Chicago’s “Progressive” Masterclass In How Not To Fix The Migrant Crisis

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Over the past year, thousands of people have migrated from Venezuela and sought asylum in the United States. Although they technically have a protected legal status that allows them to stay in the US, bureaucratic hurdles make it nearly impossible for migrant workers to find legal employment. 

Economic studies point to the positive impact of immigrant workers when they have full citizenship rights. Under a rational system, asylum seekers coming to the US would be welcomed and given good jobs, rather than being forced into tent cities and legally barred from working. 

But under capitalism, the ruling class has a strong interest in maintaining a pool of “illegal” foreign-born workers who live at the margins of society, have no rights, and can be used to push down living standards for the rest of the working class. The migrant crisis is ultimately a product of this divide-and-conquer logic. 

What To Do?

Socialists can fight back by building united movements of workers and oppressed groups. These movements should fight to tax corporations and the rich, with the revenue being used to provide good jobs and high-quality housing for all people, whether foreign- or native-born. 

Unfortunately, Chicago’s progressives in the city government, including Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members, have instead capitulated to divide-and-conquer politics. DSA member Jeanette Taylor, alderwoman for the 20th ward, angrily declared at a recent City Council meeting that she does not want migrants in her community. In a similar vein, “progressive” Mayor Brandon Johnson proposed a referendum that would ask voters to support limits on resources for migrants, “to prevent a substantial negative impact on Chicago’s current residents.” 

The city budget proposed by Johnson is no better. Rather than raising taxes on corporations, the budget aims to raise revenue by imposing more fines on working people, while also increasing police spending by ninety million dollars. And instead of providing housing, Johnson’s budget will have migrants live in tents. All seven DSA members on the Chicago City Council voted for Johnson’s “low-ambition” budget

On The Wrong Side

The irony is that there are movements in Chicago that could be linked and mobilized to win progressive policies rooted in working-class internationalism, but the mayor has taken a different path. Johnson’s police have attacked both anti-war demonstrators and migrants demanding humane treatment, and he has worked to secure no-strike agreements with local unions to ensure that they do not disrupt the upcoming Democratic National Convention. 

Rather than looking to mass movements as a force for progressive change, Johnson has sought alliances within the political establishment. This includes his enthusiastic support of Joe Biden, despite Biden’s total failure to deliver for working people, his anti-immigrant policies, and the fact that his sanctions against Venezuela helped fuel the migrant crisis in the first place. This points toward the basic problem with Johnson and other “progressives” like him: they are on the wrong side. 

Brandon Johnson and DSA politicians’ numerous betrayals of working people once again demonstrate the doomed strategy of progressive organizing as a weak left flank of the Democratic Party and the corporate political establishment. It is only from a place of clear and uncompromising opposition to these forces that leaders can hope to resist its corrupting influence and help rather than hinder the movement. To win real change, we need leadership that draws power not from oppressive state institutions but from the will and common interests of the united working class.

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