Immigration: A Socialist Perspective

By Maria Cristina Gutierrez

This is the text of a speech given by the founder of Barrio Unido for General and Unconditional Amnesty, at a forum sponsored by the Party for Socialism and Liberation in April 2010.

Brothers and sisters, comrades and friends,

Immigration for survival has been going on from the beginning of time. Even the birds migrate to other areas where they will be able to survive. Human beings from the beginning were looking for a place where their basic needs would be met. At the time there were no countries or no borders. But as they began to settle in the places that provided them with food and shelter, the process of exploitation also began to develop—feudalism, slavery, capitalism, imperialism, and the accumulation of capital. This was made possible by the oppression of women, which was key for the development of capitalism. It was through the oppression of women that the laws of inheritance and private ownership of land, cattle, and other goods was able to succeed.

Today immigration continues to be a survival skill. The Darwin theory of the survival of the fittest is constantly being tested. The similarity of our first humans’ migration and ours today is that we both were looking for a better life. The differences are the formation of Capitalist Imperialism. As we humans began to settle, the formation of countries and borders as the result of the development of private property ownership of the land, factories and multinationals, turned immigration into a savage and criminal struggle to survive.

In the 70s and 80s the reason for immigration to the United States and other countries was due mostly because of political persecution from the military dictatorships, the wars, and violence financed by the United States of North America. In the 90s the predominant causes were economic and social; the demographic increase, poverty, unemployment, discrimination, the worsening of salaries, the lack of land to cultivate; all of this is the result of monopoly capitalism that also makes sure that the humanity and solidarity among the working class is ripped from the heart of the workers and in its place is put a feeling of competition with each other. It has made us believe that we don’t need anybody, that we are on our own and that if we push hard enough and screw everybody up we will make it and one day we will be rich. Every worker is our enemy; the bosses and the rich are our friends because one day we will be rich and powerful like them. It makes us believe that we should be waiting for “somebody” out there to save us and that “somebody” is not our fellow workers but the rich and the politicians.

The immigrant worker has been made to believe that they have come to live the American dream in the richest and best country in the world. The transnationals try to make us forget that it is the exploitation of our countries’ natural resources, which now include our labor force, that has made this country so rich and ours so poor. The monopoly capitalism has become so savage that the “Remesas” (money sent back to family members in their home country) constitute the number one source of income for countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the second source of income for countries like Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico. It is because of this exploitation that we are forced to come here to sell our labor, our dignity, and to be used by the bosses to undercut jobs and wages for workers in this country, like what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, where workers from Mexico, India and other countries were brought here to work for two or three dollars-an-hour while the Black workers were not allowed to participate in the rebuilding of their own city.

The majority of our immigrant brothers and sisters come looking for the American dream. It was ok with them the way things were going. They were used to the raids and deportations. It was an everyday thing; they would cross the border again and again. And for the majority of them, their plans were to go back home some day. But the bourgeoisie of the U.S. made a big mistake when they tried to criminalize not only the undocumented worker but also their families, friends, and organizations that helped them by trying to pass the Sensenbrenner (hr4437) bill (Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act.)

Masses of documented and undocumented workers took to the streets! Class solidarity and consciousness began to take root in the hearts of the immigrant workers. With no one to lead them they took to the streets. Sensing this vacuum of leadership, the nonprofits, the Democratic Party, and in some sectors the Catholic Church, took over as the spokesmen for the immigrant rights struggle and began pushing the demand of a migratory reform and/or legalization under the slogan, “Today we march tomorrow we vote,” without speaking on what kind of reform and what kind of legalization we wanted and needed. Many immigrant groups were opposed to this demand because they felt that we were allowing those who were attacking us, our own enemy the government, to decide what kind of reform we were going to get and what kind of legalization they would give us. The immigrants from the beginning wanted amnesty, they did not quite understand what it meant exactly but at least they were the ones calling the shots—general and unconditional amnesty for all.

The Catholic and other churches, the nonprofits, and some of the liberals claimed that amnesty was related to guerrillas in Latin America and this issue of immigrant rights was not political, that it was a human rights issue and that if we asked for amnesty we were asking for forgiveness. We, the immigrants, know that we have no need to apologize or ask for forgiveness. First of all, we have broken a law because that law needed to be broken; because the law is inhumane; because we the immigrants are here as a consequences of the U.S. imperialism. The U.S. needs to recognize that they are responsible for what is going on in our countries and for leaving us no other option but to leave our homes and families. Therefore, to give amnesty is nothing but recognition of the war they have waged against our people and reparation for the harm done to all of us. Many wanted to raise the demand of open borders because the rich bring their factories; their McDonalds, their maquiladoras (A maquiladora or maquila is a factory in Latin America that imports materials and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly or manufacturing and then re-exports the assembled product, usually back to the originating country.) And they don’t need papers! Therefore we, the workers, should be able to cross the borders to find a way to feed and shelter our families without papers too! The struggle went on with the nonprofits saying we will never get amnesty so let’s soften our demand.

