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ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AND WHAT AMERICANS SHOULD DO ABOUT IT

by John Spritzler

June 27, 2018

[Also related: What About the Mass Muslim Immigration of Refugees? ]

 

First, a note about the title of this article:

Some people say:

"Don't call it 'illegal'; call it 'undocumented' immigration instead. It's wrong to say a human being is an 'illegal immigrant' because no human being is illegal."

There are two reasons I use "illegal" instead of "undocumented." The first reason is simply to use the phrase that most people have heard so that there won't be any confusion about what I’m talking about. The second reason is to take the question of legal versus illegal head on and deal with it explicitly, rather than try to dodge the issue by using the word "undocumented." The people who lead the campaign to deport illegal immigrants base their argument precisely on the fact that these immigrants entered the country illegally. "Why should these people be allowed to break the law?" say those who advocate deporting them. I answer that question head-on without denying that, yes, the law says these immigrants are not allowed to be inside the United States. I answer by saying, “There are some laws—unjust laws—that people have a right to break”; this is the best answer, much better than weakly replying, "Well, they're not here illegally; they just don't have documents."

Short Version

The United States population is sharply divided over the question of whether illegal immigrants (mostly people from Mexico or Central America) should be allowed to stay or be deported. Most Americans don’t think deporting all illegal immigrants is realistic or even desirable, but a 2014 poll found that 45% thought it was a good thing that President Obama had deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants and the same percent said it was a bad thing.

The ruling class has been very successful in using lies and manipulation to create a framework for thinking about illegal immigration that maximizes divisiveness and prevents the great majority of Americans from having a shared understanding of the issue and a shared goal for what to do about it.

The ruling class has refused to inform the public that the reason such large numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans have illegally immigrated to the United States is because Big Money wanted them to. Big Money did things to force them to immigrate.

Big Money wants illegal immigrants to use as cheap labor (especially as farmworkers) not only because their wages are low but also because the threat of deportation hanging over their heads makes it harder for them to fight for higher wages and improved benefits and working conditions.

Big Money also wants illegal immigrants to use as a scapegoat. Many Americans (citizens and documented residents: “legals”) are justifiably angry. They’re angry at not having a good paying job. They’re angry at being taxed to pay for social services (schools, welfare, libraries, etc.) that the very rich should be paying for instead (because there should be no rich and no poor.) Big Money aims to divert this anger away from itself and towards the “illegal immigrants” scapegoat. This is why Big Money has falsely characterized illegal immigrants as disproportionately criminals and freeloaders.

The ruling class has made good jobs artificially scarce so we’ll settle for low-wage/low-benefit jobs, and it has launched a propaganda campaign to persuade “legals” that illegal immigrants are the cause of unemployment because they are “taking away our jobs” (the same illegal immigrants who are supposedly “lazy freeloaders who refuse to work,” apparently.)

The ruling class tries to keep it a secret that most illegal immigrants want the same thing that most “legals” want:

  • To remove the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor.
  • To have an economy where those who are willing to contribute according to reasonable ability can have for free what they need or reasonably desire.
  • To have a genuine democracy where the only laws people must obey are the laws made by a local assembly to which everybody in the local community who supports equality and mutual aid is invited to participate as equals in writing the laws.

This is egalitarian revolution, discussed in my book NO RICH AND NO POOR: The Populist Goal that We CAN and Must Win.

Despite being forced into the lowest paying and hardest jobs and threatened with deportation if they try to organize for improving the wages and benefits and working conditions at these jobs, many illegal immigrants nonetheless DO fight for these improvements. They are part of the American working class and are our brothers and sisters.

In the struggle to make society be the way most Americans want it to be—genuinely equal and democratic—illegal immigrants and “legals” are on the same side: all of them, that is, except for the minority of individuals in either group who oppose this goal by committing anti-social criminal acts or by scabbing on a strike and so forth. Illegal immigrants and “legals” are friends in the same struggle for a more fair and just world, and we should treat each other that way and not let Big Money pit us against each other.

If we let Big Money pit us against each other, “legals” versus “illegals,” then we will remain forever at the mercy of Big Money, which treats all of us have-nots like dirt.

