Reject Efforts to Silence and Divert
May Day 2011 saw many tens of thousands of workers unite to defend the rights of immigrants and workers in Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, California and elsewhere. These demonstrations and many other actions of various kinds, including sit-ins, conferences, petition campaigns, represent the voice of the working class. It is a voice that demands an end to deportations and legalization for all. It is a voice that stands against aggressive wars, assassinations and annexation, against drone bombings wiping out civilians and use of force to impose regime change. It stands against laws making it “legal” to eliminate contracts and pensions, attack unions, organize racist government profiling, impose mass detentions and deportations, and terrorize whole communities. It is a voice calling for an end to the anti-immigrant, anti-worker and anti-social laws and budgets being imposed, from the federal government on down and standing for a pro-social, anti-war agenda.
There are two contending voices, one representing the working class, the other the owners of capital. There are contending solutions representing these two voices on issues of war and peace, poverty, immigration and all political and social affairs. It is within this context that Obama recently issued his call to “Add your voices to this debate,” on immigration. “You can sign up to help at whitehouse.gov,” he added.
If you can sign up to help at the White House, one certainly has to question just what debate can Obama be talking about? A political debate in a country with contending classes, of workers and owners of capital, must reflect their opposing views and thinking. Without the con to the pro of the owners of capital, there is no debate, on immigration or any other social matter facing society.
A review of Obama’s deeds to date — such as record deportations, and his current “blueprint,” which calls for further militarization of the border, mandatory verification of all workers by the federal government including plans for biometric ID’s — expresses the voice of the owners of capital load and clear (see article below for more on the "blueprint"). The current contention taking place in Congress represents not a different voice, but rather contending forces within the ruling circles. All share a common chorus for use of force as the weapon of choice, increased militarization of life, and arrangements to secure a more regimented and controlled workforce — one that can be forced to accept the fascist anti-worker, anti-immigrant, anti-social direction of the country. The contention can be equated to sorting out which "harmony" to utilize to achieve their common aim of a quiet homefront serving the U.S. drive for world domination. No doubt the conflicts among the rulers are serious. But when it comes to advancing solutions, the issue is that the voice of the working class must have its place, loud and clear.
Obama is instead calling on the working class to accept the confines of being “pro” his proposal and to rally behind him. The aim is to silence or at least divert the voice of the working class, which is pro-social and anti-war. It is to eliminate actual debate on the way forward and instead engage everyone in pursuing Obama's blueprint for a “bipartisan consensus.” Numerous examples, such as the so-called compromises on federal and state budgets, show that setting the aim of achieving “bipartisan consensus” brings anti-people results. It is another means to eliminate actual debate between solutions of the working class and those of the rulers.
There should be a national debate on immigration. The missing ingredient in Obama’s call for debate is the working class voice of opposition, the working class con to the pro of the rulers. The effort by the rulers to silence and divert this voice must be met with workers further activating themselves, to unite with fellow workers, youth and seniors to elaborate their own thinking and solutions. A national debate requires the voice of the working class and it is up to the workers themselves to make it heard and develop it into a deciding voice.
Defending Militarization of Border and Increased Criminalization of Workers
On May 10 President Barack Obama gave a speech on immigration in El Paso, Texas. That same day he released his “blueprint” for immigration reform (see below). Both are characterized by support for further militarization of the border and criminalization of immigrants. Much of the speech contained recycled phrases and promises. There was nothing new in either the content or the proposals.
Obama again promoted immigrants who are not citizens that join the military, using examples from previous speeches. He again called for passage of the DREAM Act, supported by the Pentagon, which would yearly provide an additional 60,000 youth for recruitment. Obama also repeated a George W. Bush phrase, that “being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants.”
