Statement by Kevin Akin, State Chair, Peace and Freedom Party
Posted on February 6, 2013 by the Communications Committee
Considerable excitement has been generated by a few Republican senators joining with Democratic colleagues to put forward an immigration reform plan. But an examination of this plan shows little reason to celebrate. Sadly, President Obama has indicated that he would sign this plan if it passes Congress, though he has a few quibbles about details. He has cancelled plans to put forward his own immigration proposal, while the senators' proposal goes forward.
Without going into every detail of the proposal, which is availabe here, let me summarize what I see as the three main parts of this plan (and apparently, of Obama's plan if he were to reveal it): a path to citizenship, a sealed border, and a guest worker program.
The step forward is a "path to citizenship." It is more of an obstacle course than a path, but at least it opens up some possibility of eventual citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers who have been in the United States for many years now. The present state of the law makes citizenship for these workers almost impossible. Under the plan, they would have to pay fines, pay back taxes on a basis yet to be determined (even though most of them have been paying most of their taxes right along), and many would be forced to leave the country for varying periods to apply to enter again (with no sure result).
Together with this flickering light of possible citizenship at the end of the tunnel, the plan would add some pitfalls and bottomless shafts to the tunnel, in order to please the anti-immigration fanatics and the corporate bosses who want their immigrant workers to have no rights.
The plan would apply vast resources to make the border totally secure, a goal that is basically unattainable, and a huge waste of money. (Certain "connected" firms would end up with most of the money, a pleasure for the senators to whom they give campaign cash.) And in its present form, the plan would include one ludicrous provision that would keep the "security" spending going even while preventing any undocumented immigrants from actually becoming citizens. A commission, with such members as border-state governors Jan Brewer of Arizona and Rick Perry of Texas (both eager Mexican-baiters who use immigrant-bashing to get elected), would have to certify that the border is perfectly secure before the other provisions of the plan could take effect! Don't hold your breath.
Total border security to thwart Al Qaeda by keeping out Mexican factory hands and Guatemalan farm workers may make sense to someone with a stake in a fence company, but it doesn't make any sense in the real world. So this is the first step backward.
The second step backward would be a "guest worker" program. Bringing back the old Bracero program under another name, and with some high-tech frills, would make sure that workers would be stripped of all labor rights, and be at the mercy of their employers. Join a union? Get deported! It is an old American tradition, at least for the last 150 years, that those who came to our land to work could join in deciding how the country is governed. (At least to the very limited extent our Republic has allowed.) But "guest workers" would have no right to vote, no right to organize, no right to speak freely, no right to complain - no rights at all. Not quite slavery, but certainly not freedom either.
In fact, the senators' plan represents what the corporate rich who control our government want to see for all of us: a right to work if they happen to want us to, but no other rights at all. This plan comes from Democrats and Republicans, the twin parties of big capital. Despite the rhetoric, those who control both big-money parties have no interest at all in expanding the rights of working people, documented or undocumented. If we want to make serious political gains for working people, we need to build a large and powerful Left that can challenge the rich for power. Only then, as history has shown time and time again, can workers make important gains.
Immigrants and their descendants make up over 99% of the population of the United States. (Even many Native Americans have some immigrant ancestors.) As current US residents have such a low birth rate that the population would drop without immigration (specifically, the working-age population that produces almost everything in our economy), immigration is needed to maintain our prosperity. Cutting off immigration, as some demand, would cripple our economy. Instead, we need to keep immigration open, and adjust the rules to permit those who are willing to work to come here with full rights. (And being willing to work, indeed eager to work, is the one thing almost all immigrants have in common.)
What would we in the Peace and Freedom Party like to see in an immigration plan? It's really pretty simple. First, we would recognize that all workers have basic labor rights, including the right to organize unions to represent themselves, and the right to strike if forced to do so by their employers. We favor full employment, so that the weapon of starvation cannot be used against workers. The minimum wage should be doubled, and fully applied to all workers. We favor ending deportations of workers and their families who live here now, whatever the status of their papers. End the terror.
We favor moving in the opposite direction to that the senators and the President have chosen: Instead of sealing the border, we want to move toward open borders. Yes, we know that the border is not going to be opened tomorrow. It takes preparatory work, and bilateral agreements with our neighbors. But we have the example of Europe in front of us, where for many years now people move freely from France to Germany to Austria to Italy without even showing their passports at the borders. It can be done. Instead of moving toward fortified borders, we need to announce the goal of open borders, and study and implement what is needed to achieve that goal. One day, and it could be surprisingly soon, travelers at the border could drive right by the guard post as the few guards watch television and read magazines - something I experienced twelve years ago at the border between France and Italy.
Everyone involved in the fight for immigration reform needs to keep these goals in mind, and press elected leaders toward their implementation. Stop the wrong turns - press on ahead for full worker rights and open borders.