Biden, borders, and the fight for migrant rights
Héctor Agredano: Welcome to this event organized by Tempest magazine. This is “Biden, Borders, and the Fight for Migrant Rights.” We have a good group of comrades from across the empire and south of the border who are joining us for this event.
Today our speakers will be Justin Akers Chacón. Justin is an educator and union activist in San Diego on the San Diego-Tijuana border region, member of the puntorojo editorial collective, author of No One is Illegal with Mike Davis. He’s also the author of Radicals in the Barrio and the forthcoming book with Haymarket, The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the US-Mexico Border. Thank you, Justin, for joining us. We also have a compañera from Free Them All, an anonymous Tejana who will be giving an eyewitness account of the conditions of children being held in migrant detention prisons. So welcome compañera. We also have Luis Rangel Rojas, a member of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores in Mexico. He’s coming to you from Mexico City. And we also have Ashley Smith, member of DSA in Burlington, Vermont and a member of the Tempest collective. He has written in numerous publications, including Spectre, Truthout, Jacobin, and New Politics.
What a great group of comrades. Thanks everyone for coming in and sharing with us your thoughts on these questions. I’m just going to briefly introduce the subject and remind comrades we’re doing this event because the Biden administration’s policies have precipitated a humanitarian crisis on the border. And while Biden has repealed some of Trump’s most vicious immigrant orders, the Biden administration has maintained a closed border and expelled over 170,000 people, has thrown 19,000 children into detention centers, and pressured Mexico to bar migrants from its Southern border. We believe that the Biden administration has betrayed its campaign promises as well as the immigrant rights movement that supported it and brought it into power. As Marxists, we believe that workers of all countries should unite and that organized workers have nothing to lose but their chains. That’s the perspective which we hope will guide our discussion.
I also want to thank our co-sponsors Rampant magazine, New Politics and puntorojo. My name is Héctor Agredano and I will be moderating this event. Our platform for immigration rights is to abolish ICE, close the camps, full amnesty, and no borders. We also want to talk about Biden’s deportation number in his first 29 days, which stands at 26,248, along with the number of deaths on the Mexico border, and the amount spent on immigration enforcement. We also want to highlight that the Biden administration has deported more Haitians than the Trump administration. This has a particular impact on Black communities.
Our first speaker is going to be our compañera from Free Them All.
Anonymous: Hi everyone. So just to clarify, I’m actually not based at the border. Thank you again for having me today. I will be sharing my experience working with children at one of these camps that was actually located in Dallas, Texas.
First, I wanted to highlight that today marks the official beginning of the U.S.-Mexico war in 1846. This is something that came from the Zinn educational project that I really wanted to emphasize, especially when we’re talking about borders. The US conquest of Mexican territory as a result of the war would mark the second time that indigenous people and the lands of that region would be occupied by foreign empire, first the Spanish and now the American empire. This is one of the reasons that I really emphasize and refer to myself as a Tejana because it’s a reminder for many that we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. And I want to emphasize that the border and the entire immigration system upholds the settler-coloinal and white supremacist project through the enforcement of borders and by determining who is worthy enough to “legally” immigrate to the United States, even though this project itself is founded on the murder, rape, and decimation of indigenous people. My fight for migrant liberation is my own form of resistance against the white supremacist project.
And then some of the points I want to emphasize when I’m giving my account is that the camps are not just at the border. And this is something that we really need to pay attention to. They’re in places like Dallas, which is North Texas, and places like Houston, Texas. And the children being held in these camps are more than a number or statistic. They each have their own stories and have made the journey that is often a very violent one to the U.S. The photo that I have here is drawn by a seven year old, Ivana, who drew a picture of herself inside a cage near the river. Her tía waits for her on the other side, standing next to an American flag. There’s also this emotional trauma that cannot be erased from children being held in cages.
Secondly, there are private security firms that are making profits off caging these children and building this infrastructure. And finally, efforts should be directed at re-unification and not building more cages for children.
In the beginning of March, I volunteered at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center located in downtown Dallas. This is a large convention center and at that point there are around 2,000 young boys between the ages of 14 to 17 being housed in this really large center. They are dressed in gray, white and navy blue sweatpants. It really startled me because it looked so much like a jail in terms of the space that they were in, and, also for me personally, how much they reminded me and looked like my younger brother. It was a very stark reminder of how differently my story would have been if my family didn’t migrate.