The speech included Obama’s emphasis that to be an American, one must “Embrace America’s ideals and America’s precepts…What matters is that you believe in the ideals on which we were founded; that you believe all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. All of us deserve our freedoms and our pursuit of happiness. In embracing America, you can become American.” What goes unsaid is conditions are being put on who can and cannot "become American." Currently anyone born in the country or choosing to live their lives here becomes part of the single U.S. working class. But given Obama's emphasis, and the laws planned, what happens to those who do not embrace the America of the monopolies, with their pursuit of happiness, meaning the highest profits? Who do not embrace aggressive U.S. wars abroad and increasing repression at home? Government actions at the federal and state level all indicate that those resisting the attacks on rights and the current direction of the country will be branded as “un-American,” with no rights. Indeed, part of Obama's "blueprint" requires a federally issued biometric ID where all workers will have to pass a "background" and "national security check." The possibility exists that passing such a test will require "embracing" the America of the monopolies.
Obama also puts immigration reform forward as an “economic imperative.” Various facts and examples are given to show how immigrants contribute to the economy, including founding businesses. The framework provided is not that immigrants are human beings with rights, but rather the starting point id with the needs of the monopolies for a more regimented and controlled workforce, including workers from Mexico. The imperialist exploitation and impoverishment of Mexico by the U.S. — the source of so much migration to the U.S. in the first place — is not addressed. What comes to the fore through out the speech is is that framed by the economic imperatives of the monopolies as they pursue their happiness of achieving world domination. The rights of the workers, of both Mexico and the U.S., and solutions provided based on defending those rights, are absent. Clearly, it is up to the workers themselves to fill that absence and step up the struggle being waged to defend the rights of all.
Obama’s statement that “The most significant step we can now take to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole so that fewer people have the incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place” rings hollow. Why not pay Mexico reparations for all the crimes committed against her by the U.S.? Why not require U.S. monopolies to pay the same wages in their factories abroad as they do at home? Why not contribute to the development of Mexican farming by Mexicans, instead of its destruction by U.S. monopolies? Any of these measures would actually address the problem of why so many people seek work in the U.S. in the first place.
Obama also emphasizes the numerous measures he has taken to militarize the border. He specifically accepts the calls for “border first, border first,” using them to justify yet further militarization. He promotes the fact that he has brought more agents, more drones, more “intelligence analysts,” and more surveillance technology to the border. Drones now patrol from California to Texas as well as along the Canadian border. He promoted completion of the border death wall, something which was booed by the El Paso crowd. Again, no comments whatever about the killings of unarmed civilians by border patrol, of the large numbers of deaths from the border wall, of the broad resistance by border towns to the increasing militarization of their lives. Instead Obama emphasizes that the responsibility of government is first of all to secure the border, with security clearly meaning militarization and repression, not protecting rights. Obama also proposes increasing penalties and making things which are currently civil violations, like using a false social security card for work or entering the country without documentation, more serious crimes with greater penalties.
As with previous speeches, Obama said, “I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families. That’s not right.” But he coupled it with saying he would not instruct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end the deportations of hundreds of thousands guilty of no crime — the source for separating families. This does not require legislation by COngress or an executive order. It simply requires instructing DHS to exercise its discretion and stop or at least put a temporary moratorium on deportations for the next year or more. In deeds, Obama has instead ensured record numbers of deportations. DHS, for example, is insisting that states and local government participate in “Secure Communities” even though they do not wish to do so. The program is a major funnel for ensuring increased deportations of undocumented workers. It began in 2008 and can be ended at any time, it is not mandated by law. Instead, Obama is pushing its expansion.
In addition, Obama said that Congress, not the President must act on immigration, as “this is how democracy works.” He concluded by emphasizing that the problem lies with a failure of Congress to pass legislation and that his voice alone is not enough. “This change ultimately has to be driven by you, the American people…I’m asking you to add your voices to this debate. You can sign up to help at whitehouse.gov. We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform that’s gathering strength from coast to coast. That’s how we’ll get this done.”
