After two years of YDS’ Immigrant Rights Project, it is clear that we must continue our activism around this issue. Our communities (and often our families) are full of immigrants seeking a better life, but facing a xenophobic backlash in the form of anti-immigrant graffiti, hate, violence, discriminatory housing laws, and racial profiling. Talk radio hosts call immigrants “cockroaches” and talk about shooting suspected “illegal aliens” on sight. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency colludes with local law enforcement to conduct phony “gang busts,” using outdated lists of suspected gang members as an excuse to attack immigrants (and often their American family members) in their homes. Once rounded up for deportation, immigrants are shuttled from jail to jail, held in often dangerous conditions and far from their families. More than 60 immigrants have died in custody since 2004 while awaiting deportation, often from heartless medical neglect (though ICE refuses to release information about all the deaths).
In fact, just as the Washington Post ran a special series highlighting the horrific stories of some of those imprisoned immigrants, ICE conducted what was the largest workplace raid in recent times; involving 900 ICE agents, and stole the headlines away. In the aforementioned raid, Iowa meatpacking workers were rounded up and corralled in a converted state fair cattle site to await processing. Unsurprisingly, the raid interfered with an ongoing state investigation of child labor and wage violations, designed to improve conditions in the factory. According to an interpreter brought in, most of the detained people pleaded to be quickly deported so they could try to feed their families by finding work back home, but they were instead sentenced to many months or even years in jail – a deliberate, double punishment.
It is no secret that the Postville ICE raid was a pilot operation, to be replicated elsewhere, with kinks ironed out after lessons learned. This acceleration of raids is only a continuation of mandatory deportation laws passed in the mid 1990′s which continue to punish legal U.S. residents even after they have served their time. Some of these crimes are minor and non-violent or even years before these laws were passed, but the offenders are being deported and separated from their families. Nearly 700,000 immigrants have been deported since these laws were passed and many had lived here their whole lives, because they were brought here as children. The recent increase in high-profile raids creates a climate of fear that impacts our immigrant solidarity work.
The other complicating factor is the presidential election. Senators Obama and McCain have different positions on immigration, especially now that McCain is pandering to the right-wing Republican base. However, we are troubled by Obama’s tepid support for immigrant rights. Since capital’s primary goal of a massive new guest worker program failed through the compromise Comprehensive Immigrant Reform bill (which YDS openly stood against), corporate interests are likely to push for this and other policies through individual legislation in the coming years, and we need Obama’s voice raised in solidarity with immigrants to keep the gains we have made. Obama’s plans to increase resources for processing citizenship applications, decrease raids and deportations, and potentially change our economic relationship with Mexico would clearly promote human rights better than those of McCain. While Obama’s campaign rhetoric is better than McCain, we do not rely on politicians to change the world. As democratic socialists it is our job to constantly pressure politicians to do the right thing, because as Frederick Douglass once remarked, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Furthermore, as socialists committed to true democratic politics, we believe that the fight for reforms is as much about empowering, positioning and preparing working people for the next fight as it is about winning any particular election or enacting needed legislation. As long as the Right spouts rhetoric that demonizes immigrant women, justifies the separation of parents without papers from their American children, and blames immigrants for wasting public resources in schools and hospitals, we will need to fight back. Our voices must be raised in solidarity with undocumented immigrants and our hearts and minds engaged in their struggle, for our battle against capitalism is intimately tied up in the fate of the most exploited workers.
Our role as democratic socialists is thus to organize our communities to side with progressive forces on immigration. The time is now to fight back against the scapegoating of immigrant workers. Our job as socialists is to educate our peers about the true culprit behind economic insecurity and depressed wages: the capitalist system of exploitation. The Young Democratic Socialists nationally and locally must mobilize young people to support the rights of all workers, documented or not. This is especially important for chapters in communities with many immigrants, whether visible or invisible. We must be the allies of immigrants where their voices are so often silenced. In addition, it is up to socialists to argue that as long as capitalism is the dominant global economic system, and capital flows across borders without regulation, migration will be a fact of life and immigrant workers will be simultaneously exploited and blamed for native workers’ economic woes.
For these reasons, YDS will carry over our Immigrant Rights Project into another year. In our first two years, YDS discussion groups explored the economic, racial and other aspects of this issue, and YDSers mobilized for Mayday protests and other events. In our third year, we hope to reflect on lessons learned and build on our experiences to have an even stronger national project that every YDS local supports and actively carries out. YDS must use the Immigrant Rights Project as a method to unify our voice, build alliances, and create a greater presence for ourselves on the Left.
Suggested Activities (in addition to those proposed last year):
- Working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) on their national campaign to empower immigrant tomato pickers in Florida.
- Highlighting immigrant rights and how the rights of citizen workers depend on the rights of immigrant workers, during the National Student Labor Week of Action.
- Working alongside local immigrant rights groups to pressure our Congress-people to support the Child Citizen Protection Act, a bill that protects the immigrant parents of US citizens and is an opportunity to publicize the inhumane nature of ICE deportations.
- Volunteer (or fundraise) for a state or local pro-immigrant initiative (or against an anti one).
- Offer solidarity to a day laborer center in case they need people to help them monitor Minutemen or other anti-immigrant activity.
- Sign chapter members up to a local ICE raid emergency response network, and make signs and banners right away so you’ll be ready to turn up on a moment’s notice if there is a local raid.
- Volunteer at (or fundraise for) an immigrant worker center.
- Organize a counter-demonstration when the Minutemen come through town.
- Table or hold a study break and have students write letters to their elected officials or make calls to politicians.
- Build a coalition and campaign to get your campus to cancel their contract with Chipotle.
- Support the workers or their union on your campus, since many are often immigrants.
- Invite a moderate Democrat to speak on campus and grill them on their immigration stance.
- Pressure your local Congressperson to become a co-sponsor the Child Citizen Protection Act or reverse the harsh 1996 immigration reform laws.
Public Socialist Education
- Hold interactive workshops at a teach-in.
- Screen a pro-immigrant movie like “La Americana”, “Made in L.A.”, “El Norte”, “The Letter”, “Farmingville”, or “Under the Same Moon” with discussion afterwards.
- Host an educational speaker for the campus community (a policy expert on immigration or global capitalism, for example, or an immigrant worker).
- Internal Political Education
- Have everyone in the chapter write letters to the editor in response to a specific article, then send them in at the same time so there’s more chance one will get printed.
- Hold a series of discussion meetings with readings (this can be turned into a public socialist education project as well, with discussion meetings publicly advertised in advance).