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In the little Texas border town of McAllen, reporters were granted a peek into the child detention centers that line the underbelly of Trump’s deportation pipeline. The public learned the story of a teenage girl teaching younger detainees how to care for a small, speechless child and change her diaper. The children believed the baby girl was two years old. She is actually four and speaks K’iche, one of the Maya languages of indigenous Guatemalans, who in the 1980s endured extensive ethnic cleansing under Washington’s client dictator. Today, the drug wars and political instability in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” continue to drag entire areas into barbarism in an encore of the counterrevolutions and civil wars that swept the region a generation ago. The byproduct is an exodus of refugees to the US-Mexico border, including the children held in McAllen, Texas, who never knew the tiny girl could speak. “She was just curled up in a little ball,” humanitarian activist Michelle Brane recounted.
Thousands of children are locked inside such facilities. Toys and books are withheld, play is discouraged, and aid workers are prohibited from touching them. Childhood development professionals have issued statements and petitions, explaining that removing children from their parents, the outside world, and human touch itself is unspeakably traumatic. For their part, ICE and Border Patrol officials star in a disturbing ACLU report detailing the widespread verbal, physical, sexual, and medical abuse of detainees, including minors, documented in a 2009–2014 investigation—the same activities resurfacing in 2017 internal reviews.
The White House Bible study leader Ralph Drollinger explained that worshippers in his flock such as “the kind-hearted Attorney General Jeff Sessions” do not desire any kind of suffering at all. However, the Almighty favors the enforcement of the law, according to Drollinger:
When someone breaks the law of the land [they] should anticipate that one of the consequences of their illegal behavior will be separation from their children. Such is the case with thieves or murderers who are arrested and put in jail.
From the perspective of the state, the most effective way to target undocumented immigrants would be a harsh penalization of their employers and landlords. However, as the capitalist state is a tool to defend the interests of the rich, Trump and his predecessors have never done this. Instead, they prefer measures such as the psychological torture of children or the conscious promotion of thousands of border deaths to exposure, dehydration, etc.
The capitalist state is an instrument of repression that serves the two great barriers to human progress—the bourgeois nation-state and private ownership of the means of production. On one hand, capitalists desire lower wages, which means higher profits, facilitated by the inward movement of immigrant labor and the outward export of capital (outsourcing). On the other, the bourgeois nation-state stands for “national interests” and “law and order”—codes that ultimately express the capitalists’ ambition to dominate the population at home and their rivals abroad—which must be defended by armed force. Undocumented immigration is a double gift to capital. Employers enjoy a cheap pool of labor, while the ready menace of targeted repression ensures it remains cheap.
Historically the labor bureaucrats were openly hostile to undocumented workers, reflecting their pro-capitalist outlook. They jumped up to sing a chorus of chauvinism like a hymnal given to them by their lord. According to their argument: Since the immigrants’ low wages undermine the wages of everyone else, the immigrants are the problem—that is, not the capitalist drive for lower wages. Take the astonishing example of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez, who, unlike many of his more wretched and double-dealing contemporaries, was a union leader who actually organized strikes. However, he also organized vigilante gangs to round up “wetbacks” and hand them over to the Border Patrol!
Today the labor bureaucrats remain so cowardly they refuse to organize strikes for basic defensive reforms against escalating capitalist attacks. But they are unable to feed the old bigotry of the past to their membership, a telling indication of the accumulated potential for class solidarity underneath the surface. However, while most labor bureaucrats have renounced open xenophobia, they remain true to their colors by overseeing the arranged marriage of labor to the Democrats, a capitalist party of record-breaking deportations, instead of organizing workers struggle against the oppression and superexploitation of immigrants around the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all!”
The oppression of Mexican-Americans and even the boundaries of the US-Mexico border faithfully follow the footsteps of their underlying economic basis. The resurgence of xenophobia and racist policies in the 1970s and 80s reflected the recession and social decay emerging from the depletion of the postwar economic boom. This was the context for Clinton’s draconian policies, which set the stage for Bush’s escalation following 9/11. An electrifying immigrant workers’ counteroffensive launched the mighty 2006 movement, which returned the tradition of May Day to its birthplace. Millions of workers in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles organically trended to strike action. However, the union leaders and NGOs betrayed them by locking arms with the Democrats to lasso the masses into safe channels. The labor tops failed to spread the strike to their own ranks, which they could have done on a fighting program of quality jobs, healthcare, education, housing, etc. for all. While the hated Sensenbrenner Bill was voted down, subsequent bipartisan legislation quietly preserved much of its content. Under Obama and now Trump, the situation has continued to deteriorate.
