The immigration struggle reaches a crisis point

BY:Emile Schepers| October 3, 2017
The immigration struggle reaches a crisis point


With Donald Trump’s announcement of the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio on August 25,  and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement of the imminent end of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program on September 5, the immigrant’s rights struggle has reached a crisis point and should be seen as a matter of the highest priority for our party, for the left, for organized labor and for all progressive people.

That things would get to this point so fast, only seven months into the new administration, should surprise nobody.  In the 2016 elections, Trump campaigned on a xenophobic, racist and anti-immigrant platform, and he is governing on the same basis.  Attacking nonwhite immigrants is one of the few campaign promises he is consistently carrying out.  It is also consistent with administration’s alliance with the most racist and reactionary elements of the U.S. ruling class.

The Republican Party in Congress and at state, county and local levels has largely fallen into line with this horrible program, with only a few exceptions.

It is cold comfort for immigrants and their families that these developments have borne out our party’s warning last year that the defeat of Trump and the fascist right had to be the priority.  But now is the time for unity of all anti-fascist forces, and for the development of strategies and tactics whereby the struggle for immigrants’ rights can be strengthened in conjunction with all the other pro-people, anti-fascist and anti-Trump mobilizations that are arising all over the country.

The organizational and social roots of the anti-immigrant onslaught.

What forces have come together within the Trump administration and the ultra-right to create the current anti-immigrant frenzy?

The Trump/Republican anti-immigrant campaign has a very strong racist edge, designed to appeal to the backwardness of certain sectors of the U.S. population including the working class.  It has been bolstered by false statistics and dog whistle references to nonwhite immigrants as being ungrateful spongers, criminals, culturally incompatible with our values, etc. It would take a new Antonio Gramsci to do justice to an analysis as to how things got to be this way; right now the priority has to be to block the anti-immigrant frenzy in any way we can.

Not very far below the surface is the doctrine of white supremacy.  Among the organizations heavily involved in the anti-immigrant agitation is VDare, a hate group whose very explicit goal is to keep nonwhites from increasing their proportion of the U.S. population and electorate.  VDare was very much involved in organizing the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last month.  The chanted slogan heard in Charlottesville, “you will not replace us” is evidence of the influence of this mentality.

The anti-immigrant agitation, as a racist phenomenon, is also closely connected to the vote suppression plans of the right, which are disproportionately focused on poor minority communities.  Some of the leading figures of the ultra right are involved in both movements, for example Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach.

The source of much of the false information used to attack immigrants, and the organizational, legislative and litigational coordination of the anti-immigrant movement that is now hegemonic within the Trump administration, comes largely from four extremist organizations founded by Petoski Michigan ophthalmologist John Tanton: The Center for Immigration Studies, NUMBERS USA, FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) and IRLI (the Immigration Reform Law Institute).  These are actually hate groups funded by some of the same extreme right-wing corporate linked foundations that underwrite the work of other sectors of the far right.  Especially in the case of the Center for Immigration Studies, they are given credibility by the fact that major entities of the corporate press and media quote them frequently as if they were reputable groups; they are anything but. But now these people are practically running U.S. immigration policy.

Tanton himself and some of his allies operate on the crackpot fringe of the environmentalist movement, justifying their hateful rhetoric and proposals with the idea that too much immigration is causing the United States to be overpopulated, which threatens the natural environment.  However racism, xenophobia and “America First” national chauvinism are far from being hidden from sight in the things these organizations say and do.

The Tanton organizations are well funded by a small number of so-called charitable foundations, many of them endowed by members of the family of the late billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.  Scaife’s inherited fortune originally came from banking and oil, and has been used to underwrite causes such as Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, the Heritage Foundation and other far right enterprises.  Formerly, the openly racist Pioneer Fund also contributed money to the creation of the Tanton organizations.   Tanton and his followers have expressed the belief that non-white, non- European people are genetically inferior, which is one reason given for keeping them out of this country.

These are not the only influences that have shaped the racist and anti-immigrant agenda of the Trump administration, but members and sympathizers of the Tanton organizations are now ensconced in key positions that are crucial for Trump’s program. For example, Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach, strongly allied with the Tanton groups, and  who is a conspicuous “birther” and fanatical advocate for immigration restrictions and vote suppression, has now been placed in charge of Trump’s new so-called Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity, which is packed with ultra-right crackpots whose agenda is the opposite of guaranteeing the “integrity” of our elections.  Kobach has strongly supported Trump’s claim that five million “illegal aliens” voted for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 elections, a claim no reputable analyst believes.

