Immigration and Neoliberalism in the Age of Obama

By Jack Suria Linares


President Obama signing the Executive Order on immigration/Host

Obama’s recent executive order will provide aid to many young and undocumented residents, and on a personal level, I am glad that President Obama pushed for such a controversial project. Not to defend Obama’s political project, but every President has passed an executive order dealing with immigrant issues, and lets not forget that out of all Presidents, Reagan passed amnesty for undocumented residents. To those on the moderate political spectrum, the recent order meant a slight increase of socio-economic opportunity and a significant new cohort of Democratic voters. To conservatives, the executive order meant a reanalysis on how to gain supporters affected by immigration policies, but more dramatically a demand to fixate on its supposed authoritarian project.

Obama’s recent executive order poses as a progressive project of equality and opportunity to achieve the American Dream, while its true purpose increases the conservative and neoliberal agenda, in order to further U.S. imperialism and defend Western hegemony. It has taken one step forward and five steps back. While providing aid and work permits, this executive order serves both the Democrats and the Republicans’ political agenda to increase funding for a militarized border and create harsher penalties for residents who defy the current immigration laws. As a result, more families will separate. Even though it has good intentions, Progressives and Democrats should not applaud such an executive order. We can do better. We must do better.

Still, this executive order comes at an almost inconvenient time, as the events in Ferguson demanded a reanalysis of race and racism in America, Progressives around the nation successfully gained left wing policies—like increased minimum wages and workers rights bills—, and 2016 approaches us with another Presidential nomination. Thus, the executive order pressures conservatives, liberals, and progressives, to begin to shift their conversations toward all that might occur in the next twelve years. If a conservative, or centrist democrat gets elected, we might see the executive order revoked, maintaining only the neoliberal and conservative aspects of the order.

Many believe that this executive order will only increase migration by those who seek to abuse the system, but such claims have no concrete evidence. In reality, most immigrants seek refuge in America only due to internal violence, corrupt democratic governments influenced/supported by America, and negative economic impacts of the free market through neoliberal policies such as NAFTA. These immigrants leave in search of better opportunity to feed their children and family. They consciously risk their lives crossing borders. It is not coincidence that the rise of a militarized border occurred as death rates increased. It is not coincidence that the rise of free trade occurred alongside migration, many who have always been children, from countries like El Salvador. They are interwoven topics.

This executive order will begin a conversation, in all political spectrums, about how to obtain that “Latino vote.” Yet, this executive order does not affect only Latinos. Most undocumented residents come from Latin America, but many come from African, Asian, and Eastern European countries. Simply because the executive order impacts Latinos most does not mean they will automatically give away their vote to the Democratic Party. They do not vote simply for being Latino, but because of the policies enacted. If the Democratic Party wants to earn the vote from progressive Latinos, they will need to move to the left, or at least push for policies impacting the Latina/os, working class communities, and the immigrant community in general.

Historically, this country has never supported immigrants’ rights. Even though immigrants created this country, it has always been anti-immigrant and conservative in both cultural and political spectrums. As my great-grandfather said, “America is a golden prison, it keeps you surrounded by wealth and yet prevents most people from obtaining true freedom.” America alone will not provide new opportunity. Thus, politicians and social movements need to open up the opportunity. Democrats in particular will need to fight for the “Latino vote” if they will maintain the Presidency in 2017.

Even if I admit that America has never appreciated immigrants, I still believe that this country can create opportunity for everyone to obtain their American Dream. Only when politicians within the system and social movements have worked together, have there been some systematic and structural changes benefiting immigrants. We need to reinvent that idea: movements and working within the system go hand in hand. A movement is nothing without help from within the political system, and politicians cannot achieve much unless social movements demand change. This goes for liberals, conservatives, but especially for progressives. We need to stop fearing losing the little gains we have earned over the last century. We must pursue the more just and democratic world fought for and sought by previous immigrants. If we dare to imagine the impossible, if we commit to a more equitable society, then even if we lose, we would have created a cultural and social shift in America toward such society. That is progress.

While I think President Obama has created an opportunity for undocumented immigrants, I do not consider it progress. Malcolm X would not have called it progress. He responded to a newsman once, “I will never say progress is being made in America. You stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound the knife made. They [Euro-Americans and the Government] haven’t even begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.” Malcolm’s metaphor reflects the realities of racism impacting the African American community, exemplified most recently through Ferguson, but similarly the abuses of political parties that want to gain the “Latino vote” without earning it. How hypocritical for any political Party to dare ask for the “Latino vote,” when they purposely create a system that makes it more difficult to gain citizenship, while pushing for neoliberal policies in other countries that will force immigrants to migrate to the United States?

If we really want to make this country stronger socially, culturally and economically, we have to confront these dangerously complementary policies. If we dare dream, we must begin to criticize Democrats for trying (or not trying) to do things as moderates. As of now, they share more in common with progressive Republicans. We need to let the world realize that if the Democratic Party won’t fully support immigrants’ rights, then it does not truly represent the voices that seek democracy and a more just and equitable society.

I believe this executive order served only as a political ploy to gain the “Latino vote” by 2017. We will need to wait until we know the contestants in the primaries and how they will represent the Latino populations. Who will do just that? Hillary Clinton had better move to the left if she expects to gain the progressive Latino and working class votes. If not, Bernie Sanders, the only open socialist in the Senate, might gain popularity from the younger voters within the Democratic Party. What matters is not who wins the Democratic primaries, but the new wave of young voters who see systems in more intersectional forms, voters who critique capitalism and the government for not providing opportunity like those given to previous generations. How will they vote? The Democratic Party needs to move to the left or risks losing those votes. I say it is time to legalize all people in the United States. I say it is time to end free market policies forcing migration. If progressives do not push the Democratic Party toward the Left, then America might remain imprisoned by a two Party system set up to serve only Wall Street.

Jack Suria Linares is a student at Hamilton College and a lead member of the campus' YDS chapter, Hamilton Democratic Socialists.


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