The case for open borders

Los Angeles family separations protest, June 14, 2018. PHOTO: Jayrol San Jose
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Steve Hoffman ran for the U.S. Senate this past summer for the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), and was the only one of the 29 candidates to call for open borders. Questions he was asked about his position and his passionate answers led to this article.

What open borders mean. Borders are all about control over workers by the giant corporations that run the show. Opening borders means ending immigration restrictions, which would legalize cross border movement for all workers. “Illegal” immigration is a concept manufactured by the capitalist class.

Racist Chinese exclusion dates from 1882. But the U.S./Mexico border was open until 1924, when the Border Patrol was set up. The patrol is an instrument of repression with a long history of casual killings including children, U.S. citizens and people actually standing in Mexico. This summer’s kidnapping of the children of immigrants and asylum-seekers was just the latest example.

Guest worker programs, favored by Democratic Party politicians, are used to provide temporary labor under the total control of individual bosses. These measures take away workers’ right to organize. Those who protest or strike can not only be sent home, but blacklisted from returning. Such undermining of conditions hurts everyone, not just immigrants.

Current Republican attacks on almost all non-white immigration are just another way of controlling workers. These assaults foster racism and xenophobia and break down labor solidarity. In reality, immigrants are an essential part of the shrinking U.S. workforce. Scapegoating foreign workers is aimed at building the power of the right wing, not at providing jobs.

The danger of fascism. Nazi and white supremacist movements are rising in most wealthy countries, where people naturally flee to find work. History shows that these organizations are funded by big business and ultimately aimed at breaking labor. Large industrialists supported the Nazi movement of the 1930s, in order to destroy the workers’ movement. They broke down solidarity by blaming Jews, leftists, the Romani (Gypsies), queers and the disabled for the financial crisis. Rich former slave owners in the U.S. South funded the Ku Klux Klan and created Jim Crow laws. The effects linger today in right-to-work statutes and the lowest pay scales in the U.S. Anti-Mexican prejudice in the Southwest has lowered wages and undermined unionization.

Today we see a worldwide trend of corporate-backed right-wing movements that target immigrants — because the permanent, escalating capitalist economic crisis is displacing millions. To divert attention from huge income disparity, war, and outright theft by the ultrarich as the causes of poverty and underemployment, the powerful urge workers to think other workers are the problem.

Corporations have no borders. Capital travels wherever the rich want. Banks and stock exchanges operate freely across borders. Despite President Trump’s high-profile tariffs, commodities travel around the world. Whether tariffs are imposed or free trade reigns as under NAFTA, CAFTA and other free trade agreements, borders are controlled for the benefit of big business. There are few protections for workers — or small businesses — in any trade agreements.

The problems blamed on immigrants are systemic to capitalism. President Trump, conservatives and the right wing are pulling a bait-and-switch maneuver. The main problem of working people in the USA today is not a lack of jobs, it is low wages. The only fix for that is to build the power of labor. Blaming immigrants is not only a distraction, it also undercuts labor’s power, which absolutely depends on solidarity.

The problems of drug trafficking and organized crime are also blamed on migrants. But these are a part of international capitalist trade, however illegal. In recent years, major U.S. and European banks, including Wachovia, Citibank, the UK’s HSBC and Rabobank of the Netherlands have been caught laundering money for drug cartels and other organized crime. Because all capital flows freely, drugs and crime can’t be touched by closing borders. In fact, as borders have been squeezed tighter and tighter against ordinary working people, this black market has increased dramatically.

Social problems like drug addiction and low-level drug peddling have to be solved by providing decent wages and labor rights, medical care and social services. Illegal exploitative industries can only be attacked by taking away their profits. That is why FSP calls for legalizing drugs under community control to undercut drug revenue.

Capitalist-caused crises force people to flee. Why victimize them? People migrate from their homes out of necessity. Forced displacement, whether from war, repression, economic collapse or climate change, is on the increase. The only way to address these problems is to tackle their cause, capitalism. The system won’t solve these disasters because it profits off them. Workers must organize across borders to make conditions livable for everyone.

And they have the human right to migrate for survival. When Steve Hoffman was speaking to a union of state employees at a campaign stop in Yakima, Washington, he was asked about his position on immigration. He described a march he attended years ago in that area in defense of immigrants. He marched next to a man who was an undocumented worker from Mexico, who had a small farm there when NAFTA came into effect. Because of the flood of cheap produce from the U.S., he lost his farm and was forced to come to the U.S. to find work and support his family. Hoffman never forgot his story.

In unity and solidarity is power. If working people are at each other’s throats, they are only weaker in facing the ruling class. Instead of workers of different countries being forced to compete against each other for ever-lower wages, organizing across borders and across racial and ethnic lines can turn the tables. Besides, immigrants have much to teach. They often come from countries where labor is more militant, and they bring those fighting skills with them.

The rulers want workers to think they are powerless. But as the creators of all wealth, they hold the ultimate power to withhold their labor. Today more than ever, working people getting together is a matter of survival — and an opportunity to change the rules of the game in their favor.

Also see: Steve Hoffman on his run for US Senate

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