Hello all, due to the Trump Administration’s recent decision to rescind DACA, the social justic topic of the week will be on DACA and a more comprehensive, lesser known policy DAPA. I will then discuss what the Trump administration is intending to do with DACA and also implicate Democratic Party leadership in helping to establish the precedence for Trump’s current policies and discussion. Within this discussion of Democratic Party leadership helping to pass regressive policy targeting immigrants, I also look through a bill that has popular support from CA Democrats, SB-54 through a critical lens. Then I analyze how both dominant political parties and the American electorate perpetuate the harmful good/bad immigrant binary. I also reconcile the irony of how deportations/other regressive policies electorally and economically help facilitate the creation of a labor class forever prescribed to a limbo of transient servitude. Then I conclude the discussion on reform vs. revolution.
To start with definitions:
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was an American immigration policy that allowed some undocumented minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals—referred to as Dreamers after the DREAM Act bill (which is to not be confused with DACA as the DREAM Act bill that would have been a more permanent solution was shot down, so DACA temporarily covers approximately the same amount of people the DREAM Act would have, so instead of being called DACAers, they are often used interchangeably and called DREAMers)—were enrolled in the program created by DACA. The policy was established by the Obama administration in June 2012 in order to provide prosecutorial discretion to federal agencies with limited resources. In 2017 the Trump administration rescinded the policy.1
Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), sometimes called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, was a planned American immigration policy to grant deferred action status to certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since 2010 and have children who are either American citizens or lawful permanent residents. Deferred action is not full legal status but would come with a three-year, renewable work permit and exemption from deportation. DAPA was not a law passed by Congress. It was a presidential “executive action”. The program was announced in November 2014 by President Barack Obama, along with a number of immigration reform steps including increased resources for border enforcement, new procedures for high-skilled immigrants, and an expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. A temporary injunction was issued in February 2015, blocking the program from going into effect while the lawsuit proceeds. A U.S. Supreme Court 4-4 split decision in June, 2016 effectively left the block in place. On June 15, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it was rescinding the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans order.1
Why am I even mentioning DAPA?
To illustrate that DAPA overshadows DACA with how many undocumented people it could have applied to and protected from potential deportation. Fighting to preserve DACA is good, but we need to set the bar higher than a mere band aid. Otherwise, we will always be fighting to keep a peeling band aid. Had DAPA been implemented, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that it could have applied to around 3.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.2 vs. 1.3 million that are eligible for DACA (while only 800,000 people actually have DACA). DAPA could be a loftier ambition for the policy-minded people.3 Democratic leadership falls far behind on the bold metric (this claim will be addressed in further detail below).
What is the Trump administration planning to do with rescinding DACA?
Trump announced he would phase out DACA, but is giving lawmakers six months to come up with an alternative. This on the surface level may seem like Trump isn’t really intending on scrapping DACA and is trying to come up with an “alternative”. His attempt to “protect” DREAMERS actually hurts them. A recent NY Times article states:
“In an interview Thursday, Mr. Schumer said he and Ms. Pelosi arrived at Wednesday’s dinner prepared with a specific list of border security items that Democrats could agree to, drawn from Mr. Trump’s own budget request. They included sensors to beef up border monitoring, rebuilding roads along the border, drones and air support for border enforcement. […] “And I said for us to get something done we need to establish some trust,” Mr. Schumer added. He said the next step will be for Democratic leadership aides to meet with White House counterparts to “sit down and figure out a border security package that we can all agree on.” That would be paired with the so-called Dream Act, legislation dating back to 2001 that would shield young immigrants from deportation and offer a path to citizenship.”4
In a brilliant and diabolical policy maneuver, Trump is effectively holding DACA hostage by wrangling Democratic leaders to approve of further militarized border spending that is set by his own budget. Democratic party leadership continues to display frogs in boiling water syndrome as the GOP controls both the dialogue and budget.
Instead of outright slaughtering DACA, DACA is likely to be slowly maimed in the form of adding border pork barrel spending, defunding DACA (the GOP is the party of austerity), adding more restrictions to it, etc. There is an argument circulating that DACA in its prior state of being rescinded could’ve been overturned, so Trump is “defending” DACA by asking legislators to come up with an “alternative.” Holding DREAMERS hostage to spend more money on erecting monuments that demonize them isn’t saving them. Neither is buying time to slowly maim DACA.
