USA: Immigration Showdown in Arizona

This past May 1st, thousands demonstrated in support of immigrant rights in over 70 cities across the U.S. Since 2006, rallies have been organized around this traditional workers’ holiday in order to demand full and unconditional legalization for all workers, regardless of immigration status... This year, however, labor, community, and civil rights organizations had a single rallying cry: opposition to the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070), otherwise known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods” Act.

In 2008 and 2009, the numbers at 1 May demonstrations had been at a low ebb, due in part to an increase in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, with the purpose of intimidating a politically awakened sector of the workers, but above all because there was no national leadership capable of boldly uniting the movement around the demand for amnesty. This year, however, protesters loundly opposed the new Arizona Senate Bill.

SB1070 requires local law enforcement to apprehend anyone that they have a “reasonable suspicion … is unlawfully present in the United States” without appropriate documentation, which they are now required to carry on their person at all times. However, what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” and on what basis is a judgment to be made? The logical by-product of this bill will be rampant racial and ethnic profiling, the singling out of Latinos, of those who “look like” Latinos, of those who speak with accents, etc.

Despite adding wording to the final House version of the bill, which states that “prosecutors would not investigate complaints based on race, color or national origin,” the substance of SB 1070 remains unaltered. Its very nature requires discrimination “based on race, color [and] national origin.” Any such last-minute changes were added merely to cover the backs of the law’s crafters and to attempt to undermine civil rights challenges to its legality.

The law’s passage comes on the back of rampant hysterical and demagogic attacks against immigrants in the media, as well as physical attacks on immigrants at the border. In late March, the media latched onto the murder case of a rancher in Arizona named Robert Krentz, which it used to whip up hysteria against immigrants. Krentz became the cause célèbre for supporters of the passage of SB1070, despite the unclear and circumstantial details of his case.

Politicians, like Russel Pearce, who referred to immigrants from Mexico as “invaders of American sovereignty,” were quick to seize upon this opportunity to rally “public opinion” behind the passage of SB1070. For demagogues like Pearce, who has endorsed open neo-Nazis for public office in Arizona (such as J.T. Ready for Mesa city council), “American sovereignty” only includes the white, the European, the English-speaking, the Christian, etc.

Workers are being squeezed from all directions by the economic crisis, which is affecting the countries of Latin America in an even sharper form. In this atmosphere, it is useful to the capitalists to try to redirect public anger away from themselves and onto a scapegoat. Blaming immigrants for “stealing our jobs” is one way they do this. However, millions are not buying it and have begun a fight back.

Thousands overcame their fear of ICE and took to the streets on May Day to demand their rights. Musicians and sports teams have also joined in showing their solidarity with Arizona’s Latino population. Rage Against the Machine, Kanye West, Cypress Hill, Conor Oberst, Jenni Rivera, Sonic Youth, Espinoza Paz, Conjunto Primavera, Joe Satriani, etc., have announced that they will not be performing in Arizona, as long as SB1070 remains on the books.

The Phoenix suns recently donned jerseys that said “Los Suns” in honor of Cinco de Mayo and in solidarity with immigrant workers. Charles Barkley, a long-time Suns player, stated in an interview prior to the television broadcast of the game that “living in Arizona for a long time, the Hispanic community, they’re like the fabric of the cloth.”

The Arizona Diamondbacks, on the other hand, have made themselves pariahs in the baseball world, being followed by protests in every city they travel to, because of their conservative owner and his history of campaign donations to Republican supporters of draconian laws like SB1070.

The baseball players’ union, the MLBPA, has made relatively clear where it stands. With over ¼ of their players being born outside of the U.S., SB1070 threatens not only the Diamondbacks’ players, but every team that visits Arizona, as well as the teams that spend their spring training in the “Grand Canyon State.” The union has said that “If the law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.” Some have suspected that this means a boycott of the 2011 All-Star Game, scheduled to be played in Arizona, effectively a one-day partial work stoppage.

Other actions have included boycotts against Arizona products. However, such consumer actions, boycotts against companies like Jimmy Johns, despite the best intentions of their organizers and participants, are extremely limited in their effectiveness. The decentralized, unplanned nature of the capitalist market is not conducive to effective coordinated action on the part of consumers, who interact with sellers in a detached, impersonal, and chaotic manner.

The labor movement, with its infrastructure and millions of organized members is in a position to make an impact. SEIU and several other unions have stated that they will not be holding conventions in Arizona until the bill is repealed. Union members in Los Angeles are organizing bus loads of documented Latino workers to go to Arizona to act as “decoys” to clog up law enforcement. These kinds of actions are a step in the right direction, but what is needed is mass, concerted working class action in the best traditions of the labor movement, based on the solidarity and unity of all workers, regardless of their immigration status.

The Teamsters, other truck drivers, and airline unions should refuse to transport goods to and from Arizona. The hotel workers of UNITE-HERE should not only step up and refuse to hold their conventions in Arizona, but refuse to host conventions there as well, as long as their co-workers are under threat. These kinds of coordinated actions by the working class, both within and outside of Arizona, could bring the state to a screeching halt and hit the Big Business politicians who support this bill where it hurts most: their profits.

