Academic journal article Social Justice

Reflections on the Great Immigration Battle of 2006 and the Future of the Americas

Academic journal article Social Justice

Reflections on the Great Immigration Battle of 2006 and the Future of the Americas

Article excerpt

ON MARCH 10, 2006, SEVERAL HUNDRED THOUSAND UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS and their supporters in Chicago marched for their rights, surprising even the march organizers by the massive turnout. The Chicago march opened the path for millions of demonstrators, primarily but not exclusively Latinos, in dozens of cities and communities throughout the U.S. this past spring. This collective, grassroots, peaceful uprising, powered largely by Latino talk radio, culminated in May Day protest rallies and boycotts throughout the country and in some Latin American countries. Taking history into their own hands, undocumented immigrants have sparked a chain reaction of unexpected magnitude that could transform politics and society in many venues of the Americas--most importantly, but not solely, in the U.S. Although it is far too early to foresee precisely how these changes will play out, we can begin to perceive their magnitude and the outlines of some possible future reverberations of the great immigration battle of 2006.

Ironically, this movement was triggered most immediately by anti-immigrant politicians in Washington, D.C. In December 2005, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437, a bill that would criminalize undocumented immigrants--even further depriving them of due process rights and, in effect, keeping them undocumented, and then punishing them (detention, deportation) for being undocumented. The mere act of being in the U.S. without a visa would constitute an "aggravated felony," a criminal violation treated far more harshly than a delito, or nonviolent civil offense, as it is now, precluding any possibility of legalization; anyone or any organization assisting (or hiring) undocumented migrants could also be brought up on criminal charges. In addition, the measure revived the (previously rejected) provision to authorize local police to enforce immigration law. The bill was so extreme as to give new life to the preexisting immigrant rights movement, this time bringing those who have lived in fear for years or decades into the streets in one giant "Basta Ya!" This is a long-awaited moment when pro-immigrant rights forces are on the offensive, rather than the defensive, as old myths are being exploded, and new protagonists have emerged from the shadows to show their faces on the streets of cities large and small and by their absence from workplaces and schools on May 1. (1) Their unequivocal message is: we are human beings endowed with inalienable rights that we do not give up, even as we cross borders arbitrarily established by nation-states.

At the same time, President George W. Bush has promoted a temporary guest worker program that would allow migrants to work legally for a limited time in the U.S., but with no built-in path to full legal status or citizenship. The U.S. mass media presented this proposition as "pro-immigrant," merely because it was not 100% restrictionist. In reality, from the perspective of immigrant and labor rights, temporary guest worker programs are super-exploitative, at best, and a form of indentured servitude, at worst. In essence, they reduce the entire issue of "immigration reform" to the commodification of Latino immigrants and refugees as a low-wage labor force. Such programs are designed to meet the needs of U.S. employers, who permanently rely on low-wage labor, mainly contracted Mexican labor. They are blind to the rights of millions of migrants--many of them not Mexican, but Central American or Caribbean--who have been living, working, and paying taxes in the U.S., many for 15 to 20 years, but who remain undocumented or in legal limbo, with no political or labor rights. Bush subsequently combined his guest worker initiative with national security provisions, and most immediately called up 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to prove that he was "tough" on undocumented migration.

Meanwhile, the Senate proposed a variety of bills, some initially more "immigrant-friendly" than others. …

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