefully offered Trump full funding for the border wall! This process has been a textbook case of how the Democratic leadership, faced with Republican intransigence, just keeps shifting their position in the wrong direction.
The Coming Weeks Are Crucial
Immigrant rights organizations are rightly furious. Progressive Democrats, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who voted not to end the shutdown should be challenged as to whether they are prepared to take the next steps necessary to win this fight: to launch an immediate call for mass protests alongside immigrant organizations, the labor movement and other forces.This would put immense pressure on the Republicans, as 69% of Republicans support keeping DACA, and would make it harder for the Democratic leadership to cave, yet again, in February. All progressive organizations, including labor unions, should help build for and participate in these demonstrations.
Winning this fight can put the Republicans firmly on the defensive after their recent victory on the tax bill, a massive redistribution of wealth to corporations and the super-rich. It would raise the sights of the immigrant population and reignite the fight to win citizenship rights for all undocumented workers. This in turn must be part of building a broader movement as well as a new mass party of the left to fight for the kind of change working people need.
Attacks on Immigrants Ramping Up
While Trump’s “shithole countries” comment confirms Trump’s blatant racism, the establishment media’s obsession with Trump’s outrageous statements can lead to ignoring the reactionary deeds of this administration. In recent months, Trump has ended the Temporary Protected Status of 60,000 Haitian and 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants. Both of these are poverty-stricken countries, weakened over time by environmental catastrophe and exploitation at the hands of the U.S. Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S., for example, send $4.5 billion home per year, the country’s single biggest source of income and 17% of its economy.
ICE is also ramping up workplace raids around the country on a larger scale than at any time in the past decade. On one morning in early January, ICE raided 98 7-Eleven stores across the country, demanding immigration paperwork from employers and arresting 21 undocumented workers. Derek Benner, head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, told reporters that the raids were “a harbinger of what’s to come. … This is what we’re gearing up for this year, and what you’re going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters” (NBC, 1/10/18). The 7-Eleven raids and Benner’s chilling warning point to the absolute necessity to begin organizing a stronger resistance, beyond the cynical dealmaking of the Democratic establishment.
Against Our Common Enemy
Why should U.S.-born workers care to defend their immigrant neighbors and co-workers against ICE and the Trump deportation machine, and join the fight for citizenship rights for all immigrants?
ICE Director Thomas Homan recently proclaimed, “ICE will continue its efforts to protect jobs for American workers by eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration” (NBC, 1/10/18). This is pure demagogy but is the exact argument made by the anti-immigrant right.
As Kshama Sawant Seattle City Councilmember and Socialist Alternative member stated last May Day:
“Millions of refugees and other immigrants who have fled to the U.S. would prefer not to have left their home countries. They are not just refugees of war, but also of economic devastation inflicted by capitalism’s drive to make working people, the poor and youth pay for a crisis that this system created. Budget-cutting austerity programs have gutted social services and privatized former public institutions, while the “recovery” from the global economic crisis has been shallow and mainly benefited the super-wealthy around the world. These are the conditions which lead people to flee their homes, and the U.S. billionaire class is all too often responsible for the policies leading to that devastation.
“Unlike Trump, many of his big business friends are in favor of immigration as long as they can hold down immigrants as second-class citizens who face the constant threat of deportation. Marginalizing sections of the workforce helps big business to drive down wages for everyone. This situation also helps them carry out a ‘divide and rule’ policy because it can lead to some workers born in the U.S. feeling resentful and fearful of lower wages and unemployment.
“We need to understand though that this is a situation created by the billionaires and politicians, not the immigrant workers. If all workers living in the U.S. were granted full legal and citizenship rights, then it would make it harder for employers to use fear to drive down wages and benefits. With the threat of deportation lifted, all workers would be stronger together in demanding better jobs, social services, and democratic rights.”