In his “lame duck” months in office, Bush initiated the Secure Communities program which used national biometrics data to link the deportation pipeline with every arm of law enforcement. Under Obama, Secure Communities supplied a majority of his record-breaking deportations by 2013, and cities that tried to opt out were refused. Aside from the customary budget increases for “border security,” Obama’s second defining contribution lay in organizing and funding Mexico’s militarized repression of migrants through programs like Frontera Sur during the 2014 Central American refugee crisis. The outcome: enhanced perils in the obstacle course of predatory state actors, smugglers, narcos, dangerous terrain, etc. before the US border is even in sight, exemplified by the harrowing suicide of twelve-year-old Noemi Álvarez Quillay. For the child refugees who survived their passage to the US, the shelter that awaited them was so literally cold their fingers turned blue, detained inside hieleras, or “ice-coolers”.
Creative innovations were required for Trump to one-up Obama, innovations such as his “deterrent” policy of family separation (which he appears to be have formally abandoned under the pressure of mass outrage). On Twitter, Trump advertises his onslaught on refugee programs, DACA recipients, etc. ICE organizes raids with intentional cruelty, for example, targeting parents dropping their children off at school. However, the new administration’s crude display of racism and oppression invite a danger Obama carefully tiptoed around: the waking of the sleeping giant of class struggle which could revive the tradition of 2006 on a higher level, spreading to all workers.
The art of socialist tactics consists in making positive demands on the situation as it exists, without concessions to the ruling state of affairs; in presenting the big picture to the workers in concrete form, without blurring revolutionary clarity.
Established as part of GW Bush’s Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a nationwide detention and deportation apparatus that has become indispensable to “border security”—i.e., the criminalization of millions of workers. The slogan #AbolishICE presents its content in negative form, urging the closure of a massive section of the state without proposing a concrete alternative to the problem as a whole. At the same time, it restricts itself and sidelines the revolutionary implications of the issue. Socialist Revolution supports collectively fighting to stop ICE, but we say we must abolish the entire network of repression that includes ICE and kick the capitalists from the saddle of state power. Otherwise “abolishing” ICE will merely transfer its work to another body.
The 2006 immigrant workers movement points the way forward with a profoundly practical and farsighted demand. The millions who fought twelve years ago fought for amnesty and legalization for all, for the free movement of people and labor.
For a time, the flood of mass struggle got out of the hands of the Democrats and NGOs—which terrified them. Its defeat was finally engineered when “progressive Democrats” like Keith Ellison succeeded in decaffeinating the movement and derailing its momentum into the cynical theater of the two capitalist parties. Today, something similar is underway and they are working to assert control in advance of events, indicated by Congressional Democrats like Kamala Harris and Mark Pocan publicly attacking ICE as an agency. A new movement uniting workers across all backgrounds could reanimate the demand for universal amnesty and legalization, but this time we cannot repeat the mistake of opening the door to the Democratic arm of the imperialists’ two-party system.
For Marxists, the legal and national status of a person and where they were born or came from is irrelevant. We fight all oppression with revolutionary internationalism and class unity. We stand for the immediate and unconditional legalization of all—plus quality jobs, healthcare, education, housing, etc. for everyone. We will ensure all of this by expropriating big business under workers’ control and dismantling the capitalist state, which is comprised of bodies and appendages such as ICE, Border Patrol, the police, detention centers, prisons, etc.
Ordinary workers are horrified by the abuse of children that has come to light. They see in the separation of families their greatest fears, their own struggle to put a roof over their loved ones and food on the table. The liberal politicians are also worried, ultimately by the possibility of a social explosion that would put in the shade both parties and all of their machinations.
The American ruling class at one time sanctioned and promoted the chattel slavery of millions; there were many concerned, benevolent voices who lamented and decried the cruel debasement of the slave family but had nothing to say about slavery itself. They were answered by other venerable voices, who argued that the keeping of the law and the natural order was the greatest possible service that could be done the institution of the family. Frederick Douglass had choice words for them all:
The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families—sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers—leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate.
The impulse to find the quickest solution to any injustice is natural. But there are no shortcuts in the struggle against the entire capitalist system. As Frederick Douglass rumbled,
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing.
When the workers of this country overthrow our rulers we will liberate not only ourselves but the masses of the Americas and the world from the grip of US imperialism. By winning socialism in our lifetime, we will abolish an international condition of horror without end.
For mass workers’ struggle!
For immediate and unconditional legalization for all!
For socialist revolution in our lifetime!