Several things stand out here. One is that Obama is attempting to separate himself from Washington and instead position himself at the head of “a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast.” Secondly, the “voice” to be added is one in harmony with the White House, where all are encouraged to sign up. Thirdly, the broad and existing movement for change that favors the people, expressed for example in May Day demonstrations and numerous other actions, evidently does not exist. Which means the only option is to “add your voice,” to Obama’s campaign.
The effort is to rally forces behind the president and silence, or at least divert, the voice of the people and their demands for an end to deportations, legalization and rights for all. Further, it sets up a situation where if Congress does fail to act, as is likely, Obama can then justify unilateral executive action, action which, given experience already, will increase repression and criminalization of immigrants and all workers. The possibility of a pilot program for biometric ID for all workers is already on the table. The program proposed requires everyone to pass "background" and “national security checks.” And the federal government decides whether a person does or does not pass, and therefore does or does not work. One can certainly imagine the results for those who have not embraced the America of the monopolies.
President Barack Obama recently issued a “Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System.” It is presented as a guideline for Congress for immigration legislation in the coming period. It generally follows the proposal put forward by New York Senator Chuck Schumer in April of last year. Its main features include further militarization of the borders, including increased use of drones, and further criminalization of immigrants. It proposes a “pilot program” for a biometric ID card for all workers.
The blueprint begins by emphasizing that there are more “boots on the ground” along the border than at any time in U.S. history. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has doubled the number of Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agents from approximately 10,000 in 2004 to more than 20,700 in 2010. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), also under DHS, has placed a quarter of all ICE personnel in the Southwest border region.
In addition, for the first time, DHS has placed drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) all the way from California to Texas. The drones are currently used for “providing critical aerial surveillance” to ICE and the CBP. They no doubt are also used to more generally spy on civilians both sides of the border, much as the equipment for the border fence already does. While currently unarmed, the drones are capable of carrying missiles. Many people living on the border anticipate such use in the name of “security” and “stopping” drugs and have protested the drones and the massive border fence, with its numerous spy cameras, infrared devices, and other military capabilities.
Obama announced the fence completion to boos from the El Paso, Texas audience, May 10. DHS reports that 649 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles planned have been completed, including 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence.
The blueprint also elaborates further militarization of the border with Canada, including increased integration of Canadian forces under U.S. command, utilizing the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams. As well, the Shiprider Agreement brings the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol and ICE together “to cross-train, share resources and personnel, and utilize each others’ vessels in the waters of both countries.” The agreement and joint teams are all means by which the U.S. is further controlling Canadian police forces and dictating border policy on both sides of the border.
In addition, over the past two years, the U.S. has placed more than 2,200 CBP agents on the border with Canada, a 700 percent increase since 9/11. More than 35 land ports of entry are being modernized to read biometric identifiers and enable CBP to access more information more rapidly. As the “blueprint” brings out, the U.S. has “deployed new technology, including thermal camera systems, mobile surveillance systems, and remote video surveillance systems,” along the border.
The blueprint also confirms that the current increase in deportations will continue, with record numbers of people being deported. As well, what rights activists call “desktop raids,” will also be stepped up. These are ICE raids where the government “audits” a company and lets them know they have workers without documentation. The audits have routinely led to mass firings of the workers. While the blueprint speaks to the fact that ICE has audited “more than 4,600 employers,” it does not provide facts on the many thousands of workers fired as a result.
In terms of proposals for the border, they include increasing use of drones and surveillance technology and facilitating even more deportations. This includes “increasing existing penalties,” and “modifying immigration processes so that DHS can quickly remove individuals who are willing to voluntarily leave the country.” Experience already shows that the government is using forced mass guilty pleas by workers rounded up in raids. Under threats of indefinite detention, workers are forced to accept “voluntary,” deportation. Groups of up to 70 workers are arraigned, tried and sentenced, en masse, in just a few hours time. The proposal is to ensure this unjust process occurs even more quickly.
