A National Public Radio commentator recently claimed that the choice between Clinton and Trump on immigration couldn’t be clearer. Trump wants to build a wall separating Mexico from the U.S. Clinton wants to keep U.S. traditions and preserve the families of U.S.-born children of immigrants. Is this the case?
It is not.
Clinton as president will continue the immigration policies of the Obama administration. Obama has deported a record number of immigrants, at a rate of 400,000 a year. The massive “deportation force” threatened by Trump already exists in the form of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which has between 15,000 and 20,000 employees.
Because it pursues mostly non-white persons, ICE distorts law enforcement, which is already notoriously racist. Its program of collaboration with local police, under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, “has been widely criticized for increasing racial profiling by police and undermining community safety because unlawful immigrant communities are no longer willing to report crimes or talk to law enforcement,” according to Wikipedia. ICE’s operations in the Southwest of the U.S. are especially egregious given that the region was part of Mexico before 1845. Immigrants who move across the border, from what is now Mexico to Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, or Texas, are doing nothing more than people who move from the Midwest to the Northeast for jobs. Immigrants of Mexican ancestry haven’t crossed the border, so much as the border crossed over them. The U.S. conquest of the northern part of Mexico has no more legitimacy than the borders of the Middle East drawn by the victorious European imperialist powers after World War I. Illegitimate borders tend to collapse. The collapse of the U.S. southern border will bring a new burst of freedom to the continent.
The government’s pursuit of immigrants, even separating families and removing support for children who are U.S. citizens, is in fact a crime. The right to move between countries is protected by Articles 13 and 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. has repeatedly dominated, invaded, and intervened in Mexico; most significantly by seizing a large part of Mexico by conquest. This gives the people of Mexico every right to travel between different parts of their historic homeland, including parts now occupied and under the U.S. flag. The illegal U.S. wars of the 1980s in Central America were in fact imperial wars against all of Latin America, including Mexico. The people of Mexican heritage who live in the U.S., known as “Chicanos,” are an oppressed nationality defined by their common language, culture, and history. Like the African American and Puerto Rican nationalities, they suffer from racial discrimination. They have the right to self-determination.
Immigrants are oppressed racially by nationality, legal status, low income and poor job status. Because they are vulnerable to ICE, they often cannot assert their rights to decent wages and working conditions. Far from taking away good jobs from U.S. citizens, they must often accept the worst jobs and live in fear. Nevertheless, on May Day 2006, and in spite of their vulnerable situation, immigrants carried out a general strike in the U.S., which centered in Los Angeles; later spreading as far as Boston. They thus revived the U.S. tradition of May Day as a workers’ holiday. Recognizing their full rights as residents and workers would do much to increase Latinos and Latinas political solidarity in the U.S. and to re-energize the union movement.
The role of Trump is to build a cohesive force of frightened white people to harass Spanish-speaking and nonwhite people, with the side effect that, by comparison, Clinton appears as a great friend to Latinos and Latinas. One ominous precedent has been set in the Southwest, with the mobilizations of some white citizens against people of Mexican heritage. This combines with the equally ominous recent acquittal of armed right-wing militia members who occupied a federal land in Oregon.
Trump won’t build a wall 2000 miles long and won’t deport 12 million immigrants who are essential to the U.S. economy. But his ranting will help maintain hysteria among some white people, and promote a permanent situation of fear and oppression among immigrants. Given what we can expect from either a Trump or Clinton presidency, we should recall the massive immigrant mobilizations in Chicago and elsewhere. Socialist activists can work with the Latinos and Latinas immigrant community to create effective and persistent political alliances that can revive such mobilizations in 2017 to protest the continuing deportations that we can expect.