All this talk about urgent immigration reform between Democrats and Republicans is a cruel hoax. It is nothing but a continuation of the long-running U.S. policy directed at:
- Keeping Mexicans and Latin American undocumented workers disorganized and marginalized.
- Penetrating and manipulating the Mexican economy so as to make Mexico into a neo-colony of U.S. business for the exploitation of Mexican workers and natural resources.
- Neutralizing successive Mexican administrations through bribes, economic and banking intimidation and with the ever-present threat of military intervention.
American immigration policy is inherently racist. It places the greatest onus of undesirables on people of color, and therefore makes them the object of police apprehension and exclusion from the country. On the scale of unwanted ethnicity, Mexicans are number one, followed by Asian and Middle Easterners. Russians, Irish and other Europeans hardly get a wink from the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Yet there are significant numbers of white undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S. but they are not subjected to profiling, neighborhood sweeps, detention centers, criminalization, or even discussions of them as a problem.
Immigration reform does not address the real reasons why undocumented workers from Mexico and Latin America are forced to leave their homelands. Conditions of poverty, environmental degradation by foreign corporations and oppressive local oligarchs supported historically by U.S. governments are the critical issues that propel emigration.
Politicians and their corporate sponsors continue to criminalize undocumented immigrants in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the benefits that the country receives in the form of cheap labor, which U.S. citizens refuse to do at that price.
The scope of discussion on immigration is so narrow that it is profoundly exclusionary. It focuses on who can come into the country and who can stay, and under what conditions. All the “push” factors are left out. This leads to the marginalization of the undocumented community who are forced to live in the shadows, stereotyped as robbers of jobs, burdens to society, with criminal tendencies and inferior values.
The last two administrations have built over 28 major detention centers to hold thousands of undocumented workers with their families for extended periods of time, much like the concentration camps which held Japanese Americans during World War II. Obama is deporting [at least 250,0001] Mexicans and other Latinos per year and has encouraged the profiling of Mexicans as undesirable aliens. Most cynically, Obama continues to ignore the thousands of families who have been separated by undocumented immigration. His proposal to allow students to remain in the U.S. while deporting their parents is an attack on the very foundation of family unity and stability. In short, he is playing the youth against their parents. He says that his hands are tied because the Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform, thereby hindering his ability to use executive powers. However, massive deportations continue by executive order.
Undocumented immigrants cannot come into the U.S., but hundreds of U.S. companies have unrestricted access to the Mexican economy with free rein to make super profits and to repatriate them back to the United States, thereby creating a severe capital drain for Mexico. The same scenario repeats itself throughout the continent. U.S. corporations now own over 500 of Mexico’s largest companies with the ability to direct and control the economy in their interests.
The U.S. has pursued a vigorous outsourcing of manufacturing plants. Over 2,500 plants have moved to Mexico and Central America taking three million jobs with them. These maquilas (run-away shops) employ mostly women workers at slave wages with no labor rights and few political rights. They are making the highest rate of profit in modern history.
Super exploitation is pervasive throughout the Americas. In Haiti, where over 250 well-known U.S. clothing manufacturers have set up shops, the average wage of women employees is 14-cents-an-hour. Both Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush conducted military coups (and a presidential kidnapping) of President Jean Bertrand Aristide who was attempting to curb the economic exploitation of his people, the poorest in the hemisphere.
Another seething unmentionable issue is the trade debt. This is the product of the unequal value of imports to exports. Underdeveloped countries sell cheap raw materials to the developed countries and buy costly manufactured goods from them. The difference in value is owed to the developed nation. Currently, Mexico must use 55 percent of its national income just to pay the interest on the debt. In addition, they must make payments to the International Monetary Fund, which provides loans to poor countries who have difficulty making payment on the debt. Most Latin American nations have monumental trade-debts, which keep them trapped in perpetual poverty in monetary terms and in underdevelopment, forcing people to emigrate. The trade debt is un-payable because the rules of the IMF insure perpetual control of the wealth of 3rd World countries. It has become an established practice to perpetuate the debt so as to exact more pillage of resources.
