Despite what the history books would like you to believe, the United States has never been a welcoming place for immigrants—especially those from Latin America. However, since the election of Donald Trump, the situation has only gotten worse, and attacks on immigrants have become an almost daily occurrence. Massive raids on workplaces and homes, separation of children from their families and subhuman conditions of detention are just some of the measures that the Trump administration has deployed to terrorize and punish immigrants.
Though fueled by a non-stop barrage of racist and xenophobic rhetoric, Trump’s policies are built upon anti-immigrant programs created and deployed by the Democratic Party, which, under the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, created what amounts to a deportation industry. And of course Obama, much like President Clinton before him, systematically promoted interventionist policies in other countries, such as Honduras, Syria and Colombia, that have directly contributed to mass emigration from those states.
In addition to these measures that seek to intimidate the entire Latinx community, Trump has doubled down on the use of hate speech as a way of engaging with and encouraging the already racist and xenophobic tendencies of his most devoted followers. One of the clearest expressions of this kind of openly racist speech can be seen in his recent statements criticizing the group of progressive congressional representatives known as “The Squad.”
As we explain here, this is much more than just a tweet. It is an instigation of violence against people of color and immigrants. It is no surprise, then that in the heat of these statements, instances of hate crimes are on the rise, there are white supremacist mass shootings like the one in El Paso and white nationalist groups are becoming increasingly public, emboldened and violent in their methods.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has used its economic might and imperial apparatus to expand US immigration policy well beyond the southern border. In June, Trump increased pressure on Mexico to assist in the detainment and deportation of Central American immigrants attempting to seek asylum in the U.S. by threatening to impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican products and to gradually raise it to 25% if the government of Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) did not cooperate. And despite AMLO’s progressive persona, Trump’s wishes were made a reality. After giving a speech about welcoming migrants with “open arms,” AMLO has since overseen a record number of deportations, expelling 21,912 immigrants from Mexico already this year.
Even as Trump’s attacks on immigrants continue to escalate, the Democratic Party has done little to counteract his agenda. While progressive Democrats such as Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have called out Trump’s rhetoric and criticized his administration’s border control policy, the vast majority of the Democratic Party remains committed to a law and order immigration policy, and house leader Nancy Pelosi continues to support the President’s demands for more border security.
Certainly, the Squad’s criticisms of Trump’s brutal border policies are welcome and necessary, as are their programmatic proposals for abolishing ICE and even the Department of Homeland Security. But these proposals only address the symptoms and not the fundamental causes of immigrant oppression. As socialists, we must go to the root of the problem. So we present here five measures that fight against the oppression and exploitation of immigrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Close the Concentration Camps…on Both Sides of the Border
There are over 200 detention centers currently functioning in the United States. Additionally, about 60% of migrants are held in private detention camps; in 2017, the for-profit GEO Group received $184 million from the U.S. government to imprison immigrants. The inhumane conditions in these concentration camps has been widely documented.
In one detention center in Clint, Texas, for instance, children—many of whom had been separated from their parents at the border—were held in crowded and unsanitary conditions that were unfit for human habitation. Children were found taking care of babies, babies were found without diapers and detainees were denied the opportunity to even bathe or brush their teeth. And, as a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU reveals, the practice of separating migrant children from their families continues to this day, despite claims by the Trump government that it had formally declared a halt to such separations.
Although lesser known, there are also detention camps in Mexico, housing 33,000 children. In May, a 10 year old Guatemalan girl died in one of Mexico City’s detention camps, where she and others were held for the “crime” of asking for asylum. Like in the U.S., conditions in these camps are abysmal: overcrowded, lacking food and healthcare.
In the United States, there are millions of people who want to close the concentration camps that have been used to house migrant children and adults. A protest by workers at the Wayfair furniture company in early June shows that working people are waking up to the power of their labor. When these workers discovered that the company they work for was selling furniture to U.S. detention centers, they staged a walkout and rally that drew thousands to the streets of Boston to protest and say: “We will not be accomplices in the imprisonment of children,” and “End business with concentration camps.”
However, a movement to close the concentration camps will require much more than this. That is why it is necessary that combative unions, human rights organizations and migrant advocacy groups, as well as the whole working class, fight together. We must demand the immediate and definitive closure of detention centers and immigration stations in the United States and Mexico, as well as an end to the detention of migrants and asylum seekers.
Abolish All Repressive Mechanisms Against Migrants
The U.S. Border Patrol, under the orders of ICE, intimidates, harasses and criminalizes migrants. It also separates children from their families and detains foreigners of all ages. ICE was created in 2002, and since then, it’s budget has grown from $3.3 billion to $7.5 billion in 2018.
Meanwhile, South of the Rio Grande, López Obrador’s National Guard does the same thing. Although AMLO promised to demilitarize the border, he created a new military police force, the Mexican National Guard, to police and detain migrants. Since December, the Mexican government has deported over 131,000 migrants, more than any previous government.