Other people in the Trump administration have views which dovetail with those of the Tanton organizations, including Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who has made disparaging remarks about Latino immigrants and especially those from the Dominican Republic, Steve Bannon, still lurking about on the fringes of the Trump administration, and many others.  In Congress and at the state and local level, many Republican politicians express essentially the same views and work for the same kinds of exclusionary and repressive, racist policies.

Trump Anti-Immigrant Campaign Since January 20 2017

Once elected, Trump hit the ground running, issuing, under his own name and that of former Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly, now White House chief of staff, a series of policy pronouncements that were blows not only against immigrants but against civil liberties and constitutional rights in general.  An example of the most shocking elements in these government policy documents is the prioritizing for deportation of people said to have gang connections only on the basis of the say-so of local police—no conviction or even indictment for any actual crime.  This is certain to intensify the already great problem of racial profiling, a la Joe Arpaio in Arizona, of minorities.

And already there are cases of extreme abuse of the new policies.

Cases have arisen not only of DACA recipients being arrested, but U.S. citizens including one young man born in Puerto Rico but who “looks Mexican”.  In many of these cases, due process and “innocent until proven guilty” go out the window, as well as any considerations of justice and humanity.

On July 12, then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss immigration policy.  People at the meeting came out very alarmed and discouraged, and told their constituents to prepare for a massive onslaught of arrests and deportations. In particular, Kelly refused to commit the government to the defense of DACA, which was being challenged in court by right-wing state attorneys general.

And the number of enforcement actions has been picking up steadily since January.  It is not yet at the level of millions but the indications are strong that the government plans a very major repressive crackdown. One thing that has  caused a scandal is that some immigration agents have taken to hanging out outside courthouses with the purpose of nabbing undocumented immigrants who go there to seek legal redress or to obtain things like judicial restraining orders against abusive partners.

The right’s anti-immigrant propaganda offensive continues unabated.  Trump continues to peddle lies to the effect that immigrants cause massive crime outbreaks and are draining our Social Security funds.  Sessions repeated both claims in his announcement of the ending of DACA.  In fact no reputable studies show immigrants as being the cause of crime waves or having higher crime rates than born U.S. citizens, and the DACA recipients can’t be draining Social Security’s funds, because the oldest of them is 36 and thus far from retirement age –rather, they are helping to replenish the Social Security system.  Sessions also repeated the idea that DACA caused a spike in childhood arrivals at the U.S. southern border; in fact studies showed that these children were fleeing violence and extreme poverty and that they had never even heard of DACA.

Other repressive policies announced by the Trump administration include:

  • The decision to prosecute the parents of child arrivals for trafficking in people.  In fact, parents who try to bring their daughters and sons to the United States do it to get them out of the clutches of violent criminal gangs and thus prevent them from being raped and murdered, and often the only way to do this is to pay someone to help.  This is desperation, not “trafficking”.
  • The imposition of hard punishments on people who re-enter the United States after having been deported. They come back because once deported their families here, which in many cases include U.S. citizen spouses and children, are left destitute.  It is often an act of love to return, not a criminal act.
  • Various new anti-immigrant bills in Congress. One which Trump is personally pushing is Senate Bill 1720, a new bill designed to sharply reduce the number of legal immigrants and refugees coming into the country. This noxious piece of legislation, also calls the RAISE Act, gives the lie to the idea that Trump is only concerned about ILLEGAL immigration.  Under the terms of the RAISE Act, there is no way an immigrant could get to the United States legally unless she or he were well off and have a higher education in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, or have very close relatives of here legally who have to prove they have the money to support the immigrant.   Immigrants from poorer countries, will be kept out, as will many who are not of white, European background.  This is why many in the immigrants’ rights movement and its allies say that Trump’s real slogan is not “make America great again” but “make America white again”.
  • Ending Temporary Protected Status, starting with Haitians.  The Trump administration will be putting an end to a program called “Temporary Protected Status”, or TPS, that currently allows several hundred thousand people to stay in the United States because conditions in their countries of origin (natural disasters, civil wars) do not allow them to return safely.  Starting with Haitians, such people are being told that they will have to start to leave the United States beginning in January.
  • Robust support for allowing police to engage in rampant racial profiling. The pardon of Arpaio is in conformity with Trump’s overall racist anti-immigrant orientation.  It will be taken as permission to do racial profiling; anybody with dark skin and an accent is now fair game for all the worst police departments in the country. People thus profiled will have no remedy.