How Democratic Party leaders have helped pass legislation that has served as a precedent to Donald Trump’s immigration policies
Secure Fence Act of 2006
Prominent Democrats, including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, and Barbara Boxer all voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, a piece of legislation which dramatically expanded the militarization of the border.5&6 It’s also the legal precedent for Trump’s border wall as he cited the law (along with other laws signed off by Democrats which will be discussed in this section) in the first sentence of his executive order authorizing its construction.7 Top Democratic leadership that many on the “left” hold as the vanguard of “the resistance” have okayed legislation that would enable what they denounce in Trump’s immigration policies. As some Democrats look upon the Obama administration with nostalgia, they conveniently turn their head the other way when Obama “politely” echoed similarly xenophobic sentiments on the senate floor in October 2006 in support of the Act: ““The bill before us will certainly do some good,” […] He praised the legislation, saying it would provide “better fences and better security along our borders” and would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.”8 Numerous Democrats reinforce the DACA conversation with the xenophobic good/bad immigrant binary and legal/illegal immigration, but Republicans seem to be the only ones who incur criticism for using similar language? More of this will be discussed in the next section.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 also deserves some extra criticism before I elaborate on other problematic pieces of legislation top Democrats have passed. For complaining an awful lot on military spending during election season, the Democrats seem to be doing just as good of a job of inflating it. When the Secure Fence Act was passed, Congress put aside $1.4 billion for the fence, but the whole cost, including maintenance, was pegged at $50 billion over 25 years, according to analyses at the time.” 9 Whether one even agrees/disagrees with a border fence/wall, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lacks metrics to evaluate its effectiveness and it has been breached countless times. “A report in May 2008 by the Congressional Research Service found “strong indication” that “illegal” border-crossers had simply found new routes. A 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, citing CBP data, found that from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2015, the U.S.-Mexico border fence had been breached 9,287 times, at an average cost of $784 per breach to repair (totaling near $7.3 million). The same GAO report concluded that “CBP cannot measure the contribution of fencing to border security operations along the southwest border because it has not developed metrics for this assessment. The fence is routinely climbed or otherwise circumvented. The GAO reported in 2017 that both pedestrian and vehicle barriers have been defeated by various methods, including using ramps to drive vehicles “up and over” vehicle fencing in the sector; scaling, jumping over, or breaching pedestrian fencing; burrowing or tunneling underground; and even using small aircraft.”9 The fence has also had a negative environmental impact: “Fencing built under the 2006 Secure Fence Act caused habitat fragmentation that adversely affected wildlife, including endangered wildlife. A 2011 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Diversity and Distributions determined that the habitat fragmentation determined that “small range size is associated with a higher risk of extinction, and for some species, the barriers reduce range by as much as 75%.”9
Along with the Secure Fence Act of 2006 being okayed by top Democratic leadership, let us not forget mandatory detention was officially authorized by President Bill Clinton in 1996 with the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA).
These 2 acts received some help from the initial popularity of anti-immigrant legislation in California in 1994 known as Proposition 187/Save Our State- SOS initiative (a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system that prohibited undocumented people from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in CA- not only a huge waste of federal funds that would outweigh denying public benefits to these people- but disproportionately targets immigrants of latinx and asian origins). 1994 was a popular year for xenophobic rhetoric in CA as the United States Senate election had both incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican challenger Michael Huffington adopt hostile positions on immigration. Politically smart decisions =/= morally sound positions.
The enactment of IIRAIRA in 1996 added onto the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) a clause, titled Section 287(g), which allows state and local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration law on the condition that they are trained and monitored by ICE. This agreement in practice permits local and state enforcement officials to arrest and even detain individuals they encounter during their day-to-day duties if they suspect them to be or “identify” them as undocumented immigrants. However, many of the individuals picked up by local law enforcement have committed minor offenses, such as driving infractions, and lacked proper identification when stopped. Many civil rights groups have accused Section 287(g) of permitting or causing racial profiling.10
AEDPA required the mandatory detention of non-citizens convicted of a wide range of offenses, including minor drug offenses. IIRIRA further expanded the list of offenses for which mandatory detention was required. Under these amendments, Congress required the detention of non-citizens convicted of any two crimes of moral turpitude (regardless of when the crimes were committed or potential sentence they carried), or any one crime of moral turpitude for which a sentence of at least one year was imposed (even if suspended). In other words, even if the person was convicted of a crime for which no time in prison was actually served because the crime was so insignificant, the person might be subjected to mandatory detention on account of that crime while their deportation case was pending. In addition, by expanding the definition of “aggravated felonies” to include even misdemeanors under state law, Congress dramatically increased the categories of crimes for which mandatory detention could be imposed.11 Mandatory detention of non-citizens pending their immigration proceedings violates the right to due process- a fundamental principle of our legal system- and is both inefficient and costly.
