By Lisa Luinenburg, published on Socialist Action, Augusts 2, 2019
As the 2020 presidential election draws ever closer, the Trump administration has continued to ramp up its attacks on undocumented immigrants and on refugees seeking asylum in the United States. The president has launched attacks on immigrants across multiple fronts, and when he is blocked by Congress or the courts, he issues executive orders to accomplish his own agenda.
And what is that agenda? It is simply the aim of the ruling class. The U.S. economy continues to depend heavily on the labor of undocumented immigrants, a super-exploited class of workers who work the toughest jobs for the smallest amount of pay. It benefits those in power to keep immigrants afraid, too afraid to fight back, to demand better wages or working conditions.
In a 2018 speech, Trump said, “Illegal immigration hurts American workers, burdens American taxpayers, and undermines public safety, and places enormous strains on local schools, hospitals, and communities in general, taking precious resources away from the poorest Americans who need them most.” But the actual numbers paint a much different picture. According to PBS News Hour, undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6 billion dollars in taxes a year, putting more into the government than they receive back in public benefits. Immigrants often take the most difficult jobs, working as field hands, home-care aides, child-care providers, and cleaning staff.
But Trump continues to spout off vile racist rhetoric attacking immigrants, often tweeting his views. At the same time, his policies targeting immigrants and refugees have gotten worse as his presidency has continued. In June, thousands of people across the country protested when the deplorable conditions that migrant children are being held in along the U.S.-Mexico border were exposed.
In a June 22 article in the New Yorker, journalists interviewed a team of lawyers who toured border patrol facilities in Texas where migrant children who had been separated from their families were being held. According to the New Yorker,
“The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.”
Children were denied food, water, health care, and sanitation. These are children who are already vulnerable and traumatized, after passing through countless ordeals on their journey to the United States with their families, seeking a better life.
When the story broke, the public was shocked, prompting a series of protests around the country. A recent protest organized by grassroots immigrant rights organizations in Minneapolis was attended by perhaps 5000 people. Around the country, Lights for Liberty held vigils in hundreds of cities. Many of the vigils, such as the one held in Chicago, were well attended. However, many of these events were organized by Democratic Party leaders. Because the immigrant rights movement lacks national leadership, local organizing efforts often get sidelined when more moderate forces step in. This tendency will only increase as the 2020 presidential elections approach.
As a result of the public outcry, and under immense pressure, the Senate passed a bipartisan $4.6 billion emergency funding bill to provide humanitarian aide to migrants seeking asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border. The money would be allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, as these federal agencies run out of funding to address the growing crisis.
But this is just a drop in the bucket in terms of what is actually needed to address the growing humanitarian crisis at the border. While much of the public spotlight has drifted away from the caravans of refugees that continue to arrive at the border, thousands of migrants are still waiting in terrible conditions in camps along the Mexican side of the border, as they wait for their turn to plead their case for asylum in front of an immigration judge.
The current situation is largely a result of Remain in Mexico, a new program that Trump negotiated with the supposedly progressive Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO to Mexicans). Under the new agreement (signed by the Mexican president on June 7), Mexico has agreed to house migrants in their country while they await their asylum cases, while at the same time deploying their National Guard across the country (with particular emphasis along the southern Mexican border with Guatemala) in an attempt to halt the flow of migrants coming into their country from Central America.
Before the Remain in Mexico policy was officially signed into law, migrants were supposed to be able to stay in the United States while waiting for their asylum cases to be heard. But now they must languish in what amounts to concentration camps on the Mexican side of the border, without access to proper food, sanitation, or medical care, while they wait for weeks or even months for their cases to be heard.
The backlog of immigration cases has now reached a crisis point in the U.S. court system. According to a National Public Radio report on June 4, the American Bar Association is saying that the immigration courts are now on the “brink of collapse.” The current backlog has now grown to almost 900,000 cases. With less than 450 immigration judges across the U.S., some have as many as 9000 cases on their dockets and are scheduling hearings years in advance. Judges are now required to reach quotas of cases in order to get good job reviews, pushing many towards the brink of burnout. The process is grueling for immigrants too, many of whom don’t even have access to lawyers to help them through the legal process.