The way it was set up is there were rows of cots lined in a grid system, which I would later find out was how a boy would be located. So he was being located by his group number and cot number based on this grid system. So he became a letter and a number. And my role there was to locate youth in order for the volunteers to make calls to potential sponsors within the United States. And many of these young boys were coming from detention centers already at the border and had already been screened for potential sponsors.
The call center was staffed by a small number of volunteers. As I would walk around, I was just given a stack of papers and I was told to find these boys. And as I walked through the room, I was met with very sad and hopeful eyes. I was met with faces that were just waiting for me and hoping that I would call their names. I would sort through the stack of papers and apologize because I didn’t have their name and they weren’t able to make a phone call. Then among some of these rows of cots, there would often be one missing, and I would later learn that these spaces were empty because of the boy being diagnosed with COVID-19.
In this center, there was no space for social distancing whatsoever and so testing would occur weekly. If diagnosed positive, boys were moved off site. But when I asked, where are these children being moved? They didn’t tell me.
I engage in conversation with the boys while walking them over to the call center. The majority of them had made the journey from Guatemala. One boy I spoke to was very anxious because he had been at the center for seven days already and had not made a single phone call. The call efforts were poorly organized in the beginning, and calls were only happening twice a week before shifting to every day, which to me was really outrageous because you have 2,000 young boys who have potential sponsors in the U.S. but there weren’t efforts to communicate with them.
The boys were only allowed to call their proof sponsor or their lawyer, if they had one, and their consulate. They were not allowed to call back home and let their parents know that they arrived safely. Due to this anxiety of the uncertainty and of the overall process and delay, one of the times I was there, five boys actually ran away. They actually escaped from the center and the whole entire center was placed on lockdown while these boys were being forced to return to their cots and then they were just being counted over and over again. It was three hours later when the five boys were located at a 7 11 convenience store.
This is just to emphasize that there’s not enough case workers on staff. They’re completely understaffed. I just learned recently this past week that they’re going to be sending between 400 to 600 more young boys to the center. While I was there, I noticed that the American Red Cross was transferring their operations to Coleman International, which is a private security firm. It has just been awarded a $4 million contract by the Administration of Children and Families for emergency relief services for unaccompanied minors. Why would a contract be given to this international security firm to work with children?
At the end of March, almost 19,000 migrant children were stopped at the border and are currently in custody of the U.S. Health and Human Services, with an additional 2,853 children being held by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Immigrant justice activists and advocates are demanding that there be faster reunification for children with family in the United States. In order for this to occur, there needs to be priority towards reunification and funding going to having these call centers built out with trained caseworkers and not simply volunteers because all of this was being done by volunteers, even some of the activities that they had for the children. None of this $4 million was going towards developing a system to really reunite these boys [with their families]. It was just to build more jails and more camps.
Instead of awarding contracts to private security firms, there needs to be support that’s given to organizations currently doing this work and supporting them with the priority of reunification of these children. Then also Detention Watch Network and several other human rights organizations are demanding that the Biden administration rescind Title 42, which basically was border closure, and fully restore access to asylum at the borders, including ports of entry, to ensure unaccompanied children have immediate and consistent access to legal counsel and child advocates. So there is some push by immigrant and migrant justice organizations really calling on the Biden administration.
I just really wanted to share that piece where all this money is going towards creating these camps and you have children there who haven’t had contact with their family or with potential sponsors that they have in the U.S. I just wanted to end that it is our duty to fight for liberation for these children and all detainees and deportees. And it is our duty to win. Thank you.
Héctor Agredano: Thank you very much for those very needed and sobering insights from these facilities, compañera. Our next speaker is Ashley Smith.
Ashley Smith: Thanks Héctor. And thank you for the comrade who just spoke because I think it really demonstrates what a catastrophe Biden has caused not only on the U.S.-Mexico border but in these detention camps. Under Trump, we would have called them cages, but somehow Biden is getting a pass. And this is so at odds with what Biden promised to migrants and their children when he was running for office. He has repealed a bunch of Trump’s worst policies, but he has maintained Washington’s brutal border regime. And really, this should surprise no one. We all remember that Biden was Obama’s vice deporter-in-chief when they oversaw the largest number of deportations in the history of the United States during their eight years in office together.