Another regressive program that was expanded under President Obama’s tenure is the Secure Communities (S-COMM) program. S-COMM is an American deportation program that relies on partnership among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the interior immigration enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is the program manager. On January 25, 2017, S-COMM was restarted by the Department of Homeland Security per an executive order signed by President Donald Trump. S-COMM was piloted in 2008. Under the administration of George W. Bush, ICE recruited a total of 14 jurisdictions. The first program partner was Harris County Sheriff’s Office (Texas). By March 2011, under President Obama, the program was expanded to over 1,210 jurisdictions. ICE seeks to have all 3,141 jurisdictions (state, county, and local jails and prisons) participating by 2013. By summer 2011, many state and local partners to the program have come to resent it, because of its detrimental effects on local social fabrics and law enforcement operations.12 The implementation of the program has been criticized for not sticking to its original goals of deporting criminals and using the program as a general deportation facilitation tool. The authors of a 2011 study released by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law highlighted several findings:
- Only 52% of S-COMM arrestees were scheduled to have a hearing before a judge.
- Approximately 88,000 families that included U.S. citizens had a family member arrested under S-COMM
- Among S-COMM arrestees who had an immigration hearing, only 24% had an attorney.
- ICE arrested roughly 3,600 United States citizens through the program.12
Two 2014 studies found that the S-COMM did not significantly affect the crime rate. S-COMM transforms local police into de facto immigration police, allows deportation without any trial or conviction, and incentivizes racial profiling by local police. The health and safety of immigrant communities have suffered as a result. Immigrant communities have suffered increased stress related to racial profiling, deportation, and family separation, and they have become more fearful of accessing health services and public safety services. Advocates for immigrant rights and welfare, as well as advocates for civil rights, strongly maintain that the program is too flawed to fix and should be eliminated completely. As noted by a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles: “As a practical matter, [the] decisions [of local police] to arrest some residents but not others, to get tough with some neighborhoods but not others, will drive and direct federal immigration policy.”13
SB-54 (A proposal known as the “sanctuary state” bill, was sparked by the Trump administration’s broadened deportation orders. It would expand so-called sanctuary city policies, prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.14) could be seen as a counter to S-COMM and other regressive policies. But can it?
SB-54 in brutal honesty is a relatively toothless, goodwill bill for a few reasons:
- There is no set definition, or set of policies that designates a place to be a “sanctuary.” Sanctuary declaration is really up to the places that want to designate themselves as such. The general idea is that officials in a “sanctuary” jurisdiction won’t go out of their way to help the federal government deport people, even if they will cooperate in certain cases. The SB 54 crowd, some self-proclaiming that they are allies/represent the immigrant community doesn’t consider that some within the communities that they claim to represent don’t like the misleading phrase “sanctuary state” often for the same reason why many people in the LGBTQ+ community are annoyed that many allies went home for brunch after Gay Marriage was passed. Gay marriage is not the end all be all of LGBTQ+ rights, neither is SB 54 for the immigrant community Some believe that “Sanctuary State” gives a false impression of the amount of protection California can provide. SB 54 gives the illusion that immigrants will be safe once it passes. SB 54 is no where near a guarantee of safety to California’s immigrant population (to be elaborated below).
- According to Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel: “This proposed legislation does not represent a significant change in current law or how California agencies currently handle undocumented immigrants […] It does not make California a Sanctuary State as defined by federal law nor does it prohibit communication with federal immigration officials. It does further codify constitutional prohibitions/limitations already in place.”15 Basically, the bill establishes uniformity for what is already a widespread practice in the state of California. Chief Pytel states that SB-54 doesn’t do what many of its proponents state it’s intended to do: halt collaboration of federal immigration authorities with local police. Under Governor Brown’s amendments to SB 54, Chief Pytel stands correct.
Some SB-54 proponents glow with excitement that they have a potential ally in Sacramento. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown’s amendments to SB 54 actually helps open up new lines of communication between ICE and local jails. This defeats the whole purpose of why SB 54 was brought up in the first place.