The announcement on DACA comes on top of all these other anti-immigrant actions.  Congress is given six months, that is until March 5 2018, to come up with a legislative fix.  Some can still renew DACA permissions but no new permits will be issued as of right now.  This directly affects nearly 800,000 DACA recipients right now but many many more in the future, namely people who might yet have qualified for DACA in the future. A little noted piece of cruelty in Sessions’ announcement is that current DACA recipients now cannot travel out of the country and return. A major source of grief for undocumented immigrants has been the fact that they have not been able to travel to their communities of origin to visit sick or dying parents, grandparents and other relatives, or to attend their loved ones funerals. DACA allowed them to do that again, and this is now taken away without any good reason.

What  kind of Dreamer bill?

The Trump administration’s announcement, as delivered on September 5 by Attorney General Sessions, put the onus on Congress to come up with a legislative fix for the DACA recipients by March 5, 2018.  If this deadline is not met, all DACA beneficiaries who are currently working can be expected to lose their jobs and face arrest and deportation, unless they “self deport” to countries which many of them have not been to since they were tiny babies, and whose language some do not even speak. Since in applying for DACA benefits, everybody had to provide the government with all their contact information, the worry is now that such information will be used to hunt everybody down for arrest and deportation.  The Obama administration, when it set up the mechanisms for applying for DACA, had assured everybody that the information would not be so used, but the Trump administration has made it abundantly clear that it does not consider itself bound by any such promises made by its predecessor.

So the issue now goes to Congress, where the Republicans hold a majority in both houses.  The Democratic Party’s leadership has got behind the “Bipartisan Dream Act”,  S 1615 and HR 3440. which has garnered some Republican support as well. But to get enough Republican votes for passage, to overcome a possible Senate filibuster, to persuade the Republican leadership in both houses to allow the bill to advance, and to get Trump to sign it is a tricky matter.

Already there is a lot of talk, especially among Republicans, about what could be a “trade off” for showing mercy to the DACA recipients.

Most often mentioned is either to trade the Dream Act off for tougher enforcement measures against other undocumented immigrants, or agreement to build Trump’s pet project, the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, or both.  This is the position that Paul Ryan appears to be taking so far.


A Possible International Complication

At the same time, the United States is meeting with Mexico and Canada to renegotiate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Trump is putting Mexico under pressure to make more concessions to the United States.  Mexico is in a difficult position, because recently it has been receiving $26 billion a year in remittances from Mexican citizens and their families who live abroad and send money back to their relatives and home communities.  This amount is now far more than Mexico is bringing in through oil sales or tourism.  Most of the senders live in the United States, and many are undocumented.  So the massive deportation of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States would be a double blow: How to find jobs, housing etc. for all those people, and how to deal with the sudden loss of billions of dollars in remittances? And next year there are general elections in Mexico, with the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto already under fire from the grassroots and the left for making too many concessions to Trump.  The smaller countries which have many undocumented immigrant residing in the United States, such as Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador would suffer an even greater impact.

The Fightback Rises

The news about Apraio produced anger, and the news about DACA has caused great worry as well as anger in the immigrant communities.  But the atmosphere on the streets is far from being one of “gloom and doom”.

Very large and very spirited demonstrations in support of the DACA dreamers occurred immediately after Sessions’ announcement (and in some cases in anticipation of it), in scores of cities and towns across the country.

These demonstrations showed not only the level of determination to struggle of the immigrants themselves, but also the very broad and variegated support that the long fight for the rights of immigrant families has gained in this country over a number of decades, including the labor sponsored “Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride” in 2003, the huge “mega marchas” of immigrants and their allies which took place in numerous U.S. towns and cities in 2005, 2006 and subsequently, involving millions of marchers.

The growing fightback also partakes of the general mobilization of all major sections of the working class and of the 99 percent against Trump’s reactionary policies.  The women’s movement, the African American people’s movement including Black Lives Matter, the movement for LGBT rights are all giving support, which is reciprocated by the immigrants’ rights movement.

Even though the Tanton organizations’ anti-immigrant demands are supposedly based on environmentalist concerns, the environmentalist movement overall does not support restrictive or repressive immigration policies, but rather supports the immigrants in their struggle.