Since he’s come into office, Biden has not stopped deportations, which continue as usual. He’s escalated expulsions, and he has maintained a closed border. And that closed border is directly responsible for this record number of expulsions that are going on. It is also responsible for family separation, which we decried under the Trump administration, but Biden is getting a pass. What is happening is families get to the border and they let their kids go across. And then those kids get detained in the camps that our comrade was just describing.
I think it is high time for the migrant justice movement and the Left to come out full square, no apologies in opposition to what Biden is doing on the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the United States. And not only in the United States, but how the U.S. is using an imperial border regime to increasingly deter and deny the rights of migrants to come into the U.S. and freely move throughout the world.
It is the case that all capitalist states have border regimes that they use to depress the value of migrant labor and to politically divide the working class between migrants and other workers within their borders. That is, as Frederick Douglas said, “they divide both to conquer each.” This is a classic mechanism to lower the value of labor overall, and to criminalize a super cheap labor force for the benefit of capital.
The U.S. forged its particular border regime through the history of settler colonialism, genocidal conquest of native American land, imperial seizure of Mexican land, and then has policed this border regime ever since in a racist and xenophobic fashion to control the labor flows of migrants into the U.S. In the neoliberal period, the U.S. opened the world economies to its multinationals and simultaneously built an empire of borders to police migration. So they opened the world to capital and increasingly monitored, policed, and blocked the migration of the world’s people. In this situation, I think it’s very important to understand that, far from being a victim of some so-called migrant crisis, the U.S. is the main cause of the crisis of migration in our world today. Biden has been an accomplice in most of the policies that the U.S. has enacted that have caused the migration of people out of their homelands. He’s been in government while the U.S. has implemented policies that are directly responsible for global climate change, which is one of the key factors that is displacing people, in particular from central America, where the severe storms that have been brought upon those countries have been made so severe by the patterns of global climate change.
Biden has also supported all the neoliberal free trade deals that have wrecked central America’s economy, undermined the Mexican economy, all for the benefit of American corporations. In so doing, when people lose their traditional forms of employment, be they as farmers or in traditional national capitalist corporations in their home countries, they lose their livelihoods and are forced to flee their countries in search of a better life, often coming to the United States. He’s also supported all sorts of right-wing coups, in particular in Honduras, and a whole history of U.S. imperial support for undemocratic, repressive regimes in the region, in the so-called Northern triangle, which is the epicenter of a lot of the migration. And he’s backed the construction of the border regime along the U.S.-Mexico border and its internationalization to police the migration that the U.S. has caused. That border regime ensures cheap criminalized labor that comes into the United States for U.S. corporations. And we know under the pandemic how essential these workers are to the entire functioning of U.S. capitalism. It’s estimated that half of the 11 [million] undocumented workers in the United States are actually essential workers. That is, we wouldn’t have food on the table, we wouldn’t have all sorts of services without the labor of this criminalized labor force that is criminalized precisely by the border regime that Biden helped construct.
This bi-partisan border regime is one of the key factors for the rise of Trump and the right wing nativism that has particularly gone after migrants in the United States. But this is also a global phenomenon because the attack on migrants is a part of the new Right that’s risen in reaction to neo-liberalism. As class inequality has become exacerbated and as small business owners (the petty bourgeoisie) have been thrown into crisis, right-wing figures have used xenophobic nationalism to target migrants as the source of the problem rather than the capitalist system itself.
Trump obviously came to fame by going after migrants in particular. It was the heart of his America first nationalism. He really exploited the dynamics of anti-immigrant nativism that are the by-product of the border regime that both parties have constructed.
So if you want to find one of the key reasons for the rise of Trump, it’s the border regime that Biden helped construct. Trump in power unleashed some of the worst features of American nativism that we’ve seen in the history of this country. Things like banning Muslims, the family separation, et cetera. But rather than bolstering the position of U.S. capitalism and imperialism, Trump’s regime undermined it, and this begins to explain what Biden’s up to in particular that the Left needs to be clear about.
