Their Immigration Reform and Ours

With this year’s May Day mobilizations, the question of immigration is again a hot topic for discussion. Since 2006, when millions of immigrants and their allies took the streets in historic marches, May 1st has turned into a point of reference in the fight for immigrants’ rights.

It is therefore not a coincidence that  (Democrat, IL) introduced the STRIVE Act in March of 2007, and it is not by chance that Obama, after more than 60 days in silence on the issue, announced his plans for immigration just three weeks before May 1st. There is no question that the marches make it impossible to forget our position as immigrants, and forces the politicians to respond to our demands. Even before the massive marches of 2006, in 2004 and 2005, during the Bush administration, three plans were presented for immigration reform and all three failed miserably.

Luis Gutiérrez

With one exception: the Sensenbrenner Bill, which was the closest to actually passing. An extremely anti-immigrant piece of legislation that criminalized not only undocumented workers, but also the U.S.-born children of undocumented parents, as well as anyone at all involved in extending a helping hand to these workers, including activists, friends, priests, etc. They could be charged and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for providing an undocumented worker a place to stay, food, clothes, etc. Faced with this, millions of immigrants raised their voices in mass marches and stopped a bill that would have turned life into a living hell for millions of families.

Today, when Obama speaks of reform, he’s really talking about opening formal debate on immigration. What Obama has not said is whether  he supports the immigration “reform” vision of Big Business, of right-wing fanatics like Sensenbrenner, or the more humanitarian, pro-worker vision we in the immigrant workers’ movement defend.

Their Reform: “Guest Worker Programs”

The big industrialists’ tremendous fortunes rely on maintaining the largest maquiladora-style assembly plant on the continent: 12 million undocumented workers receiving miserable wages working super-exploitative jobs in poor and often dangerous working conditions. These mega corporations are more scared of giving papers to the workers than of the raids on their workplaces. The reason is evident: with papers, immigrant workers will finally have the same rights as other workers, including the right to equal wages for equal work, equal protections under the law, equal rights to form a union, etc.

Big Business does not want to give papers to all undocumented workers. They have made it quite clear that what they want is expansion of the existing “guest worker” program.
Guest Worker
The guest worker program, a modern version of the bracero program of the 1940s, among other things, gives corporations the power to deport immigrant workers at their convenience. Under this program, workers can only can be in the country if they work for a company. If the company fires the worker, he or she must return to his or her country without negotiation. This “reform” would allow a limited number of visas to work at poorly paid jobs without any kind of benefits.

The workers would be forced to remain with their original contractor in conditions that differ little from indentured servitude. Any efforts to organize a union or to demand better wages would be grounds for dismissal, cancelled visas and immediate deportation. We often hear the same types of threats from the bosses: “If you don’t like this job, there is someone else willing to take it from you.”

These types of “reforms” create an artificial division between the workers. The second class workers are used by the bosses to increase their profits and to weaken and divide the labor movement. “Guest worker” programs or any partial legalization of this type would be used to set one group of workers against another, competing amongst themselves for wages that fall constantly and conditions that worsen for everyone.

Our Reform: “Immediate and Unconditional Legalization For All”

From the Labor perspective, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations, which represent more than 15 million workers, reached an agreement to press Obama for a “just, humanitarian immigration reform,” and expressed their total opposition to the guest worker programs. This it is an historic step by the unions which begins to shift the balance of forces.

But this is only the beginning. The only real solution is a united, mass struggle for better wages, conditions, benefits and protections for all workers: immigrants and non-immigrants, union and non-union. Through organization and mass mobilizations we defeated the Sensenbrenner law. We can win unconditional legalization for all despite those “allies” and “friends of immigrants” who would sell the future of millions of workers for a few bread crumbs. There is no need to be satisfied with the “lesser evil” of the guest worker program or partial legalization.

Organized in the Streets, We Will Win Our Reform!

As in previous years, we need to continue pressing in the streets. In the streets we stopped Sensenbrenner; in the streets we found support from the unions; in the streets we have maintained our demands alive; in the streets Cesar Chávez and Martin Luther King managed to push forward their social struggles. It is in the streets that we will win our struggle for the immigration reform we want to see: immediate and unconditional amnesty for all immigrants.

The Workers International League and the newspapers El Militante Sin Fronteras and Socialist Appeal are against any repressive measures, detention centers, and militarization of the border. We demand an end to the raids and deportations and call for an unconditional amnesty for all the undocumented workers. We demand complete and equal rights for everyone who works in this country.

But to achieve all of this, we must build a mass movement that is independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties. We must mobilize to organize action committees in our work places, neighborhoods, and schools. The Labor movement must be a the vanguard of this struggle.

If the government, after years of pressure due to our mobilizations, at long last decides to open a real dialogue on immigration reform, we need a plan of mobilizations for the Fall, pushed forward by the local action committees and coordinated at the national level. Contact the WIL to work to build these committees in your workplace, neighborhood, or school to begin to fight to win this battle! There is not a minute to be lost!

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