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Who benefits from immigration bans?

By Paul D'Amato | March 31, 2006 | Page 9

IN THE global capitalist economy, corporations are constantly pushing for a virtually borderless world market when it comes to investment, taxation and tariffs.

But whereas capital is relatively free to cross borders, labor is not. Here we find myriad legal restrictions on the movement of human beings across borders.

These restrictions, however, do not exist to prevent the movement of people across borders so much as to control and regulate it. For the tiny minority of capitalists, the key question is how to ensure an abundant and cheap labor supply, and how to restrict it in periods when they don't need it.

At key points in the development of U.S. capitalism, immigrant labor has been an essential condition of economic expansion, both in economic terms (labor supply) and political terms (keeping workers separated according to language, race and nationality). But these periods have been followed by periods of political reaction in which immigration has been restricted, usually on a racist basis.

Anti-immigration laws don't prevent immigration any more than anti-drug laws prevent drug trafficking, but they make immigrants easier to exploit. Legal restrictions on contracted immigrant labor, as well as on undocumented immigrants, serves to prevent these workers from seeking the benefits that the taxes they pay should bestow on them, but most importantly, prevent them from standing up for better pay and working conditions.

Employers can hire undocumented workers at substandard wages, that is, super-exploit them, and then threaten them with deportation if they complain. Strikes, or any attempt at organizing, can be prevented by a simple phone call.

But there is also a political dimension. Immigrant-bashing, used deftly by demagogues from both parties, is an effective tool to divide and weaken the working class, by deflecting anger onto scapegoats.

In periods of economic crisis or recession, politicians begin demanding more immigration controls, complaining that immigrants are wrecking "our" culture, stealing "our" jobs and services, and so on. These racist appeals are used to turn native-born workers against immigrants and thereby weaken their ability to organize collectively against the same enemy that exploits them both, and which deprives them both of decent services.

During the post-war boom, when U.S. farms were facing labor shortages, the U.S. government implemented the "bracero" program. Over two decades, this program brought in 5 million Mexican workers at cheap wages and then obliged them to leave when their contract was up.
"We are asking for labor only at certain times of the year," said a California Land Bureau representative at the time, "and the kind of labor we want is the kind we can send home when we get through with them."

Various immigration proposals today, including Bush's and the McCain-Kennedy bill, are essentially bracero programs, and they too reflect the desire of U.S. capital for a cheap, disposable labor supply.

Tough laws against immigrants may curtail the inflow but cannot and are not really intended to completely do away with immigrant labor. Too many sectors of the U.S. economy simply could not function, period, without immigrant workers.

But the laws make immigrants' lives more miserable and harsh, increasing the likelihood of deadly human trafficking, of border patrol and vigilante murders of immigrants, and of immigrants dying from dehydration while attempting to cross desert areas.

The new mass movement against the draconian Sensenbrenner bill--which would brand not only undocumented immigrants but any individual or organization who assists them in any way as "aggravated felons"--is the most exciting political development in years.

But in building a movement to defeat that bill, we should not accept as a "lesser evil" any "bracero" bills that treat immigrants as second-class citizens to be exploited and tossed aside. We stand neither with the rabid right nor with capital, but for working-class internationalism, and the old labor motto: An injury to one is an injury to all.

We should, therefore, demand nothing less than full amnesty for undocumented workers, and insist, "Ningún ser humano es ilegal"--No human being is illegal.

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