Immigrant rights: a united front is the way forward

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While news headlines focus public attention on the debate over immigration policy in the U.S. Congress, a parallel and equally important fight is taking place in the streets.

Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are working overtime conducting Gestapo-style raids on job sites and homes, tearing families apart and imprisoning workers without papers. At the same time, the Minutemen vigilantes are benefiting from and intensifying the anti-immigrant climate the raids create, hoping to popularize their scapegoating ideology.

At local and national levels, Jobs with Justice, the National Council of La Raza, and other nongovernmental organizations focus on lobbying for amendments to fundamentally flawed legislation. So far, they have refused to use their considerable resources to mobilize against the raids, which emboldens the Minutemen and gives them room to grow.

But as ICE and the right wing escalate their attacks, a grass-roots opposition is stepping up to counter-organize.

A heartening example of this took place in Los Angeles on June 23, when 1,000 immigrant supporters, most of them Black and Latino, united to protest a Minuteman rally planned for Leimert Park. The crowd, including members of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women, rallied behind young Black women who formed a line blocking the anti-immigrant “patriots” from entering the park.

This was a huge victory for the counter-protesters, described by African American radical John A. Imani as “an impromptu, unscripted alliance of left activists of all races and members of the mainly black community surrounding Leimert Park.”

The challenge is to now turn inspiring onetime actions like this one into a consciously organized, ongoing united front that can confront the right wing and educate about why defense of immigrants is crucial for the entire U.S. working class.

Reactionaries drive the debate in Congress. Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, is among those labor officials who claim that things will improve if the Democrats can pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” Don’t believe it.

The bipartisan bill that died in the Senate in early July, championed by President Bush and prominent Democrats including Senator Edward Kennedy, contained a raft of anti-labor and police-state measures. It would have criminalized all undocumented workers, providing for prison sentences of up to 20 years, and earmarked billions more tax dollars to further militarize the border.

It would have drastically shifted the priorities for granting legal status to immigrants, de-emphasizing family unification in favor of catering to the employment needs of big business. Microsoft and other corporations were pushing its passage because it would have vastly expanded the “guest worker” program that enables corporations to import and dump workers according to their production needs.

It would have funded construction of more prisons and instituted a computerized national ID system to verify information about job applicants, allowing the government to monitor all workers.

Nevertheless, protest was muted. Many established groups and individuals representing immigrants claimed the legislation was the best that could be gotten, and could be fixed later. This allowed hostile groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) to push the whole debate rightward and demand even worse measures. In the end, their offensive carried the day, and the legislation was rejected as too soft on immigrants!

Meanwhile, ICE is being unleashed on immigrant communities to make it seem as though any legislative “reform” — even the worst — is better than the status quo. Women and children are bearing the brunt of the raids, as families are broken up and income earners, both male and female, are jailed or deported.

In Portland, Oregon, more than half the workers detained in a June raid at a Fresh Del Monte processing plant were women. After public outcry, ICE was forced to temporarily release 22 captives after it was exposed that their children were left on their own.

“Divide and conquer” repudiated. Now the reactionaries are trying to forge alliances with people who would be better off on the opposite side of the barricades.

In Los Angeles, FAIR enlisted political flimflam man Ted Hayes to persuade fellow African Americans to attend the June 23 demonstration, a protest against “illegal” immigration and its supposed “damaging effects on the Black community.”

The effort by FAIR and Hayes to divide Black and Brown Angelenos failed miserably. Only a handful of African Americans rallied with Hayes and the Minutemen.

Many African Americans see clearly that the Minutemen are not only racists, but also the seeds of a fascist movement. The Minutemen are promoted on the internet by white supremacists and Nazi groups, who see them as prime recruiting ground. Their vicious blaming of immigrants for the problems of workers and small-business owners in the U.S. is the opening wedge of a multi-issue program stripping all working people of their freedoms — a replay of the scapegoating of the Jews under Hitler. And they back their program up with violence and threats of violence.

The politics of the Minutemen are fascist, and so are their tactics. The Left needs to take them seriously.

By explaining the real, systemic causes of problems like unemployment and declining wages, radicals can keep the ultra-right from growing.

Uniting for a common aim. A united front is a time-tested method of preventing the right wing and fascists from gaining traction. It brings groups and individuals together for workingclass aims and with workingclass leadership, while allowing for differing views and for each organization to march under its own banner.
The participation of organized labor is crucial in such an effort — a point to underscore since it was nowhere to be seen at Leimert Park.

All the legal and extralegal actions now being taken against the nation’s 12 million undocumented workers can just as easily be used against native-born workers as well — to break strikes, blacklist militant union leaders, and police labor activism. The traditional targets of the fascists — Jews, people of color, immigrants, women who insist on their rights, queers, people with disabilities — today make up most of the U.S. working class. But every working person, no matter their profile, has a vested interest in stopping the Minutemen.

There are plenty of current examples of resistance to show the way. One is the Leimert Park counter-protest, with its multiracial, workingclass unity among people with many points of view.

Another is a demonstration against a Minuteman rally on that same day in Seattle, where a Gay Pride parade was also happening. Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party organized a “Love Knows No Borders” contingent bringing together immigrants, feminists, and queers of all colors to take part in the parade and then march downtown, where they met up with other protesters and drowned out the bigots’ rally.

A third is the stand taken against ICE by residents in New Bedford, Connecticut. City leaders there adopted a local ID card that pointedly does not distinguish among people by citizenship, making it easier for immigrants to go about the business of their lives, whatever their status. When ICE raided the town soon after the legislation passed, the mayor characterized the raids as retaliation, and residents took to the streets to condemn them. Since then, ICE has ceased operations in New Bedford.

The fight to defend immigrants needs coordinated united fronts that build on this kind of unity and initiative. And they will be created by those who understand the urgency of turning the anti-immigrant tide. Demands for such a united front could include:

• Stop the raids and deportations! Dismantle ICE.

• No “guest worker” programs — no to indentured servitude! Employment for all at a union-scale wage.

• Stop the racist Minutemen!

• End the forced migrations caused by neoliberal “free trade” policies. Open the borders for working people and declare amnesty for all undocumented immigrants!

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