We should thus oppose deportations of people whose only “crime” is living north of the Mexican-USA border. We should oppose classifying anybody as “illegal” just because of where they live. And we should oppose the things that the ruling class does to force large numbers of people south of the border to have to migrate north of it to survive. This forced mass migration is horrible for the people who are forced to migrate, and it also undeniably creates some real problems north of the border for all of us.

Big Money Forced People To Be Illegal Immigrants

The billionaire rulers of the world, when it suits them, ratchet up the oppression in places like Latin America, knowing that it will force large numbers of the poorest people to illegally cross the U.S. border in search of relative safety and employment. American and Mexican rulers did this, for example, when they implemented NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). The U.S. government subsidized Big Agribusiness so it could dump very cheap corn on the Mexican market, which drove the small Mexican farmers out of business. Additionally, as part of the NAFTA deal, the Mexican rulers removed the part of the Mexican Constitution that gave small farmers rights to their land, and they did not offer alternative jobs to these farmers. The large wave (nearly 2 million people according to CBS Evening News, July 1, 2006) of illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States was the result. One source describes the effect of NAFTA on Mexican farmers this way:

“Previously ejidos, communal farming land, could not be bought and sold. This was a right protected by Mexico’s constitution. These communal lands comprised 29,000 communities and three million producers, encompassing 75% of all agricultural production at the time. Foreign investment was hesitant to move into Mexico with this constitutional provision and so changing it constitutionally became a requirement of NAFTA. Now, government subsidies that had allowed ejidos to survive were disallowed by NAFTA.

“The ejidos were divided and a title was given to individual campesinos. These farm workers tried to make a living on their small pieces of land just as their families had done for centuries, but they found that the rules of the game had been changed. They were now competing with subsidized large farm agriculture from the U.S…. 

“What happened? You can imagine. Mexicans couldn’t compete. 1.3 million farmers were driven out of business and monthly income for self-employed farmers plummeted from 1,959 pesos a month in 1991 to 228 pesos a month in 2003.”

This source describes how one Mexican man, named Teo, in their organization was affected:

“When NAFTA passed, and the government said to Teo and all of the members of the ejido that the land would no longer be communal and instead would be split up and divided into small parcels for each farmer to work, Teo honestly was happy. He believed what he was told—that he would be able to provide for his family better. But—it wasn’t the case. Now, he needed to buy his own machinery to work the land. He needed to buy the seed and other materials but he was now just an individual buying small amounts and could not negotiate good prices. He went to the bank to get a loan but with such a small piece of property and no other assets, he couldn’t get one. Finally, after trying and trying to make it work and his family starving, he felt he had no option but to come to America through a very dangerous border crossing.”

The New York Times reported in 2003:

The more than $10 billion that American taxpayers give corn farmers every year in agricultural subsidies has helped destroy the livelihoods of millions of small Mexican farmers, according to a report to be released on Wednesday.”

The BBC reported in 2004:

US maize ‘threat’ to Mexico farms

The North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) is having a severe effect on rural Mexico, TVE’s Earth Report programme for the BBC claims.

Nafta was set up 10 years ago by Mexico, Canada and the US to promote competition and efficiency. But US maize farmers, propped up by subsidies, are outcompeting their Mexican counterparts. As a result, US maize is flooding Mexican markets, threatening to put traditional farmers out of business.

Citizen.org describes the disaster in 2004 this way:

As a condition for NAFTA, Mexico was required to amend the historic land redistribution provisions of the post-Revolution 1917 Constitution which forbade foreign ownership of land and had redistributed lands seized from large landowners to a system of ejidos under which peasants and indigenous communities were granted rights to small plots of land that could not be sold. When these progressive land rules were dismantled for the first time in 80 years, small farmers were threatened with forfeiting their land for bad debt. This has been the fate for hundreds of thousands of campesinos, who have been put at a devastating disadvantage by dumping of corn and other agricultural products by U.S. agribusiness.