And if push comes to shove, and our co-workers are about to be racially profiled, rounded up in camps and deported, the unions should call for a 24 hour general strike in Arizona on the date the law is to go into effect, with solidarity strikes around the country, to graphically show the power of the united working class.

There are many who think this kind of approach is “impractical” or “unrealistic.” They prefer to rely on the “friends of Labor” in the Democratic Party to address their problems. Obama has referred to the passage of the bill as “misguided.” However, it was the inaction and cowardice of the Democrats that led to the bill in the first place. By not passing genuine, broad-sweeping reform to address the question of immigration, the space was left open for SB1070 and related legislation.

The fact is, the last thing the Democrats want is to fight for unconditional legalization for all. They are as beholden to the Big Business interests that benefit from the large pool of cheap undocumented labor as the Republicans. If anything, Obama has been “tougher” on immigration than George Bush was. In 2009, ICE deported over 380,000 people, over 1,000 per day. That’s significantly higher than the 358,000 deported under Bush in 2008. ICE continues to place many of their raid victims in horrendous detention facilities, where many of them have even died while in custody.

The “solutions” offered by the Democrats ultimately define “reform” in the same manner as the Republicans: border enforcement and militarization, raids, deportation, and “guest worker” programs, which would create a permanent caste of low-paid workers with few, if any, rights. It is true that, unlike the Republicans, they sometimes offer a few small crumbs to civil rights groups and community organizations, including some minor reforms that we may support. But giving a tiny reform with the left hand while viciously attacking the movement with the right is not real “change.” Regardless of whether you are wined and dined for your last meal, you still are forced to walk to the gallows.

Recently, Obama has said that he wants to challenge SB1070 in the courts, as it is so extreme that its going into effect could produce a massive progressive backlash. Others have begun to challenge the bill in the courts, as well, including several police officers in Arizona. This is particularly interesting given the official title of the bill, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods” Act. In fact, most sheriffs’ offices in Arizona oppose the bill. Creating the distrusting “papers please” atmosphere in the state will undoubtedly deter police from actually catching real criminals, as well as further straining relations between immigrant and other minority communities and the police force.

Many of the legal challenges focus on the fact that SB1070 violates the “Primacy Clause” in the U.S. Constitution, which, according to Supreme Court precedents, places immigration policy firmly within the purview of the federal government, not the individual states. While this is the “easiest win” that can be had in the legal arena, a ruling could take years, and immigrant workers and their families cannot wait this long. Action is needed now to stop this bill. But not just any action. As explained above, workers must be mobilized and in the streets. If justice for workers is to be attained, even (or especially) in the halls of the Supreme Court, it can only be attained through mass pressure exerted by the workers themselves, the only power that we can ultimately rely upon.

So once we stop SB1070, what is the long term solution to the question of immigration? Solutions that focus on the border are no solution at all. The immigration “problem” is not the “weakness of enforcement” at the border, but rather the border itself. Let’s not forget that, as many living on the border put it, “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Almost a third of the U.S. used to be part of Mexico.

The reality is that capital and a massive amount of trade flow freely across the border, so why is it that humans cannot? The solution is not a turn back to protectionism or nationalist exclusionism. Capitalism has tied the world together by a million threads. The solution cannot be found in cutting those threads.

It is not trade as such that is to blame, but the imbalanced and imperialist trade agreements forced onto Latin American economies by the U.S. ruling class. These agreements, such as NAFTA, devastate local economies, leaving local workers and farmers with little in the way of options. If your options were to be hungry and unemployed in a crime-ridden shanty town with no running water or electricity, or take a chance at crossing the U.S. border to find a minimum wage job to try to feed and clothe your family, what would you do?

Throughout Latin America, workers and peasants have already begun to fight against the conditions that force them into poverty or into making dangerous treks North. We see this with the revolutionary movement in Venezuela most clearly, as well as in the election of left-leaning leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and elsewhere. Despite not having decisively broken with capitalism, all of these countries show a clear will on the part of the mass of Latin American workers to improve their conditions of life.

Just as Big Business, in its search for greater profits, ultimately respects no national boundaries, we understand that revolutions do not respect borders. The same relations of boss to worker, tenant to landlord, while expressed more sharply in Latin America at the present time, also exist in the United States and across the globe. The immigration provoked by capital’s search for profits in Latin America can only act as a conveyer belt for the revolutionary movement sweeping that continent.

In the long term, the only truly “practical solution” is to eliminate the conditions that force people to abandon their countries of origin in search of a better life abroad, and to allow the free flow of labor across the planet for those who do choose to work elsewhere. In the final analysis, this means ending the world capitalist system, which is the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, and discrimination we suffer. But first things first. Let’s mobilize a united labor movement to stop SB1070!

Source: Socialist Appeal (USA)

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