While claiming to uphold the vision of creating a so-called sanctuary state in California, Brown’s draft instead puts many immigrants in the criminal justice pipeline — those in the country without authorization, as well as green card holders, including minor offenders — at risk. Lizbeth Mateo, who works with DreamActivist and has seen a copy of the amendments, said that if Brown’s changes were to be incorporated into SB 54, the legislation would not be seen as affording immigrants the necessary protections. “The bill will not be anything close to what can comfortably resemble a ‘sanctuary’ bill,” she said.16
Under one of Brown’s proposed amendments, limits placed on cooperating and providing resources to federal immigration agents wouldn’t benefit anyone doing prison time — including those who’ve never been convicted of a serious or violent felony. While the carve-out in the current bill allows contact with ICE regarding violent and serious offenders, Brown’s amendments expand the category of those who would be referred to include people convicted of certain misdemeanors. The amendments add language that encompass more than 800 crimes, some which include minor drug violations and tax evasion. The expanded categories of crimes eligible for referral to ICE could even put some green card holders — legal permanent residents of the U.S. — at risk. Another Brown amendment would allow a controversial ICE initiative called the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) to continue unabated. The program essentially allows ICE agents access into local jails and prisons, where they can question and detain immigrants. According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, CAP accounts for as much as 75 percent of deportations. SB 54 originally included language to prohibit ICE agents from roaming around jails and prisons unless they were sanctioned to do so by a judicial warrant, but Brown’s draft completely strikes this provision.16
Some of the amendments in Brown’s draft would allow ICE to carry out immigration enforcement activities that the agency is effectively barred from conducting now — even without the passage of the original version of SB 54. For a local law enforcement agency to honor an ICE hold, for instance, is unheard of in any California jurisdiction. Jailers shun the orders because federal courts have found them to be unconstitutional. The currently tabled version of SB 54 would codify the practice by banning local jails and California prisons from cooperating with ICE holds, unless a judge has issued a warrant for a specific violation of federal law. Brown’s amendments, however, seek to create an agreement to use the state’s “law enforcement agency facilities to house individuals as federal detainees.” California would go from no jurisdictions cooperating with ICE holds to creating a contract to do so.16
Immigration Detention Bed Quotas
One last harrowing policy to elaborate on are the infamous immigration detention bed quotas. Imagine your city council telling the police department how many people it had to keep in jail each night. That’s effectively what Congress has told U.S. ICE with a policy known as the “detention bed mandate.” The mandate calls for filling 33,400 beds17 in some 250 facilities across the country, per day, with immigrant detainees. At a current cost of over two billion dollars each year, immigration detention quotas are a way for the private prison industry to protect their bottom line. In the last decade the detention system has grown by 75 percent, an expansion that depends heavily on ICE’s increasing use of private contractors to operate and provide services at immigration jails across the country. Sixty-two percent of immigration detention beds are operated by private prison companies, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Geo Group (GEO).20
Many government-owned facilities also rely on privately contracted detention-related services such as food, security, and transportation. This interdependent relationship with private industry has produced a set of government-sanctioned detention quotas that ensure profits for the companies involved while incentivizing the incarceration of immigrants. Accordingly, a large portion of the over $2 billion in the fiscal year 2016 budget for detention operations will ultimately go to for-profit contractors.21 The financial incentive is not limited to private entities, however, as local governments also place pressure on ICE since higher detention numbers equal more revenue for struggling county budgets. Local quotas, referred to as guaranteed minimums in detention facility contracts, act as another tool to ensure a profit-stream and can be found in at least half of ICE’s field offices (there are field offices in Camarillo). These contractual provisions promise that ICE will pay for a certain number of detention beds regardless of how many people are detained to fill these beds.21 And as a perverse incentive, ICE agents are then encouraged to increase enforcement in order to maximize taxpayer dollars that are being spent to detain people. What we have essentially is a system that depends on locking people up for profit. These quotas have become a rigid part of the immigration detention system and must be eliminated. Detention quotas are not only fiscally irresponsible and wasteful, but they help drive policies that continue to deprive liberty and separate immigrants from their loved ones.