In another egregious contradiction of who can be allowed into the U.S., the government has accepted thousands of murderers, torturers, terrorists and right wing dictators, who have carried out U.S. economic policy in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile under Pinochet, Nicaragua under Somoza and many others. Jose Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, two Cuban terrorists working for the CIA, carried out the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing 73 medical students and members of the Cuban fencing team returning from competition in Venezuela. They are now living comfortably in Florida as respected, legal residents, avoiding extradition back to Venezuela with the help of the U.S. government.
Another seldom talked about subject is the double standard of Cuban immigration verses Mexican and Latin American immigration. Since 1960, over a million Cubans have been allowed into the U.S. with no restrictions and with automatic legal residence and even social services. Meanwhile, the United States has waged 50-plus years of economic warfare against the island of just 11 million people, depriving the Cuban nation of vital economic resources. The blockade, illegal according to international law, and condemned by the entire United Nations (except U.S. and Israel) is geared to destabilize Cuba and make the Cuban people suffer to the extent that they will overthrow their government. Economic deprivation, relentless psychological warfare and the threat of direct military intervention are ever present in the Cuban reality. They have resisted for over 50 years and have become a model of solidarity for many poor countries around the world. The ultimate contradiction is that every U.S. administration since the Cuban Revolution agrees that Cuba poses no economic or military threat to the U.S. or any other country.
None of this would happen if 3rd World political elites were not compliant partners of U.S. banking and corporate interests. In exchange for bribes and economic privileges, U.S. companies demand control of labor unions, keeping the cost of raw materials low, expanding the rules permitting exploitation, and reducing or eliminating the enforcement of environmental laws. NAFTA has been an economic disaster for Mexico but has been a boom for the U.S. and Canada.
The enormous contributions that immigrants make to the consumer and tax base have never been acknowledged by the American government. Immigrant workers pay taxes but cannot collect unemployment or receive social security or social services. All the monetary contributions that they make stay in the system to be exploited by all levels of government. They are often cheated by employers but cannot complain for fear of being deported.
The immigration “debate” will not include the most crucial contradictions. It will say nothing about alleviating poverty and deprivation. If Mexico and Latin America had viable economies, immigrants would stay home. U.S. immigration policy is not based on logical, humanitarian or sound economic development principles. Rather, U.S. economic elites have created a system of planned instability and crises in order to justify intervention and to extract economic demands. This is why poverty and disenfranchisement cannot be resolved. If Washington persists in maintaining a system with the underdeveloped world that is based on inequality and with an arrogance of superiority, economic and political relations will continue to deteriorate and further alienate the nations of the Americas.
Immigration reform must include:
- Full legalization and equal rights for all undocumented immigrant workers.
- The injection of massive economic aid to Mexican and Latin / American economies.
- Scrap NAFTA and CAFTA, two Free Trade arrangements that rob Mexicans and Central Americans of a living wage and humane living conditions.
- Stop supporting dictatorships and military coups.
- Normalize relations with Cuba.
- Adhere to human rights principles as stated in the Declaration of Human Rights.
- Stop all military aid to repressive governments.
- Initiate a climate of equal relations among Latin American States.
- Abolish the trade debt and the IMF conditions that enforce the rules of trade.
There are moral historical considerations for Chicanos/Hispanos. The values of our indigenous ancestors go back 17,000 years. In their view, the land belonged to everyone. The natural environment was zealously guarded from degradation and wanton exploitation. When the Europeans came with their concept of private ownership of nature, all ideas of peace, stability and mutual respect were eradicated. They engaged in a horrendous genocide of Native Americans, fostered practices that led to environmental degradation, and waged savage wars to takeover Indian lands. In the Southwest, both Chicanos and Indians were subjected to the notion of Manifest Destiny, that Anglo Saxon Americans were given God-sanctioned permission to own the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Wars and borders were the result.
Chicanos/Hispanos must reclaim their indigenous rights. It is a vital part of our human inheritance. It calls for establishing a serious connection with the Native American community in order to rediscover the culture that once was in our blood. It is our mandate for survival and change.
If the U.S. is not willing to drastically change the status quo, then the words of poet Henry David Thoreau at the time of the U.S. invasion of Mexico and the Southwest in 1846, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States,” will ring truer than ever.
Miguel Angel is Director of Casa de Cultura in Las Vegas, New Mexico
1 The best estimate is that the Obama administration made its two millionth deportation in late March 2014.