At least 1.5 million Mexican farm livelihoods have been lost to NAFTA so far. In 2002 alone, an estimated 600 Mexican farmers were forced off the land every day. Deprived of their livelihoods, most of these displaced farmers have had little choice other than to become economic migrants, streaming into northern cities in search of scarce maquila factory jobs, or making increasingly desperate efforts to cross the border into the U.S. More than 1600 Mexican migrants have died attempting to reach the U.S.in the past five years. If NAFTA is fully implemented many more Mexican farm families will be displaced; with some estimates as high as 15 million or about one in six Mexicans.

Political Research Associates in a 2014 article recounts many ways that NAFTA and other U.S. government policies have forced Mexicans to illegally cross the border to enter the United States (PRA says this should more accurately be called "migration") in order to survive, and concludes:

In fact, while debating bills to criminalize undocumented migrants and set up huge guest worker programs, four new trade agreements were introduced, each of which has caused more displacement and more migration.

“Rio Grande border to US sees 57,000 young migrants in nine months”

This was the headline of a Guardian article in 2014. Tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were fleeing danger in their home countries and seeking relative safety in the United States. Why were they in such danger?

The reason these illegal immigrant/refugee children are forced to flee from their native countries for their very safety and survival is precisely because the super rich who rule the United States have for decades violently (extremely violently!) killed whoever in these countries have ever tried to create a decent, equal, safe and democratic society there instead of the oligarchic dictatorships that have kept people in abject poverty and terror for the pleasure of themselves and the protection of U.S. corporate profits.

W. T. Whitney Jr. describes the Honduras that these children were fleeing:

Intervention is hardly new in Honduras. U.S. troops invaded in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, and 1925, usually at times of political turmoil. They were “protecting U.S. interests” like banana plantations, banks, and railroads. In the 1980’s Honduras was a U.S. staging area for Contra troops fighting Nicaragua’s leftist government.

The United States backed the Honduran government formed by plotters who had arranged the military coup overthrowing President Jose Manuel Zelaya in June, 2009. Now the U.S. government supports a successor regime headed by President Porfirio Lobo, elected under dubious circumstances. Lobo’s visit to Washington in October, 2011 got red carpet treatment.

 
Whitney explains Zelay’s “crime” was that he “tinkered with land reform and called for a minimum wage, and he offended the U.S. government by “having led Honduras into the anti-imperialist ALBA alliance of Latin American countries.”

Whitney also wrote that the wealthy elite who supported the coup are “prospering” and he gives the example of the Miguel Facussé family that, with other familes, “control everything, telecommunications, electrical generation, marketing of petroleum products, the financial market, construction, food, etc.”

Small farmers, Whitney reports, are occupying land owned by Facussé who aims to evict them, and he adds:

Already private security forces have murdered 48 land reform activists there since September, 2009. The occupations are in fulfillment of land reform measures revived during the Zelaya era.

In large part due to U.S. intervention to assist the coup, Honduras is what Whitney calls a “social catastrophe”:

70 percent poverty and 40 percent unemployed – and terror likewise seem to be acceptable.  Honduras’ is the highest murder rate in the world - 6723 murders in 2011. Political repression has taken the lives of 25 journalists during the Lobo presidency. The body of popular broadcaster Alfredo Villatoro was found on May 15, that of LGBT activist Erick Martinez, two days earlier….The police regularly kill people... None of these people have been prosecuted….

Trafficking bolsters wealth and power. A local Chamber of Commerce official reported drug lords "have bought tremendous tracts, ranches, farms (and) coastlands.” The McClatchy story suggests, “Drug profits have filtered into sectors such as banking, construction, sports teams, restaurants, auto sales and private security.”

The role of the U.S. government in El Salvador was described by Allan Nairn, a freelance journalist, to a Columbia University audience in 1989 [The report is in the Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXIII, Number 54, 1989 ]. His talk was reported in the school’s paper:

“The story Americans are getting from the press is that the recent guerrilla offensive is a re-initiation of violence. The fact is, violence never left El Salvador. Killing in El Salvador and Nicaragua is the worst in the world on a per-capita basis….Four hundred thousand people have been killed in El Salvador, 90 percent by the Salvadoran army. There is no comparison in the modern world, with the possible exception of Pol Pot and Idi Amin. The difference is that the Salvadoran death squads are trained and run by American advisors and the CIA…I have talked to a colonel in the El Salvadoran Army who said he was willing to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people to maintain the Salvadoran oligarchy…What people need to realize is that it is our government that is supporting mass murder in El Salvador.”

