Whatís Next for the Immigrant Rights Movement?
Nativo Lůpez is president of the Mexican American Political Association. He was a leading organizer of the huge demonstrations for immigrant rights in Los Angeles on March 25 and May 1. He spoke at a panel discussion about the future of the immigrant rights movement at the Socialism 2006 conference in New York City.
Thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation regarding the current status of the immigrant rights movement and attempt to answer the hardest question: What now?
We are in an interesting interlude. Some could paint it in a negative light, but I tend to believe that, in fact, there are very positive things we can draw from the current situation and the double fix the Democratic Party put this movement in, with the help of their auxiliary organizations.
I want to talk about this. Like in any movement, the struggle doesnít move in a direct path. Itís more of a crooked path.
What the Democratic Party and its auxiliary organizations did for us during the Easter interlude was a big favor. We donít realize it yet. We donít understand it completely yet. Iím still analyzing that period—what occurred and where we are today—but I have concluded definitively that they did us a big favor.
What is the favor that they did us? Certainly we know that they betrayed us, as historically has been the case for immigrants, for the working class, for national minorities in the United States.
One has only to look at the 4,000-plus deaths that have occurred on the border since the institution of the Gatekeeper program brought to us by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of the Democratic Party, and your friend, but not mine, President Bill Clinton. We can wail all we want against President Bush, but we absolutely know that the 4,000-plus deaths on the border can be directly attributed to President Clinton and Dianne Feinstein.
The Democrats were a majority in the Congress when that passed. The 1996 immigration ďreformĒ that occurred is the predecessor to the Patriot Act and everything the Bush administration did.
The swelling of the undocumented population in the United States, particularly from India, Mexico, the Philippines, is directly attributable to the legislation that was passed, which made it more difficult for families to reunify by putting a heavy burden on them, a heavy fine and forcing them to leave the country. Therefore, families stayed here to face greater penalties and the possibility of never legalizing their status.
All this is directly attributable to President Clinton, the Democratic Party, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus—those who seek to portray themselves today as the fighters for immigrant rights. Itís a bunch of hypocrisy.
Why was there so much unity and such a great, aggressive mass mobilization throughout the country at the beginning of 2006?
HR 4437, the author of which was Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, left absolutely no social space—none whatsoever—for the immigrant to accommodate themselves to a truly unjust system, but yet a system that allowed him or her to find a job that perhaps others were not willing to do and still survive and thrive and send money home to their loved ones.
HR 4437 didnít just put the burden on the immigrant. Had that been the case, employer associations, trade associations, the masses of churches, social organizations and even the Democratic Party would not have come forward to join the immigrant in this fight to defeat that legislation.
There was a situation where most people in society connected in any way with the dynamic of immigration saw the possibility of being criminalized themselves. Therefore, they were willing to come forward and join the immigrant in this fight.
In that sense, Sensenbrenner became a unifying factor, similar to how Gov. Pete Wilson did in 1994, when he was the bandleader for Proposition 187. We were then united on what we did not want. But we were not as united, weíre still not united on what we want.
This struggle surged from the bases, not from the hierarchies. Thatís an absolute truth that no one can deny.
To be completely honest with you, I can tell you that even the base leaders of this movement found themselves running a marathon—out of shape and trying to catch up to the masses that were demanding focused and disciplined action against HR 4437.
In fact, on March 25, when over 1 million people marched in Los Angeles, all the organizations in the coalition couldnít muster more than 500 people for security for the march. But itís a testament of the great discipline of the immigrant community that it self-secured a situation that could have easily gotten out of hand, had the police, LAPD and other right-wing forces been provoked into action.
After March 25 in Los Angeles, the hierarchies sought to assert themselves at the front of this movement, and to control it and force it and channel it to accept a compromise that they had already cut several years before.
That compromise that they cut several years before is embodied in the legislation called Kennedy-McCain, crafted by Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain, which essentially would codify in law more onerous employer sanctions than currently exist in law, and a massive contract-labor program in the United States.
For those who arenít familiar with it, there is an existing contract-labor program in the United States. Itís called the H2A program. It uses approximately 50,000 to 60,000 contract laborers, predominantly in agriculture. The McCain-Kennedy bill would expand that to half a million workers a year, and perhaps more.
I call it a contract-labor program, because thatís what it is. They like to call it by a benign name—a guest-worker program. As if workers are truly guests in the American house, when we know that the contract workers are treated as less than second-class citizens, and certainly not as guests.
The auxiliary organizations of the Democratic Party sought to assert themselves as leaders in this movement, and itís time to name names, because this is important. We must be truthful with our community. The deception must end.
The International leadership of the Service Employees International Union; the International leadership and some of the local leadership of Unite Here; the leadership of the United Farm Workers were all part of the deal. They were all part of the betrayal. The National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Immigration Capital Coalition, the Center for Community Change.
These organizations, which are based in Washington, D.C.—lobbyists, for the most part—are truly disconnected to the masses of immigrants and do not represent the interests of the masses of immigrants.
They represent the interests of Corporate America, because itís Corporate America that funds them and dictates to them the policies that they should pursue—beneficial to Corporate America, and perhaps some crumbs fall from the table that would benefit the immigrant community.
Certainly they need a faÁade to maintain the appearance of credibility, but we know that theyíre corporate-funded, corporate-directed, and they were doing the bidding of Corporate America, including those unions.
How is it possible that those three unions bolted from the AFL-CIO to create the new progressive Change to Win coalition, and they accepted the premise that contract labor in massive form could exist in the United States, with those unions be the beneficiaries by cutting deals with Corporate America for yellow-dog collective bargaining agreements, in which they would receive dues money from those contract laborers.