Consistent with militarization of the border, proposals in the blueprint serve to increase federal control and regimentation of the workforce. In the section presented as “holding businesses accountable,” the E-verify system is to become mandatory. E-verify is an electronic system where employers verify documentation through the federal government’s databank. Currently E-verify is voluntary and is used by only about 11 percent of U.S. businesses. Mandatory use is to be phased in over several years, with large companies of 1,000 or more workers required to participate first. This is another area where Obama is working for expansion, with or without legislation.
The blueprint also calls for “piloting the development of a biometric identifier that could be potentially used for employment verification in the future.” It should be noted that such a “biometric identifier,” an ID card with fingerprints, will be required for all employment verification, not just that of immigrants. This is similar to Schumer’s earlier proposal and his far more specific material will likely be utilized for legislation. It is also the case that such a pilot program could also be initiated on a voluntary basis without legislation, as part of the existing E-verify program.
Obama’s proposal calls for improving “administration and coordination” between the Social Security Administration and DHS, which jointly run E-verify. This serves to further transform the Social Security Administration from an agency that is supposed to make certain retirement and disability benefits are received, into a policing agency for DHS. In addition, “fraudulent use or acquisition of a Social Security card,” which currently is a minor offense rarely enforced, is to be made a more significant criminal offense with increased penalties. This serves to further facilitate criminalization of undocumented workers, changing what were previously minor and/or civil violations into more serious crimes.
The blueprint, like Schumer’s proposal, includes automatically providing green cards to foreign students that receive “diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)” so as to keep them in the country. A “start-up visa,” will allow foreign entrepreneurs who receive financing from U.S. investors to come to the U.S. to start their businesses and provide permanent residency if their companies create jobs.
Passage of the DREAM Act, asked for by the Pentagon, which also helped write the bill, is also promoted. The DREAM Act provides the possibility of citizenship for undocumented youth brought to the country as children, but only if they serve in the military or complete two years of college. The Pentagon anticipates a yearly pool of about 60,000 more youth for recruitment if the bill is passed. And given that very few of the youth involved can afford college, the large majority will be forced into the military or face deportation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reintroduced the DREAM Act in the Senate less than 24 hours after President Obama released his blueprint.
The blueprint proposes a “temporary worker program” for “lower skilled, non-seasonal, non-agricultural workers,” as well as calling for passage of the AgJOBS bill for agricultural workers. The proposal for “legalization,” is the same as Schumer’s. It involves forced registration and a lengthy 8-year process that might enable people to become documented and 13 years for citizenship. But there are no guarantees and numerous arbitrary provisions. These include forcing everyone to “submit to a rigorous security check, including submitting fingerprints for criminal and national security background checks.” Since 9/11, the government is notorious for rounding people up and branding them as “national security threats,” detaining many for months and years and then releasing them saying they are not a threat. Clearly, the same arbitrary charges can be leveled against workers and activists so as to prevent them from “passing” the security check. As well, there are fees and fines to be paid and everyone involved has to go to the “back of the line,” meaning the timeframe is likely far longer.
Obama concludes his blueprint with a “Call to Action.” In it, Obama says he is committed to immigration reform. He says he has called on Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass such reform. He announced a series of meetings with “diverse leaders,” from business, law enforcement, faith, labor, and immigrant communities to discuss his blueprint. He then says, “But the Administration’s voice is not enough.” Obama called on “all Americans to work together to foster a constructive national conversation on immigration reform that builds a bipartisan consensus and leads to legislative reform.”
Obama is thus attempting to rally public support behind him, as president. The problem being presented for discussion is not mainly the blueprint itself, but the lack of a “bipartisan consensus.” Given previous experience, the need for this “consensus” is then utilized to increase the militarization and anti-worker features of the legislation. More importantly, the public debate required between Obama’s blueprint and solutions being put forward by the people — including stopping deportations now and legalization for all — is eliminated. A national debate where the stand and solutions of the working class is absent is no debate at all.