Though Trump pretends to be a friend of U.S. workers, whom he claims he is protecting by cracking down on immigrants, his anti-union and anti-worker policies show him to be nothing of the kind.  Organized labor has been a bulwark of support for the rights of immigrants for decades and is strongly stepping up to support the fightback now, coming out strongly against the attack on DACA and the Arpaio pardon among other Trump anti-immigrant policies.

A great number of religious denominations, churches and faith communities have spoken out strongly against the Trumpian anti-immigrant pogroms, and clergy and laity are participating vigorously in the mass actions.  Across the country, churches are providing sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation. The churches make clear that this sanctuary will not prevent the government from coming into the churches and arresting the immigrants if it really wants to, but it nevertheless sends a powerful symbolic message in opposition to the far right’s claims of a “Christian” basis for their bigotry.

All major factions of the Democratic Party have also been supportive of the Dreamers.  The district attorneys of fifteen states plus the District of Colombia have filed suit to reverse Trump’s action on DACA, as have a number of immigrants’ rights organizations.  One of the bases of these suits is the fact that the administration’s crackdown on DACA is very evidently based on racial and ethnic prejudice, and thus is seen by the plaintiffs as unconstitutional.

Suits have also been filed to challenge the Arpaio pardon, and the efforts of the Trump administration to cut off federal funds to “sanctuary cities”.  There are other suits at the state level, most notably against Texas’ draconian new anti-immigrant and anti-sanctuary law.  So far, the sanctuary suits are doing well though the struggle on the front of litigation is far from over.

Urgent Tasks

Many CPUSA clubs and districts are heavily involved in the struggle for immigrants’ rights, and have been for years.  However, there are always ways to improve and upgrade our work.  Here are some high priority items:

  • Improve our educational work, with our own members, with our allies and with the working public.  Though we are outgunned financially by the corporate funded Tanton organizations and other racist, right-wing anti-immigrant groups, we need to keep on top of the development of the new phase of the immigrants’ rights struggle and get the word out in communities and workplaces about why immigrant bashing is not only cruel and unjust but also harmful to the working-class cause.  Though elements of the corporate press are sympathetic to the persecuted immigrants on a humanitarian basis, they do not, for instance, do a good job of showing the U.S. working population just how U.S. foreign and international trade policy, and that of the other wealthy capitalist states, have created the phenomenon of mass immigration not only to the United States, but to all the other rich countries too.  Nor will you find, on the pages of the New York Times or Washington post, or in CNN’s broadcasts, any hint of the idea that perhaps cross-border labor and working-class solidarity might help to resolve these problems. A Marxist class analysis can provide such answers, and propose practical action based on them.  We need to step up our use of our online resources and our presence in mass organizations and coalitions to help promote such understanding. One thing we can do is continue to distribute the English-language version of our party pamphlet “Immigration Myths and Facts”, which answers the questions many people have about the immigration situation and counters, point by point, the anti-immigrant propaganda put out by the Tanton organizations and others.  We urgently need to post on our websites, and start using, the Spanish-language version of this pamphlet.
  • We need to see what we can do to support and publicize the legal challenges to Trump’s anti-immigrant outrages mentioned above, by helping to find plaintiffs for suits, organizations to file amicus curiae briefs, and by other methods.
  • We must continue to support the actions of churches, universities, and city, county and state governments which have declared themselves to be sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants facing government persecution.
  • We should work with local groups to help form rapid response networks to create quick nonviolent mass responses to anti-outrages committed against immigrants by government agencies at every level, and by sometimes violent private vigilantes and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis etc
  • We need to improve coordination among our districts and clubs on our immigrant defense work, so that we can learn from each others’ experiences and activities.
  • There are state elections in New Jersey and Virginia this year, and national midterm elections next year.  The struggle over immigrants’ rights will be central in many or most places.  We need to work to defeat Trump’s allies in governorships and other state posts, in state legislatures, in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives and in many county and local elections coming up.  We can be sure that not only with the Republican right try to stir up anti-immigrant hatred in these races, but that they will also engage in vote suppression and the harassment of people they claim to be nonwhite immigrants.  We have to be heavily engaged in all these electoral struggles.

In all of these things, we need to take note of the splendid leadership role being exercised by the Dreamers, the DACA beneficiaries and other immigrant activists and leaders in the struggle.  This is working-class leadership for the future, and not only in the immigrants’ rights context.  We must make sure that this leadership role is respected and not pre-empted or undercut, by us or anybody.




    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


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