Biden came into office to implement a program of imperialist Keynesianism. His aim has been to rehabilitate U.S. capitalism and strengthen U.S. imperialism in particular to compete with China. That includes getting rid of some of Trump’s worst excesses which were a stain on the reputation of the United States in the world system, and therefore compromised its ability to win hegemony among the different capitalist states that are in its traditional alliance structures.
That has meant that Biden has moved to get rid of some of the worst excesses of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. And what he’s proposed to replace it with is what is conventionally referred to as “comprehensive immigration reform.” Biden has repealed many of Trump’s worst accesses, like the Muslim ban, but his proposed “comprehensive immigration reform” is flawed and dead on arrival. It includes an onerous path to citizenship that will exclude many, many people. It also includes border securitization and building a virtual wall based on high technology and a neoliberal plan for the further opening up of central America. This is absolutely no solution and it doesn’t even have support in Congress to make it through the legislative process.
Meanwhile, Biden has continued to deport people as usual. Most horrifically, during Black History Month, he deported hundreds upon hundreds of Black Haitians to conditions of absolute political instability in Haiti. He’s maintained the private detention system. And, I think worst of all, maintained the closed border. He has done so based on maintaining Trump’s Title 42, which was designed and imposed on the CDC by none other than Stephen Miller, the arch racist, anti-immigrant bigot who was at the heart of Trump’s nativist policies. And actually it was imposed on the CDC against their wishes and most public health officials oppose this. What Title 42 does is enable Biden to maintain the closed border based on the danger of the pandemic. Now, all of this is groundless because the U.S. border is open to tourists going all over the world and into central America and Latin America. But it’s closed to migrants and closed to migrant workers moving across the border. In other words, it’s a class biased, racist, xenophobic policy that has no foundation in public health concerns.
So Biden has closed the border, and this is what’s caused the humanitarian crisis that we’re witnessing. He’s expelled 170,000 people based on the closed border in March. He’s expected to expel around 172,000 in April. He’s got 19,000 kids that have been put in cages. Rather than help these people who are fleeing desperate conditions, he’s actually moved to expand and internationalize the border regime even more. He’s launched a media campaign in Mexico and in central America telling people they’re not welcome, that they shouldn’t come, that the border is closed. In other words, he is treating people as the problem as part of the border regime. He’s also enlisted Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to use their military and police to stop migrants from coming. He’s proposed an aid plan to central America that backs the existing regimes, calls for neoliberal reforms, and increases border policings.
Socialist should absolutely oppose what Biden is doing right now. And the migrant justice movement, like we’re beginning to do on May Day, should get out on the streets and start protesting what Biden is doing and fight for our own program.
We must demand that Biden let the migrants in. He should revoke Title 42 right now. We should call for Biden to stop all deportation. It’s in his power to do that. We should agitate for Biden to free them all and reunite the families. And we must oppose Biden’s expansion of the border regime. These are all immediate demands on the road to abolishing ICE and opening the borders of this country for the free movement of all people. Socialists must fight for a world without borders where no one is illegal.
Héctor Agredano: Fantastic. Great closing comrade. I totally agree. These should be the positions and the arguments we should be advancing in the movement.
I want to introduce our next speaker, Luis Rangel Rojas, a comrade from the Workers Revolutionary Party in Mexico who’s going to be following up on some of the things Ashley was mentioning.
Luis Rangel-Rojas: Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for the invitation. It’s also a pleasure to see many of you. I’m going to share a small map. This map was made by the comrades of Geo-Comunes, a network of radical geographers that are active in support of the social movements. Originally, this research is about the mega-projects we are facing during the current government of López Obrador. And I wanted to bring it here because from our point of view, the role of the Mexican state, especially since the beginning of the 20th century until now, is to stop all the central American immigration. Not only with police and military, but also with facility infrastructures. You can see the Correddor Transistmico, a project for connecting both oceans, Pacific and Atlantic, in order to help the U.S. East Coast get commodities from China cheaper and faster.
It’s actually not a new project. Since 1859, when President Juarez signed the McLane-Ocamp Treaty with the U.S. government, there had even been a chance that what is today the Panama Canal would be built here in this region of Mexico that is known as the Isthmus Tehuantepec.
