On January 7, 2004, President Bush announced his new immigration policy. Bush is proposing to allow certain limited rights to undocumented workers. The proposed guest worker program, if enacted, would grant three-year work permits to undocumented immigrants if “no American” can be found to fill the job sought by the immigrant worker. Workers who hold the permits would also receive social security benefits and the right to legally make visits to their home countries and return back to the U.S.
So, is Bush changing his policy out of the goodness of his heart? Hardly. This is a calculated move by Bush and a section of big business due to their political and economic agendas. Bush is clearly hoping that this new policy will help him win over some Latino voters.
Immigration is good for U.S. corporations; the bosses can exploit immigrants as a cheap source of labor with few rights. When wages are down, profits are up; that’s good for the bosses. The corporations want only limited rights for immigrants to work. They need to keep undocumented workers vulnerable so that they are easier to exploit and can be paid less than native-born workers.
The current immigration policy of deporting undocumented workers is increasingly difficult for the government to maintain. There are presently anywhere from 7 to 14 million undocumented workers in the U.S. A very expensive and time-consuming campaign would be required for law enforcement to round up all the undocumented immigrants and return them to their former countries. This would spell disaster for big business: besides losing their cheap work force, it would require a massive expenditure of state resources. It is an unworkable policy. A section of the ruling class wanted a change, but a change that would still keep immigrants vulnerable.
The Bush Administration and the bosses also fear a mass movement of undocumented workers. The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride last fall saw the participation of tens of thousands of workers and youth. The AFL-CIO has finally come out in support of a campaign for papers for all undocumented workers. Bush, by granting some rights, hopes to undercut this movement.
When looking at these reforms, we should remember that in the last two-and-a-half years, we have seen a massive assault on immigrants’ rights. The Patriot Act – repressive legislation passed behind the smokescreen of the 9/11 terrorist attacks – restricted all of our rights, but especially those of immigrants.
Immigrants, under the Patriot Act, can be detained indefinitely without trial. They can even be detained without being formally charged with a crime. The Patriot Act has sometimes been used against left-wing activists, like Ahmer Jubran in Boston who was detained and forced to leave the country, having committed no other crime than that of being an activist. Throughout history, the powers that be have used immigrants as scapegoats so that people don’t realize the real source of their problems, which is the capitalist system.
We must also examine why people leave their countries of origin. Most undocumented workers come from “underdeveloped” countries, especially countries in Latin America. These countries have been worst hit by corporate globalization and neo-liberalism. The profiteering of big multinational companies has left few job opportunities for people in these countries to provide for themselves or their families. The governments of many Latin American countries are propped up by U.S. big money interests. Many immigrants come to the U.S. as the only way out of severe poverty and repression; upon arriving, they are then faced with an extremely difficult life here.
Socialist Alternative demands full citizenship rights for all undocumented workers. We also fight for better working conditions and better wages. The struggle of working people is an international one; we need to fight for a better economic system worldwide so that people don’t leave their homelands out of economic necessity. We need a society in which free exchange over borders is possible. This can only be achieved when we take power away from big corporations, and begin to do away with the poverty that forces people to emigrate.
Justice #38, March-April 2004