The sparring between President Obama and Congressional factions about immigration reform covers up a basic fact. Not one of the plans being floated would create a better life for undocumented workers; each would instead increase the everyday terror these immigrants face.
This is true for a simple reason: top-down immigration reform isn’t designed to help immigrants — it’s designed to help business.
Obama’s game plan. Comprehensive immigration reform proposals generally have three main components: cracking down on what’s defined as illegal immigration; offering the hope of legal status for immigrants currently without papers; and enlarging guest worker programs.
Obama’s blueprint, put forward in detail in 2011, reads like sci-fi.
At the border, it would increase the fences, drones, agents, cameras, and radar already multiplied by Obama.
It would make mandatory the E-Verify program that employers use to check job applicants’ status, which could easily lead to requiring ID cards for everyone. And the plan would introduce a biometric identifier like fingerprinting or a retina scan into hiring.
The misnamed “path to citizenship” is the carrot to attract popular support for Obama’s wretched plan. But don’t be fooled! The path is strewn with daunting obstacles: “rigorous security check,” a series of fines, competency in English, payment of back taxes.
After all this, undocumented immigrants would still have to wait until the current backlog for green cards (the first step toward citizenship) disappears. Immigrants in some categories could wait 20 years!
When it comes to guest worker programs, Obama is playing it coy. He says he supports agribusiness having the workers it needs, but doesn’t spell out what this means. With an eye on staying competitive with capitalists abroad, Obama is definitely in favor of making it easier for highly skilled STEM workers (science, technology, engineering, math) to stay in the country.
For now, Obama seems to want to let Congress, labor officials, and the Chamber of Commerce slug it out over the guest worker issue. But Obama will do what he must to make sure business can keep maximizing profits — while also trying to keep Latino voters firmly in the Democratic Party camp.
License to exploit. From the large Bracero Program begun during World War II to dangerous cleanup after Hurricane Katrina, guest worker programs typically lure immigrants forced by desperate life-or-death situations to take temporary, low-paid work exempt from normal labor protections.
Tied to one employer, they must keep their job to keep their work visa. Bosses can control them with the threat of deportation if they try to organize a union, demand standard wages and decent conditions, or report abuse or sexual assault. Their super-exploitation lowers pay and conditions for all workers.
Republicans in Congress insist that guest worker programs be part of any reform. The Senate “gang of eight,” tasked with developing a bipartisan plan, agrees — with details yet to come.
As Obama pointed out, his plan and the bipartisan committee’s have a lot in common. But the gang of eight wants to make the path to citizenship even more of a sham, by requiring proof that the border is “secure” before issuing the first green cards!
Labor-business hookup. In February meetings, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue agreed on three things: U.S. citizens should have the first opportunity for all U.S. jobs; a new visa should be created that allows guest workers to switch jobs and some to become permanent workers; and the future immigration of low-skilled workers should be regulated by a new federal bureau based on “market needs.”
Trumka reportedly endorsed a new temporary worker program at the meetings. He later said that any final deal involving guest workers must include a path to citizenship and labor protections.
This is a retreat from the AFL-CIO’s previous staunch opposition to guest worker schemes and its support for amnesty. Agreeing to any program that makes immigrants second-class workers breaks with “An injury to one is an injury to all.” To their shame, several unions, including SEIU, have supported guest worker programs in the past.
It will be to Trumka’s shame if he does the same. It doesn’t bode well that he is trying to forge an agreement with labor’s exploiter, big business, in the first place.
Demand what’s really needed! Our sci-fi novel seems about to take a turn for the worst, where identity chips embedded in people’s brains control them, everyone works for The Corporation, and drones stand guard.
But wait! Underdog heroes always rebel before the end.
Here and now, protesters in San Jose, Calif., carry signs saying “No back of the line approach.” Gerald Lenoir of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration makes gritty criticisms of Obama’s scheme, including his omission of refugees and so-called criminals. Alexandra Suh of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance asserts, “We must all demand that he stop deportations.”
But many major immigrant rights NGOs are missing in action. They have nothing to say about how nearly impossible it will be to become a citizen. No criticism of E-Verify that will track workers like cattle. No condemnation of abuse of guest workers or the assault on civil liberties through border militarization and prison growth. No scathing words for Obama, who boasts of deporting a record 400,000 immigrants in a single year! Their silence is a way to keep the most exploited and oppressed workers in the Democratic Party. Sellouts!
The U.S. Bracero Program ended in 1964 after decades of laborers being underpaid, overworked, harassed, and poorly housed. The Department of Labor officer in charge of the program called it “legalized slavery.”
As a former farm worker who lived in the worst labor camps possible, I say never again!
I look forward to the revival of the militant movement — to once again seeing rank-and-file immigrant women lead a million strong down the streets, demanding what immigrants really need and what the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women have always called for: Unconditional and immediate amnesty! Stop the deportations and ICE raids! No Bracero Program! Union wages for all! Give workers the freedom that corporations have — open the borders!
Contact Yolanda Alaniz, co-author of Viva la Raza: A History of Chicano Identity and Resistance, at firstname.lastname@example.org.