ABC News in 2013 posted an article titled, “Did Reagan Finance Genocide in Guatemala” and the answer it gives is, essentially, Yes. It reports:

“On Monday, a Guatemalan court ordered the country's government to apologize to the Ixil population for the crimes of José Efraín Ríos Montt, a dictator who was sentenced to 80 years in prison for his role in war crimes committed between 1982 and 1983.

“The verdict concluded that the army, under the command of Ríos Montt, had engaged in a campaign of genocide against the Ixiles, a small Mayan ethnic group. In that sense, it finally offered an answer to the thousands of victims' families who had pleaded for justice since the 1980s…

"U.S. military and intelligence units worked closely with the Guatemalan army over the decades of Guatemala's civil war," said Geoff Thale, Central America Program Director at the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA)…

“Despite mounting concerns about human rights abuses, between 1978 and 1980, the military received $7.9 million through the State Department's Military Assistance Program and Foreign Military Sales program….

“Reagan met with Ríos Montt, "a man of great personal integrity and commitment," according to the president. When Reagan was asked about human rights violations in Guatemala he said, ''I am inclined to believe they've been getting a bum rap…[but shortly afterwards] the U.S. embassy was investigating credible reports of numerous massacres involving the Guatemalan military…

“Reagan's administration ultimately decided to ignore the warnings, and indirect assistance was secretly resumed through the CIA. "Overall, U.S. intelligence, training, political support and assistance to the Guatemalan government and military in the early and mid-1980s uncritically supported counter-insurgency strategies that targeted civilians, in the cities and in rural areas like the Ixil Triangle," Geoff Thale said. "U.S. policy makers of that era bear some responsibility for the human rights abuses that took place."”

The conditions in these Central American nations are simply unsafe for ordinary people. The oligarchs and drug gangs are in power and they rule by terror. The Guardian article about 57,000 young migrants crossing the border to the U.S. in nine months tells a typical story:

“When the gang came for him, Ceferino decided he had three choices: join them, refuse to join and risk being killed, or flee the country.

The teenager left his family in Guatemala and headed for the US, becoming part of a wave of unaccompanied children from Central America that has overwhelmed authorities at the Texas border and sparked a humanitarian crisis and a political row.”

Cole Kazdin's article in Vice is titled, "The Violence Central Americans are Fleeing Was Stoked by the U.S.: We're still dealing with the aftermath of atrocities committed by U.S. allies in Central America during the Cold War."

Whenever huge numbers of people immigrate to some place, it causes problems, such as too many people suddenly needing too few resources: health, education, welfare, etc. There may be clashes of culture, and miscommunications. Some of the problems due to mass migration only exist, however, because we live in a dictatorship of the rich. The sudden arrival of people more than willing to work doesn't mean that our capitalist rulers will let them work; if a capitalist can't make a profit by hiring somebody, then they don't hire them. So immigrants can add to the unemployment and welfare rolls. And yes, our capitalist rulers DO use illegal immigrants for super-cheap labor and thereby lower wages for working class American “legals.” The question is not whether mass migration does or does not cause any problems for American citizens. The question is, what is the CAUSE of this illegal mass migration? The cause is clear: it is Big Money acting through its control of the United States government.

The Myth That Hispanic Immigrants Are Criminals

One way Big Money tries to direct our anger at illegal immigrants instead of itself is by promoting the myth that Hispanic immigrants and their children have particularly high crime rates. President Trump does this by creating a public list of crimes committed by illegal immigrants but not a list for crimes committed by “legals.” Countless right wing talk radio hosts similarly report crimes by illegal immigrants in a way designed to make it seem that hardly anybody else commits a crime. What’s the truth?