So there’s a long history of imperialist politics around this region for commerce and trade reasons. But recently it also became literally the wall, as Trump said, for central America. Because here you have economic special zones, you have trains, you have highways, you have extremely militarized trains going all the way down that stop the migration flows.
If you see the map, the purple dots are the main migrant routes from central America to the North. And as you can see, it goes very close to the different projects. And also, especially the one that goes through the Gulf of Mexico, it’s also one of the main drug routes. So we have three phenomena going on together. On one hand, all these mega projects and long-term imperialist projects in this southern border. In a second place, the main migrant routes. And in the third place we have the drug cartels. So these three issues get together.
If we want to analyze Biden’s migrant policy and its relationship with Mexico, we need to think that our political cycle does not have the same rhythm as the U.S. cycle. We had our national presidential elections in 2018 and the López Obrado period will end in 2024. So the López Obrador government entered a Trump’s administration and now will end with Biden’s.
I think it could be useful to compare López Obrador’s policy around the migrant issue in terms of the central American migration, but also in terms of the Mexican communities and Mexican migrants in the U.S., when Trump was in office and now. From our point of view, what actually happened is that the migration issue was used as a bargaining chip for the nationalist interest of López Obrador. Just a small note: when we talk about nationalism it is not like in the U.S. where it immediately refers to extreme Right, a neo-fascist issue. In Mexico and mostly in Latin America, when we talk about nationalism, it’s not exactly that. It could be also governments that want to promote national-rooted economic development, in this case for Mexican people in the Mexican territory.
So for López Obrador’s nationalist interests, He wanted to keep calm with Donald Trump. He wanted to save the NAFTA [agreement], especially around the NAFTA negotiations. As you may remember [they were] at the same time one of the first migrant caravans was crossing through Mexican territory.
And by the way, from our point of view, the caravans are a very important phenomenon because when individual migrants or small groups of migrants go through Mexican territory, they face the narco and organized crime terror. And when they get organized, with the public, with the media etc, they can find the police or the border patrol at the end of the way, but they can go more or less with safety through Mexican territory. When the caravans were going through Mexico territory, NAFTA negotiations were in place. And Trump, as you remember, he threatened Mexico to get out of the treaty.
López Obrador used the police, and used the army, to stop the caravans. So after Trump’s administration, the expectation of the Mexican Right was to face Biden and López Obrador confrontation. From our point of view, that will not be the case. We think that López Obrador has the kind of nationalist project where migrations and Mexicans outside our territory can be a bargaining chip. But also we have a lack of sovereignty. Our government, even if we had the best left-wing socialist government, we have a lack of sovereignty because we are facing the fucking U.S. empire.
For ending, just three general reflections. In one case, it’s very important for the Left and social movements here in Mexico to get more involved in supporting the migrant issue. It’s quite common that just in the border cities, there are strong social movements that organize, that make solidarity, etc. But in Mexico City, Guadalajara, in many other places in the country where migration is not an everyday issue, the Left wing and trade unions are involved in other agendas. That said, there are very important experiences as Las Patronas that help with food migrants in the south, etc. But also because we need to denounce and stop the barbaric conditions that the migrant community goes through in Mexico City.
For example, the case of Camargo Tamaulipas in January, 2021, where 19 migrants from Guatemala were martyred there and burned in our northern border in Tamaulipas, near the Texas border. That case [illustrates] a complex corruption and collaboration scheme between the drug dealers, the organized crime, the state, the police, etc., and that’s the deepest problem for us. And finally, for you, we think that at the end, for Mexican social movements, Left, we must go and fight against that. And also of course, denounce the cages and the detention centers in the U.S. because if we look at the whole picture, migrants from central America walk across this hell all the way in Mexican territory just to end in the detention centers.
It’s not that, Okay, you go through all this and maybe you have your safety, some dignity at the other side. We can not have any expectations that the López Obrador government will take any strong positions around the migrant issue. We’ll be just following general orders from the U.S. empire no matter who is in office.
Héctor Agredano: Thank you for that, Luis, also a very sobering description of what’s going on in Mexico and the role of Mexico. Our next speaker is Justin.
Justin Akers Chacón: Thank you. Good morning. I’m going to talk a little bit about the political economy of bordered capitalism and connect some of the threads that have already been mentioned. Thanks for the excellent presentations.