At the same time, Trump is now attempting to deny Central American migrants even the basic right to seek asylum at all. The Globe Post reported on July 15 on Trump’s latest executive order, which would bar migrants from applying for asylum in the U.S. if they have passed through other countries first on their way there. Instead, they would now be required to apply for asylum in the first country they enter. This contradicts current U.S. law, which says that migrants have the right to apply for asylum in the U.S. no matter how they arrived, unless they traveled through a “safe third country” on the way.
While Canada is currently the only country designated as a “safe third country,” Trump just strong-armed the Guatemalan government into signing a deal that would give it this designation, although not explicitly. The deal came after Trump threatened the country with tariffs and with blocking remittances sent to Guatemala by immigrant family members living in the U.S.
The ACLU has already sued to block the new rule from going into effect, and it is unclear if the Guatemalan government will actually implement the new agreement with the U.S., or even what that agreement entails. But the entire debate around migrants denies the fact that people are fleeing poverty, political unrest, and violence in their home countries—conditions that more often than not are a direct result of U.S. economic and military interventions in Latin American, which have continued for decades.
While Trump is attempting to restrict the flow of migrants and refugees into the U.S., he is also increasing attacks on the population of undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. and contributing to the U.S. economy. Over several months, the Trump administration has been battling through the court system in an attempt to get a citizenship question added to the U.S. census, which is set to take place in 2020. After an outcry that the question would cause many immigrants and their families to avoid completing the census, the Supreme Court ruled in June to block the question. After census forms had begun to be printed without the citizenship question, Trump dropped his threats to continue the struggle through legal channels.
According to CNN, instead,
“Trump issued an executive order directing the Commerce Department to obtain citizenship data through means other than the census. That includes documents from the Department of Homeland Security, which houses citizenship and asylum services, and the Social Security Administration.”
Real fear has continued to spread throughout the immigrant community after the Trump administration announced a series of large-scale raids that were to take place across 10 major U.S. cities in early July. As reported in The New York Times, the raids were supposed to target undocumented immigrants who had received final deportation orders. However, ICE agents also anticipated sweeping up what they called “collateral” deportations, meaning family members of the person being targeted who also happened to be on site during the raid.
After protests broke out across the country, ICE officials expressed discomfort with the operation, and multiple cities and police departments announced that they wouldn’t participate in the raids. Trump then called off the raids at the last minute.
Meanwhile, Trump threatened to resume the raids in several weeks unless Congress agreed to “work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophold problems at the Southern Border.” Although the second round of threatened raids also failed to materialize, the announcements had the intended effect of spreading of spreading panic and fear throughout the immigrant community. At the same time, the fact that Trump had announced the raids beforehand (which never happened under Presidents Bush or Obama) gave local organizers time to prepare the community. Around the country, grassroots immigrant rights groups organized Know Your Rights trainings and Rapid Response Networks. In the Twin Cities, hundreds of Somali workers at a local Amazon distribution center also recently walked out to protest working conditions.
While the grassroots organizing around the country continues on a local level, the lack of a national leadership organization in the immigrant rights community means that the Democratic Party will continue to exert increasing influence over the movement as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Immigration will no doubt continue to be a hot-button issue in the upcoming elections, but the influence of the Democratic Party in the movement will inevitably have a moderating and dampening effect, as they suck the vital energy of grassroots organizers into the game of electoral politics.
How can we combat this? First, we must continue to organize on a grassroots level in our local communities, where we can meet the best fighters involved in the movement in our area. Second, we can support an independent socialist candidate who isn’t beholden to the Democratic Party and its lackeys, who can expose the lies of the ruling class and explain the system along class lines.
Consider supporting Jeff Mackler and Heather Bradford, Socialist Action’s candidates for president and vice president of the United States in 2020. They support an end to raids and deportations, unconditional legalization for all immigrants, open borders, the closure of all detention camps, and an end to U.S. military intervention in Latin America and around the world. ¡Ningun Ser Humano es Ilegal!
* Featured Image: Protest in New York City, June 29. (Mary Altaffer / AP)