Statistics are available for incarceration rates for the following ten groups*:

  1. All U.S. born: 3.51%
  2. Non-Hispanic whites U.S. born: 1.71%
  3. Non-Hispanic blacks U.S. born: 11.61%
  4. Hispanics U.S. born: 2.3% to 5.9% based on country or ethnic origin
  5. Asians U.S. born: 1% to 7.2%
  6. All foreign born: 0.86%
  7. Non-Hispanic whites foreign born: 0.57%
  8. Non-Hispanic blacks foreign born: 2.47%
  9. Hispanics foreign born: 0.2% to 2.2% based on country or ethnic origin
  10. Asians foreign born: 0.1% to 0.9%

Unfortunately, these groups do not separate the foreign into legal and illegal immigrants. But most of the illegal immigrants are in the 9th group: Hispanics foreign born.

Note that the group with most of the illegal immigrants, group 9: Hispanics foreign born, has a substantially lower incarceration rate than group 1: All U.S. born. To the extent that these data provide any evidence about whether illegal immigrants are more or less criminal than American born people, they suggest that illegal immigrants are less criminal.

Some might argue that the comparison should be a different one. They would say we should compare group 4: Hispanics U.S. born, to group 2: Non-Hispanic whites U.S. born. The rationale for this would be a) it’s the second and third generations of the illegal immigrants who are the criminals and b) ignore group 3: Non-Hispanic blacks U.S. born because, well, it makes the anti-illegal immigrant argument too weak if we don’t. OK. If we do as these folks suggest, we see that group 4 (the 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics born in the U.S.) have a higher incarceration rate than group 2 (Non-Hispanic whites born in the U.S.); it’s “2.3% to 5.9%” versus 1.71%. This comparison (of dubious merit in the first place) makes the illegal immigrants’ U.S. born children appear to be more criminal than whites born in the U.S.

But there is an important fact to take into consideration in interpreting this comparison, and it is demonstrated by, of all sources, The American Conservative magazine in an online article. This conservative article points out that the age distribution of Hispanics is much different from that of whites: the median age of Hispanics is around 27 “near the absolute peak of the prime-crime age range. But the median white age is over 40, putting nearly half the white population above the likely age range for committing crimes. While it is certainly true that Hispanic 23-year-olds have much greater criminal tendencies than white 45-year-olds, a more useful question is the relative criminality of Hispanics and whites of the same age.” This article then proceeds to do a long age-adjusted analysis and concludes with these words:

“Conservatives have traditionally prided themselves on being realists, dealing with the world as it is rather than attempting to force it to conform to a pre-existing ideological framework. But just as many on the Right succumbed to a fantastical foreign policy that makes the world much more dangerous than it needs to be, some have also accepted the myth that Hispanic immigrants and their children have high crime rates. Such an argument may have considerable emotional appeal, but there is very little hard evidence behind it.”

When it comes to anti-illegal immigrant propaganda, however, hard data is not what most Americans hear about. What most Americans hear is like what I heard while listening to my local right-wing talk radio show. The show’s host reported that, while driving on a major artery, a car cut him off to get to an exit. Now it turns out that one can take this exit to get to many different towns. But the talk show host ignored that little detail and said that since that exit could be used to get to a town whose residents included some illegal immigrants, that therefore he was sure the driver of the car that cut him off was an illegal immigrant, and it just goes to show how awful those illegal immigrants are, “Doncha know?” This talk-show host is paid to implement divide-and-rule, and he clearly works very hard at it.

Illegal Immigrants Are On Our Side In The Fight To Make A More Equal And Democratic World

Far from being criminals, some illegal immigrants are waging the fight that all working people support—for higher wages. WBUR has an online article titled, “In Fight for Better Wages, New Bedford Mayans Join Trade Union.” It reports:

Most of the workers here at Bob's Tire Company are from the same municipality in western Guatemala, San Andrés Sajcabajá. They are indigenous Mayans and native speakers of K'iche' — Spanish is a second language. At least some say they're undocumented.

At 18, Tomas Ventura came to New Bedford from Guatemala and landed a job at this tire recycling plant. He's 26 now, and says most of the workers get no paid sick leave or vacation time. Raises are scarce: After eight years of work, he earns $11 an hour.

“In January we got together and asked for a [$1] raise,” Ventura said. “Our boss said he’d give it to us in April, but time passed and ... we never got our raise.”