So, I’ll talk specifically about the North American capitalist model in terms of how U.S. capitalism functions as a region. There’s been a regional trans-nationalization of commodity circulation, production, and financialization with U.S. capital at the center of that. This sort of contextualizes how we can begin to see the specific characteristics of how the economies are integrated, [how] migration functions, and how this all fits into how capital accumulation has been structured, especially in the last three decades but accelerated under the conditions of economic crisis.
Through the ageis of free trade agreements, there are many different techniques for opening borders for capital export. U.S. capital has extended production chains across the region and further consumed public and private industries across Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. It has engaged in mega extraction projects and has essentially displaced or partnered with national capital and is partnering and/or buying with foreign capital. But the culmination is that U.S. capital has implanted itself in the region on a scale that I think is greater than it was at the eve of the Mexican Revolution in terms of U.S. capital concentration.
But on the other hand, this has also created a kind of regional proletariat chain linking workers across these borders in different ways. So in one way, inside the United States, we have especially over the last three decades significant transfers of immigrant workers from Mexico especially, and then central America and the Caribbean.
We have immigrant workers living in the United States now over the course of three decades. We have migrant refugee workers who are basically displaced in the process of moving across borders. And then we have captive workers. Borders are designed to not stop the flow of workers, but to contain the workers who are now sort of nestled in the production chains inside these nations, disproportionately women and older workers who have less mobility and less means of navigating a migration.
Over the last three decades, we now can say that many workers in the U.S. and across this region have the same bosses. The bankers who extract our wealth through our debt and in other forms here are the bankers who are doing that in Mexico, the same bankers that are doing it in Guatemala.The same investor groups are operating to extract our surplus value across borders. The same multinational corporations are in operation, etc.
So over the last three decades, this reorganization of capital has been carried up through the agents of the state to restructure it. Starting with the neoliberal crisis of capitalism and extending through free trade, smashing of unions, the suppression of opposition, the tiering of production, all of the reorganization of capital in the United States. And then this is extended internationally through the nodes of regional trans-nationalization.
I really want to emphasize the role of the state. I refer to this as the migra state. The migra state is the growing apparatus of the state specifically directed towards this form of capital accumulation. Starting in the 1970s, the beginning of the industrialization, working of unions coincides with another phenomena on the U.S.-Mexican border, which is the end of the Mexican national capitalist model of industrialization. And of course, this was aided in large part by U.S. opposition to Mexican autonomous economic development. The U.S. is always trying to undermine Mexican development because they prefer to keep it a repository of natural resources and exploitable labor. But the model of capitalist development under post-revolutionary Mexico itself had its own mutations and failings.
Essentially, that model’s failure contributed to the beginning of out migration, especially in the debt crises of the 1970s that extended all the way through the 80s and [we]began to see a transition in the United States away from the guest worker model towards the preference for undocumented workers. We can get more into why undocumented workers have so much embedded value, but one of the most immediate values for capital, that they began to recognize in the 1960s transitioning from the Bracero program, was the large population of these workers and the fact that capital did not have to invest in their maintenance for reproduction. Workers provided their means of crossing the border. And capitalists saw this as a means to structure labor markets. Whole industries in the U.S.—manufacturing, food industries, construction service sectors—essentially had migrants replace children of blue collar workers who moved to other industries, moved to larger cities, or, if they had the opportunity to get a college education, then moved into the professions.
In the late 1970s, there was talk of an amnesty, essentially creating the conditions where these workers could be legalized, because the idea was that a first-generation migrant crossing the border who had legalized…could be counted on to work one job or one industry over the course of their lifetime and that would be a source of continuous surplus value. But it might mean that Mexican workers in the 1970s and 1980s did have experience with unionization.
They did have experience with organization. And starting in the 1970s, many of these migrant workers, like other workers, wanted to negotiate better conditions and wages. And one of the ways of doing that even without documentation was simply changing jobs. So for instance in the carpet industry, in places like Georgia, they would go into these carpet mills, and then if they didn’t like it they would quit and go down the street to work.
The practice of mobility actually made it difficult for capital to keep them in their positions.
