Labor and Immigration
Are the interests of American labor at odds with immigrant rights?
by David Baake
THE DEBATE OVER America's immigration policy has recently come to a head, thanks to the Minuteman Project, a group correctly described by (among others) President Bush as "vigilantes" that has sent hundreds of armed volunteers to patrol the Arizona-Mexican border and report undocumented immigrants. While the Minuteman Project claims to be unaffiliated with racist groups, it is difficult to take this claim seriously given xenophobic statements posted on their website warning that the US is being "devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens" and that "future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures." The solution, apparently, is to send racist thugs with weapons to harass Latino immigrants entering the US. Immigrants crossing into Arizona already must evade armed Border Patrol and, if they succeed in this, must deal with extreme heat as they cross 200 miles of Arizona desert. At least 223 immigrants died in Arizona last year, most due to thirst.
Unfortunately, the Minuteman Project is just the most recent manifestation (and perhaps most extreme to date) of an increasingly rabid anti-immigrant movement that has become prevalent in American politics. This movement is predominately concerned with the "invasion" of America by nonwhites who might not assimilate completely into White culture, or worse, might somehow jeopardize the dominance of White American culture. Usually, someone making this argument will add a friendly remark such as, "they reproduce like maggots, you know."
Abhorrent views such as these are unfortunately held by many on the far right. Sometimes, however, members of the anti-immigrant movement will also make arguments that are not as blatantly racist and that may appeal to members of the working class. It may be argued, for instance, that immigrants take jobs from American workers, or that, a labor market saturated with immigrants may lower wages for all workers. It is important that we recognize these arguments for what they are; in Marxist terminology, a bourgeois attempt to divide the proletariat against itself and to give the working class a scapegoat to blame for its sinking living standard so that the proletariat does not unite to eliminate the root cause of their oppression, namely, corporate capitalism. Indeed, the idea that immigrants are the cause of any of the working class" problems is laughable.
On major flaw in the logic of right-wing labor is the assumption that immigrants increase the labor market in the US, leading to lower wages. The vast majority of new immigrants to the US are from Mexico, a country whose citizens are already in the same labor market as US workers, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is also absurd to think that new immigrants to America are competing for the same jobs as citizens of the country. The majority of new immigrants work in extremely low level jobs in poor conditions for low wages, jobs that native citizens would not be pursuing. In some instances, immigrants may even be beneficial to the economy and to the working class as a whole. Immigrants pay large amounts of money in taxes, taking the burden off of the rest of the working class, and their cheaper labor produces less expensive consumer goods.
It is a testament to the truly anemic state of the American labor movement that it would accept the fact that its wages must be determined by the market, and thus, they must keep out immigrants who might drive down the market wage. It is truly a shame that the majority of the American working class is not united in repealing NAFTA, raising the minimum wage, fighting corporations, or taking back unions from business friendly bosses but is instead, in an act of cannibalism, attacking its third world proletariat counterparts.
I believe that the right to unrestricted movement is a fundamental human right, and that all refuges of poverty must have the right to seek a higher quality of life. Therefore, first world labor must defend the rights of immigrants and fight for a less racist immigration policy.