The owner of Bob's Tire declined to comment for this story, but Ventura says he and three others were fired over their demand for better wages. He says they returned to protest, threatened to file a complaint and successfully pressured the company to take them back.

“I think we were fired to teach a lesson to the other workers. ‘Nobody should speak out, nobody should ask for a raise.,' " he said. "That's why I gained courage. I told the other workers: 'Let's do something, this is the time, if we don't do it now it will never happen.' "

Last month, shortly after the four were rehired, the workers at Bob's Tire voted overwhelmingly — 65-5 — to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union, or UFCW. Advocates describe the vote as a first for New Bedford's Guatemalan community.

The world that the have-nots (all of us, “legals” and “illegals” both!) want is one in which nobody has the power to force large numbers of people outside the United States to have to leave their homes and families and enter the United States to find work, or to find safety from terrorist drug gangs and murderous oligarchs. This is why the only real solution to the problem of mass immigration into the United States is to develop the solidarity among all have-nots that is required to build a movement large enough and strong enough to stop the American ruling class from doing the disgusting things it is doing to have-nots south of the U.S.-Mexican border and have-nots north of the border. Can this solidarity develop if the “legal” have-nots take the side of Big Money and foolishly treat the “illegal” have-nots like dirt? Obviously not!

To create the solidarity we need to really solve the problem of mass illegal immigration we must welcome everybody into our movement who agrees with its goal, whether they are in the United States legally or illegally. The very last thing we should do is treat good and decent people—who agree with us—as the enemy on the absurd grounds that the ruling class says their presence on our side of the border is illegal.

As is the case with American citizens and legal residents, the vast majority of people in mass illegal migrations into the United States are working class people who very much want an egalitarian world. We should treat them as friends, not criminals or foes. We should treat them exactly the same way we treat American “legals.”

If an illegal immigrant does something that we consider morally wrong when done by an American citizen (like committing burglary or scabbing on a strike or freeloading), then and only then should we treat that illegal immigrant as a criminal or foe.** But the police at U.S. borders who follow orders from America's Big Money rulers to bar illegal immigrants from crossing the border and even to shoot them if they try to cross, and the police who capture illegal immigrants to deport them, are treating our friends as the enemy. This is wrong.

Big Money may declare some of our friends "illegal," but Big Money's law against coming to the United States looking for honest work without the permission of Big Money's fake democracy is a bad law that good people are not bound to respect. It's a bad law because our Big Money rulers who deliberately cause illegal mass migration in the first place only want it to be illegal so they can a) use the threat of deportation to cow the immigrants into tolerating low wages and unsafe working conditions and b) stigmatize the immigrants as criminals and thereby implement divide-and-conquer of workers in the United States by turning "legal" workers against "illegal" ones. 

Americans have a proud history of refusing to obey unjust laws. We broke the law that said it was illegal to board a ship and dump all the tea in the ocean. We refused to obey the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that required people in non-slave states to capture runaway slaves and return them to their “master.” We broke the Jim Crow laws. It’s time to treat the laws that make “illegals” illegal the same way.

Please visit my sister website here about how to make our society far more equal and democratic.

---------------------------

* Table 1 at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/source_charts/rumbaut-table1-jun06.cfm is summarized at https://openborders.info/hispanic-crime-and-illegal-immigration-in-the-united-states/ 

** All of the U.S. military forces killing innocent people in foreign lands or stationed where they are not doing any good (such as in Germany or South Korea) could be returned home and used--if necessary--to protect us from any real criminals among the illegal immigrants; but this is the LAST thing our rulers are interested in doing.

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READ THE BOOKS IN THE "NO RICH AND NO POOR" SERIES

 

Articles by Dave Stratman

Articles by John Spritzler

Turn the World Upside Down (John Spritzler's blog #1)

End Class Inequality (John Spritzler's blog #2)

 

Books

We Can Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life by Dave Stratman

The People as Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II by John Spritzler

NO RICH AND NOPOOR: The Populist Goal We CAN and Must Win

DIVIDE AND RULE: The "Left vs. Right" Trap