Think I forgot to mention how top Democrats were implicated in this mandate? Wrong. This mandate passed under H.R. 2892 (Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010- A bill making appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010)17. The Sponsor of this Act was Rep. David E. Price (D-NC-4)18 and received yea votes from Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Kerry, Bernie Sanders (feel the burn), and Chuck Schumer.19 The Act was then signed by President Obama and became law on 10/28/09.18
[Another political group besides the GOP and Democrats that deserves criticism- Libertarians often disproportionately blast the state for violating individual freedom vs. the market. What happens though when the market is embedded into the fabric of the state (neoliberalism in a nutshell) and incentivizes the state into locking people up for profit (which is the pinnacle of our entire prison industrial complex), thus denying liberty? Libertarians are obsessed with liberty, but for who though? Power is never coincidental and it’s not a surprise that our immigration and prison systems disproportionately lock up people of color. So much for the “free” market (bad pun).]
Why the conversation framing DACA has got it wrong
Many arguments peddled by the “left” in protecting “DREAMERS” and other immigrants include that they are students, serve in the military, and are valuable to the economy.
[Another side note- Some “DREAMERS” resent their own label, which was made evident during Nancy Pelosi’s recent Dream Act Conference that was shut down by protestors. When Pelosi referred to the crowd as DREAMERS, some from the crowd yelled back “We are not DREAMERS!” -analysis of this rejection will be in the next paragraph. Instead of standing to the side and allowing those she “represents” the chance to speak about their own oppression (that she has no clue on since she will never have to deal with it personally), she uses ageism, privilege, and her political status as a bludgeoning tool to control the microphone/dialogue, tone police, condescend, and plays respectability politics. She further calls their legitimate concerns for a “Clean DREAM Act” “beautiful music to our ears.” Since when is people voicing their oppression entertainment to the ears of political elites? Smdh. This interaction presents a microcosm of what is imploding within the Democratic Party- establishment elites that are out of touch with reality.]
Though well intentioned, lauding the DREAMERS has the unintended effect of creating a good/bad immigrant binary, juxtaposing these “good,” “deserving” immigrants with the “bad” ones — those with, say, a drug charge from years back — who deserve nothing but deportation and marginalization. Narratives of childhood innocence and economic contribution constrict the movement at a time when it needs to include all 12 million. And supporting DACA has allowed the liberal elite to feel good about ostensibly doing something pro-immigration when, in fact, it hurts the struggle.22 The good/bad immigrant binary reinforces the idea that all immigrants are automatically deemed bad people until they somehow earn their right to be treated as humans, and to sit at the table. To treat a certain category of people- because they are immigrants- to treat their lives as conditional based on what they are worth to the economy as students, soldiers, farmers, or whatever is inherently xenophobic and racist.
The idea that lives abroad are less important than lives domestically is inherently messed up. Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network states an important point: “It’s racist to think that it’s not OK for rapists and murderers to do their actions here, but it’s OK to do them in El Salvador and Guatemala.”23 Deporting criminals also addresses only individuals and not systems. Deportation even of convicted criminals ends up sowing chaos in places with weaker criminal justice systems such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Also according to Alvarado, this causes more people there, including victims of crime, to flee those countries. “I’ve been in El Salvador and in Honduras when the planes land with deportees,” Alvarado said. “It’s becoming the penal colony of the United States where criminal dumping is acceptable.”23 Essentially, those who condone deporting criminals help foment the conditions of violence that drive the very immigration they wish to curtail in the first place (but do they really wish to curtail this? This will be elaborated in the next section). It’s immoral to send someone back to a meager, dangerous life because of where they were born. It’s arbitrary and random. None of us earned being born in the U.S. So why do we get a monopoly on living here?
Not all of those facing deportation are innate criminals, but are people who have made bad choices under extremely constrained conditions, and who have then been severely punished for those choices. This isn’t a characteristic of being an immigrant. It’s characteristic of being a human. Such constrained conditions can be explained by this nation’s own actions. From overthrowing left-wing governments during the Cold War, to financing military forces that massacred civilians, to pushing economic policies that put Mexican farmers out of work by the millions, the United States has helped create a lot of the conditions that have resulted in mass migration from Latin America. It would logically follow that the U.S., which has reaped economic benefits from this mayhem, should allow immigrants to stay.24
In summary, xenophobia is apparent in both dominant political parties. The xenophobia of the GOP is overt, while it operates covertly in the Democratic Party. Many Democrats disapprove of Trump’s blunt brand of xenophobia, but fail to criticize their own “eloquent” xenophobia through similar dog whistles of legal/illegal, good/bad, national security, etc. Frankly, we should approve of neither brand. There is also an inherent, unspoken strategy behind rationalizing immigrants as good/bad, legal/illegal which will be discussed in the next section.