Well they got the reform that most of them accept and support even though it will continue to legally criminalize the immigrant workers. Many nonprofits benefit from this situation. In San Francisco alone, millions were given to the nonprofits to assist the undocumented. We must remember the nonprofits have clients and can mobilize clients, but they do not have a base in the working class. The nonprofits are looking for what benefits them as government funded organizations.

What is the meaning of this? That the immigrant workers get mobilized but not organized. Workers are getting mobilized for different demands and they are going and marching because they need a solution. They are being told that the system works and all they need is the right politician to carry out their demands to congress or the right government offices and the problem will be solved. The liberals and Democrats told us to believe in Obama. That he will change our situation and give us a good immigration reform. The reality is that nothing has been done around the reform. But, during the first year of the Obama administration, 387,790 immigrants were deported—61.8 percent more than during the yearly deportations by the Bush administration. If we continue like this an average of one to 1.5 million people will be deported in the Obama administration and five million will lose their jobs because the expanding of the “E-verify” program (Electronic I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification). Our communities will be hunted by the state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies.

Undocumented workers are totally excluded from the health insurance reform, which will also make emergency room healthcare unavailable to them. The cuts on education will affect the undocumented immediately, leaving them without access to education. The possibility of buying a house has already become a no-no in the past twelve months. Meanwhile the Obama Administration is pursuing an unfair free trade agreement with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, that together with the financial collapse in the USA, will force more immigration—more people making the dangerous journey to the north.

Today as I am speaking here, the signing of SB1070 (Immigration, Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act) by the governor of Arizona took place making it into law. This is a law that criminalizes the immigrant, their friends and their families, and makes the undocumented immigrant a truly hunted animal in the U.S.. This is the situation that we face, but the immigrant workers need to continue believing in the American dream because no other alternative is offered to them.

We revolutionaries know that we, immigrant workers, documented or undocumented, are part of the working class in the U.S.! We know that we are here because of the policies of imperialism—because the U.S. has taken all our natural resources—including our labor force. Imperialism has taken the maquiladoras, the factories, into our countries, to then take them away, leaving the workers unemployed. And while the maquiladoras are there, they pay our workers minimum salaries with no benefits and no future. The empire has financed and militarily supported the displacement of peasants and workers in Mexico, Colombia and many other countries. Stealing their lands and giving them to the multinationals, causing the food production to suffer and making the land unavailable to the people to grow and use it for the workers’ benefit. Instead it is being used by the multinationals to produce fuel.

The Mexican worker, for example, is not able to grow corn for their own tortillas, which is a basic in their daily diet. They have to import corn from the U.S., which makes the price of tortillas too high for the workers. Meanwhile the land in Mexico is used for the growing of corn by the multinationals for the production of fuel—not food. The U.S. finances and protects the military regimes that persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed the trade unionists, the human rights activists, and the revolutionaries of our countries who opposed or denounced these situations. In Latin America thousands have disappeared, thousands have been tortured and murdered. Their sin: to denounce the alliance of the U.S. and the corrupt Latin-American governments.

Our struggle for immigrant rights is directly connected to the struggle against imperialism. It is imperialism that forced us to leave our homes and our families. And it hunted us there, and it hunted us here. It humiliated us and has taken control of our lives and used us against our brothers and sisters right here. It constantly tries to dehumanize us.

But we know that the future belongs to us, the workers. We know socialism is possible. We know that only the workers and revolutionaries can bring socialism about. We need to build a society where we own the factories, the lands, the banks—a society where we are guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and jobs. A society where there will be no borders for the working class.

To achieve this we must make sure that every demand that we support or we put forward must lead us to raise the consciousness of the working class. We must make it clear to our fellow workers that as socialists, as communists, we will be with them hand in hand supporting their struggle for reforms to better our lives. But we must let them know that capitalism will make sure that every demand of the workers will be used against them, like the immigration reform that criminalizes the immigrant worker and sets the path for a legalized workers program that will continue to exploit us. We must let them know that socialism is the only answer for the working class. And that we must organize as a class whose goal is that one-day we will mobilize to take the power of the state into our hands so we can build socialism. That, comrades and friends, must be the number one mobilization in our agenda.

Unconditional amnesty for all!

Open borders!

Workers of the world unite!

Long live socialism!