That is why socialists on both sides of the border must support the abolition of ICE and the Mexican National Guard. And we should demand the same for all repressive forces operating on the border—including the Mexican Army and the U.S. National Guard. The billions of dollars currently destined for border security should instead be used for healthcare, education and housing for migrants and other working people of Mexico and the United States.
Even as the governments of Mexico and the U.S. look to strengthen the border and prevent the migration of working families, the maquiladora industry that thrives along the border states is being maintained for the benefit of U.S. employers. This benefit is mainly based on the super-exploitation of a migrant workforce and the free circulation of capital.
Negotiations are ongoing to ratify the T-MEC—the “modernized” version of NAFTA that makes trade between neighboring countries duty-free. With the 1994 ratification of the original treaty, the maquiladora industry, deeply dependent on trade with the United States, multiplied drastically, creating a new Mexican working class made up of former farmers who were also ruined by NAFTA.
Businessmen have benefited immensely from the super-exploitation of the working class south of the Rio Grande. At the same time, the plundering of resources such as land and water—which led to the forced displacement of small producers, who became agricultural day laborers—has also advanced.
Furthermore, immigration is the direct effect of the imperialist policies of the United States in Central America, where the U.S. has a long history of intervening on behalf of U.S. corporations and supporting right wing coups against democratically elected leaders.
It is unacceptable to criminalize the transit of people through the region and across borders. For this reason, we must raise our voices so that borders are opened and human beings can move from one country to another without any restrictions.
Full Social and Political Rights for Migrants
As workplace raids, deportations and hate crimes against immigrants increase, the Latinx community and other immigrant communities in the U.S. (including those with and without legal status) are being forced further into the shadows. After the El Paso shooting, many people were afraid to even go to the hospital or to a reunification center for fear of being detained and deported by ICE.
Because of this, many immigrants lack adequate access to health services, education, legal aid or food assistance. Those without legal residency often do not have pensions or health insurance and thus lack access to basic services unless they have the money to pay for it. And those who are not naturalized do not have the right to vote or run for office.
In addition, immigrant workers’ wages are regularly lower than other sectors of the working class. Capitalists such as the owners of Koch Foods use this precariousness (sometimes as a form of punishment) for their own advantage in order to drive down wages and undermine worker organization or militancy. After all, workers who are afraid of being deported are less likely to complain when they are being mistreated, abused, or cheated. This then puts downward pressure on the wages of the American multiethnic working class as a whole and keeps workers divided.
In Mexico, the situation is no better. Migrants have no political or trade union rights. Employers take advantage of their vulnerable situation to increase exploitation with longer working hours for less pay. Social security—health care, pensions, vacations—are rights that are forbidden to the vast majority. And the right-wing sectors, encouraged by the current government’s anti-immigrant policy, incite hatred of foreigners by reproducing Trump’s xenophobic discourse. They say migrants are criminals who come to steal work from Mexicans.
Because of this, we need to fight for full social and political rights for all migrants everywhere including: access to healthcare, education and pensions; salaries at the level of the basic basket for all workers, without exception, be they native or foreign; and the right to unionize, to vote and to run for office. If achieved, this would be a step toward advancing the unity of the working class across borders and within.
Hands Off Latin America
The continuing migration crisis has a structural cause: the implementation of neoliberal plans developed by the U.S. government, as well as U.S. coups around the world. These plans have plunged a large part of the Central American population into poverty and violence.
This is why half measures and band-aids that address the symptoms and not the cause are not enough to end the ongoing humanitarian disaster caused by anti-immigrant policies. In the United States, it is necessary to forge a united working-class movement capable of acting independently of the government and the parties of capital. For this to be achieved, trade unions—as well as the left that claims to be socialist—must leave behind all subordination to the Democratic Party. Wemust build solidarity with oppressed peoples against any and all xenophobic and chauvinist expression, and raise the struggle against the imperialist policies of the U.S. government, in particular the plundering of Latin America that is being carried out using foreign debt and control over fundamental areas of national economies.
At the same time, in Mexico, Trump’s threats make clear the need to resist the economic and political chains that bind the Mexican economy to U.S. capitalists. The United States expects Mexico to provide cheap labor for U.S. firms, to pay all of the more than $480 billion in external debt and to play the role of U.S. border patrol. We must unequivocally reject all of these demands. Any attempt to improve the lives of working people in Mexico will require a direct confrontation with the ongoing recolonization of the country in the interests of the transnationals and the White House.
AMLO and other representatives of Mexican capital often call for “national unity” against the United States—only to later kowtow to Trump’s demands. Mexican liberation will not come from “national unity” with Mexico’s exploiters and political representatives, under a program that maintains the subordination and dependence of Mexico to imperialism. A determined opposition to the minor partners of U.S. capital—the Mexican “national” businessmen and their parties—is indispensable in order to truly break with imperialism. The working class and the unions in Mexico must align with the working people of the U.S. to fight for the cancellation of the Mexican foreign debt and all economic and political agreements that subordinate the country to US empire and the expropriation without compensation of all the companies handed over to foreign capital. The fate of the Mexican and U.S. working classes are linked together, from the struggle for the rights of immigrants all the way up to the fight for a Socialist United States of North and Central America.