The elephant in the room no one is talking about
In an oral interview with rhetoric/writing consultant and graduate student Kelly Eisenbrand, Eisenbrand states that “deportations are a performative smoke screen”. By no means am I trivializing deportation. I’m of the vein that one deportation is too many. Eisenbrand posits: “Basically, it’s a rationalization for creating a labor class to whom we regularly deny benefits or structural help. What’s actually happening is not “laws being violated.” It’s criminalizing people who we are literally exploiting, as justification for the exploitation.” Deportations are internalized/rationalized by the American electorate as going after “criminals.” Both parties have contributed to this internalized narrative. Both parties also realize: why deport all immigrants if they are the life blood of the economy? This deportation smokescreen Americans have given credibility to helps the creation of a labor class forever prescribed to a limbo of transient servitude.
Political elites rely on the American electorate to intellectually adhere to criminalizing immigrants so they can justify giving their tax dollars to programs and institutions that create modern day indentured servitude. The failure, to date, of U.S. Congress (stacked by both parties) to implement comprehensive immigration reform that includes provisions for a guest worker program has not derailed capital’s initiative.25 Congress is the gatekeeper of capital’s initiative. Genuine reform would thwart Congress’s job to facilitate capital’s desire to secure and control cheap Mexican and Central American workers in the U.S. through guest worker programs and massive U.S. infrastructure development via DHS, ICE, DRO (Detention Removal Operation- headed by ICE), sealing the southern border, etc. It’s pandering to the need for a labor class forever prescribed in a limbo of transient servitude. The internalized “legality/illegality” of immigrants are conditions created by Congress/capital accomplishes 2 things: 1) It keeps immigrants in this insidious limbo and 2) Creates a cavern of fear so the American electorate can look to a patriarchal state for protection against “criminals” and vote for the ones who do the best job (or who do a more “humane” job- Democrats) at protecting the electorate, thus justify 1). Congress/capital creates a class of laborers the American electorate loathes to secure electoral victory, but at the same time they don’t want to actually abolish this labor class. Legality in this case is an exercise of retaining power, not justice.
One would typically see a contradiction here: how would agencies we normally associate with deporting immigrants help facilitate immigration? The neoconservative sector of US capitalism has relentlessly pursued the establishment of a national guest worker program to import cheap labor from the global south [especially Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean]. Monitoring and enforcing a national guest worker program in the US that will ultimately involve tens of millions of migrant workers from Mexico and Central America is the biggest human management program that has ever been undertaken. Expansion of the facilities will be needed to detain and remove unauthorized migrant workers from the US is therefore necessary (and already underway).
To provide some historical context behind guest worker/Bracero programs: Ultimately, over 4.6 million Mexican citizens entered the US under the Bracero Agreement, providing an abundant supply of cheap workers for US agriculture as long as it was needed. Though the program provided desperately needed jobs to Mexican workers, the bracero experience was characterized by poverty wages and substandard working conditions, social discrimination, and lack of even the most basic social services for braceros and their families.25
US demand for Mexican workers did not disappear with the termination of the Bracero Program. The tradition of exploiting cheap Mexican labor, firmly established during World War I, institutionalized through bilateral agreement during World War II, and expanded during the post-war era, continued with the establishment of the maquiladora manufacturing system in Mexico.25
US capitalism thus invaded Mexico in pursuit of cheap labor the year after the termination of the Bracero Agreement. In 1965, Mexican President Diaz Ortiz signed into law the Border Industrialization Program (BIP) that established the maquiladora system in Mexico. Developed by US business interests and secured through “dollar diplomacy”, the BIP granted US industry access to Mexican labor, initially along the US-Mexico border and later expanded under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into the interior of Mexico, with virtually no liability for the social or environmental costs of production.25
This short history of the US exploitation of Mexican labor as a reserve labor pool for US capitalism provides background for the current US strategy to systematically exploit Latin American workers as transient servants under a national guest worker program. This latest plan, which targets millions of workers from the South, is more sophisticated and grander in scale than anything that has gone before. Consequently, it is requiring unprecedented international and domestic preparations.