Itís shameful, and Ernesto Galarza, Burt Corona and Cesar Chavez are turning over in their graves. The very thought that leaders of those unions—which are part of the legacy of those three men—would be cutting a deal with Corporate America to support bracero-type programs, when they fought their whole lives to sunset existing bracero programs, which existed for over three decades, and fought to prevent their reinstitutionalization in the United States.
What I say, brothers and sisters, may be unsettling to some when this is published, but we intend to take our show on the road and tell the truth to the immigrant community, because there is nothing stronger than the truth—that we have been betrayed by these institutions and individuals.
Thatís why I say this is a positive occurrence. Because it removes any shadow of a doubt that such institutions represent the legitimate interests of immigrant workers in America.
The illusion will be shattered as it becomes quite apparent to the immigrant community that the nasty compromise the Democratic Party and its auxiliary organizations sought to consummate in the legislation of Hagel-Martinez was nothing but a sham and truly has nothing of merit for the immigrant community.
The May Day action, as never seen before, was truly a workersí action—from the bottom, not from the hierarchy. The message of the Great American Boycott surged from below—it was not imposed from the top.
In fact, the Democratic Party; its auxiliary organizations; the National Council of Bishops, particularly, Cardinal Roger Mahoney; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus fought tooth and nail, in tandem with corporate Spanish-language radio, to prevent the message of the masses in the Great American Boycott from reaching the ears of all immigrants throughout America, and they failed. They absolutely failed.
The Great American Boycott was successful because literally millions of people went into the streets, repudiating by their actions the message of the hierarchies. Because the message of the Great American Boycott was the message of the masses, and thatís why it prevailed—it was their own message. They imposed their message over the message of the hierarchies, and they won.
They demonstrated to all of America that their message was more powerful than the corporate media, their message was more powerful than the institution of the church, their message was more powerful than the institution of the Democratic Party and its auxiliary organizations. They heeded their own message, and they won.
Easter in 2006 is a day to be remembered, because just before the Easter recess, the immigrant rights movement won. It had definitively defeated HR 4437. It had prevented the Hagel-Martinez from seeing the light of day from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in that one instance, obeyed the message of the masses to not compromise with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and allow Hagel-Martinez to see the light of day.
Do you all recall that? The national debate on immigration had shifted favorably to us—to the masses of immigrants.
And in that two-week interlude, the cardinals went to Washington, D.C., Mayor Villaraigosa went to Washington, D.C., the Congressional Hispanic Caucus huddled with Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid, and Eliseo Medina, international vice president of SEIU; Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers; John Wilhelm of Unite Here.
They all huddled in Washington, D.C., and politically, they beat up poor Harry Reid. And Harry Reid cut the deal. We saw Hagel-Martinez debated in the Senate and approved by the Senate. We saw Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, the great California liberal, vote for the border wall, vote for National Guard on the border, vote for criminalizing employers with sanctions, vote for criminalizing immigrants with a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony offense, vote for eliminating due process rights to immigrants, vote for a massive contract-labor program. These are the measures they voted for, because this is what is contained in Hagel-Martinez.
Sensenbrenner and Sensenbrenner Lite—this is what we have today on the table. Weíre fighting not just one set of letters and numbers, weíre fighting two sets of letters and numbers: HR 4437 and S 2611.
But while it is a more difficult fight, the positive thing is that the immigrant will have no illusion that Barbara Boxer or the Democratic Party will fight to obtain what he and she truly deserve—a fair trade, a fair exchange for their labor.
This truly is the basis and the premise of our demand of amnesty for all immigrant workers, fully and immediately. Itís a fair exchange. This is our answer to the hypocrisy of the so-called free traders, the neoliberals of America, when they talk about free trade.
We talk about fair trade and fair exchange—that as an immigrant worker, if I am willing to come to America to work, to create value, to create wealth, to create assets for America, a true fair exchange to me should be permanent residence, immediately and fully for me and my family.
Brothers and sisters, I welcome your questions, but more your comments and your statements and your commitment to continue in this fight—to work with us to implement throughout the United States a popular referendum where we will go to millions of immigrants and ask them what they want in immigration reform. On November 7 of this year, we will ask all immigrants to go to the ballot to vote for true, fair, humane immigration reform.
The Republicans and the Democrats—these phonies will jostle and juggle over who will be the majority in Congress to continue to deny the rights of all working people. Because let us remember that with the Democrats controlling Congress and a Democratic president, they absolutely refused to reform federal labor law in America to allow workers to organize unions with no impediments.
So theyíre no better than the Republicans in power. In fact, they do a better job than the Republicans to prevent the working class to truly be free in America.
Our struggle today is to eliminate all the illusions in these Democrats and their auxiliary organizations and some of the union leaders. I say some union leaders, because we have observed that those union leaders who are closer to the base are more true to the base. That also applies to the church—to the parish pastor, who is pastoring on a daily basis and sees the suffering on a daily basis. Theyíre closer to the truth, because theyíre closer to the base.
So our job is to win over those intermediary and base leaders to have no illusions about what their leaders are doing in Washington, D.C. And be true to their constituencies, be true to the base, be true to the immigrants, and work with us to build the strongest, mightiest immigrant rights movement in America, which will spill over across all borders throughout the world.
Because our fight, brothers and sisters, is a fight to carry the message that the working class is an international class, and it has no borders.
—SocialistWorkers.org, June 30, 2006