So we see amnesty happen in 1986, and this created a massive surge of workers into unions. Especially after the 1970s, this was the greatest significant surge of unionization in the United States, through the legalization of over three million undocumented workers with the passage of IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act). (With citizenship, many went on to join unions without fear of reprisal or deportation).
This also attracted the attention of unions. So starting in the 1970s, unions began to pick away and become focused on organizing these workers into unions. This shifted a lot of the discourse around immigration. Between 1976 and 1983, various state agencies, think tanks, the U.S. Naval college, a number of state and parastatal agencies began to talk about the need to contain the border, seeing migration as a destabilizing force and introducing the sort of reactionary populism of the need to protect U.S. jobs from migrant workers.
Immigrant workers and these “contained workers” have always been at the head of the struggle with U.S. workers on the question of the need for solidarity and [the need to] join unions.
This was also expressed in 2003 with the immigrant worker freedom rides, which were largely organized through unions by immigrant workers, which culminated on May 1, 2006 and the call for another amnesty. Several million workers came out led by the workers themselves through the integral organizations of immigrant workers, but with the resources of unions. And it produced a very significant shift in discourse in this country. And this movement positioned itself as the next wave of unionization and legalization. But between 2006 and 2007, the U.S. state smashed that cellular organization of immigrant workers through workplace raids, deportations, the expansion of ICE, the interiorization of ICE. All of this was essentially a clamping down of that kind of worker-led organizing. And the atomization and smashing of that movement shifted the center of struggle to nonprofits and NGOs. Struggle is a generous word, but the focus was now through electoral means rather than mass action. Furthermore, starting in 2006/07 and then extending all the way to the present, the U.S [started] shifting towards the militarization of the region, [for e.g.] the Mérida Initiative, the partnering with the Mexican state of Felipe Calderon to launch the ”war on drugs,” the containment of Venezuela, the overthrow of [President] Zelaya in Honduras, among other factors that are creating the securitization, the militarization of the region that coincides with the border of U.S. and Mexico.
To wrap up, I’ll just emphasize that even with the level of oppression, we do see more struggle developing through the nodes of this trans-nationalization. Between 2013 and 2020 four transnational worker strikes, including a strike in 2015 in Baja, California below San Diego involved over 25,000 migrant workers, many indigenous workers from the south of Mexico. There were 45 wildcat strikes across the maquiladoras privately concentrated in U.S. companies on the Mexican border. There were general strikes more recently in Haiti and Honduras against U.S.-backed regimes. And in the U.S., we’ve seen the beginnings of forms of non-linear oppositions to the wall, including the border wall budget showdown (and anti-family separation protests) in 2018 when flight attendants led by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, waged a campaign to stop deportations, getting airlines to refuse to collaborate with the Trump administration and even threatening to go on strike to oppose Trump’s budget that included funding for a wall, which won, and ended expansion of the border wall.
There’s a lot more examples, but I’ll just conclude by saying that these movements have surged and regressed. The state, on the one hand, played a significant role repressing transnational movements. Our political system, as well. Biden is an unreconstructed border militarist. Bernie Sanders, The Squad, and progressive have tailed the movement of 2019 and essentially played the historic role of tailing popular movements, but then co-opted and handed those movements back to electoral campaigns, which have turned out to be dead ends. They have prioritized bailing out capital, an infrastructure plan that is essential to preserving capitalism.
And now that they are in power, they’re in charge of the migra state and have effectively abandoned reform altogether and are already positioning themselves for a right turn. Because of this, the Republicans who have been demolished in previous episodes of the immigrant rights struggle in 2006 and 2008, are now being re rehabilitated (especially the far right wing) due to the incapacity and unwillingness of the Democrats to actually push any meaningful reform. So we’re already seeing the America First hawkers, we’re already seeing rehabilitation of the “build the wall” rhetoric within the Republican party. We’re going to see new manifestations of the Minutemen and the Tea Party.
We have to contribute to building a movement that is centered around abolitionism, that unites with forces and the methods of the Black Lives Matter movement, and ties the struggle to need for revolutionary transformation.
In the next year, we’re going to see the Right return to the streets, we’re going to see immigrant workers and other manifestations of the Left express themselves in the streets. You have to be very clear and delineate a revolutionary internationalism that is essential for rebuilding the kind of movement that’s going to open the border.
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