Because the idea of human servitude runs counter to the political sentiments of many Americans and is bound to generate opposition, the current US strategy of mass transient servitude remains strategically undeclared even as it unfolds. However, like the provisions on the international level, extensive domestic preparations (DACA could be seen as one of these domestic, policy preparations that concurrently caters to the American electorate’s sentiments of authorizing the “good immigrants” to enter the country and controls the influx through granting temporary protection to a finite number of people) are currently underway to facilitate the influx of millions of migrants from Mexico and Central America into the US. These measures include: the building of transportation and enforcement infrastructures to facilitate the movement and management of millions of migrants; the promotion of immigration legislation to legitimize transient servitude in the US, and initial steps to implement the program in full as soon as it becomes the law of the land. The expansion of Detention and Removal Operation (DRO) facilities operated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the other major area of infrastructure development to facilitate the mass influx of migrant workers from the South.25
Another side exploration: Come on though, how are immigrants stuck in “a limbo of indentured servitude?”
Common threads run through all of the guest worker proposals:
- All of the guest worker programs link visas to employment. Portable visas allow workers to change jobs and remain in the program.
- None of the guest worker programs are sector specific, meaning that all industries in the US will be entitled to exploit cheap migrant labor.
- All of the guest worker proposals double the fines for employers who hire undocumented migrant workers, insuring maximum employer participation in the program.
- All of the proposals insure the transient nature of the program by restricting the maximum length of worker participation to no more than six years.
- None of the current guest worker proposals guarantee a clear path to legal residency. Legal residency is conditional under some of the proposed programs (with employer sponsorship in some ) and not offered by all
- All of the pending guest worker programs call for increased southern border enforcement with massive expansion of DRO facilities.
- With the exception of one, all of the proposals either require or reward local and state participation in immigration law enforcement.25
*by no means is this a comprehensive list
The pending US guest worker program to exploit Mexican and Central American labor will be administered and enforced by the US Department of Homeland Security, the most powerful and pervasive agency of state control that has ever been mobilized. To monitor and control the movement of migrants, DHS can employ unprecedented police power: CBP; ICE; the US Coast Guard; US Citizenship and Immigration Services; TSA (Transportation Security Administration); and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to train and enlist state, local, and international police agencies for immigration law enforcement.25 Indeed, if a national guest worker program becomes the law of the land, chances for migrant Latin American workers in the US to avoid being trapped in the program of transient servitude will be nil.
The innocuous term, “guest worker”, obscures the true nature of transient servitude. The term “guest” suggests a person to whom hospitality is extended, but this labor program will offer no kindness or generosity to workers caught in the trap. The program will be conducted primarily by private corporations that are only interested in the bottom line of profits for their stockholders and huge salaries/bonuses for their managers and executives, and it will be enforced by the unprecedented power of the US government and guaranteed by the WTO (World Trade Organization) through GATS (General Agreement on Trade and Services).25
In the end, all that guest workers will get are short careers of transient servitude in the US without the guarantee of minimal labor standards or any social security, and during which a large proportion of their earnings will be siphoned away by US labor contractors and opportunistic goods and services providers.
Our immigration system isn’t broken. It’s working how it’s intended to. For the profit of a few, at the cost of many. Let me repeat this in a different way. Our immigration system isn’t broken. It’s straight up cruel. I don’t think systematic means via mere immigration reform can dent this strategic coupling of immigration ≈ criminality as there is far too much economic incentive to keep the two together and the American electorate is conveniently roped in to supporting this insidious coupling. Reform is a great stepping stone to mitigating short term damage and building movement. However, we can’t limit ourselves to perpetual, reform whack a mole. After a reform is made, limits present themselves immediately. A longer term, revolutionary perspective is necessary, otherwise a movement without a goal will be condemned to passive, directionless marching. If no tension is applied on a bow, the arrow never strikes its goal. Idealism is the tension and revolution needs to be the goal. Otherwise, we are aimless.
Pressure will need to come from outside of the system as this article demonstrates too many are implicated in retaining this oppressive system. Even the figures we deem as standing up for comprehensive immigration reform have voted to shoot it in the foot and have voiced the same platitudes that justify shooting it down. Real resistance needs to be led first by those on the frontline of such oppression, otherwise “allies” will be reinforcing subtle systems of supremacy that they are claiming to subvert (whether by race lines, class lines, etc.). Ally voices should never be louder than those who are actually being oppressed. At the end of the day, DACA and even DAPA are peeling bandaids on a terminally ill body. We must push for a better cure.
3 I’m of the vein of going way beyond DAPA, but that’s the subject of a whole other article…