Now that President Bush has made his famous statement on how he is going to take care of the 8 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, the corporate media are emitting their usual blather and spin.
Right-wing pundits are shrieking about “giveaways” and “amnesty” for “lawbreakers” and potential terrorists, while somewhat more moderate sectors of the press are hailing the proposals as a great gift to the hardworking and honest undocumented workers in our midst. Both of these interpretations are dead wrong.
Bush did not propose an “amnesty” for “illegal immigrants.” He proposed a glorified “bracero” or guest-worker program for workers living without papers in the United States, along with others who might some day decide to come here. While it’s true that some immigrants would be allowed to apply for legal residency, the plan breaks little new ground in this respect, either.
The plan would guarantee a docile and low-paid workforce for certain employers, and would help the president’s agenda of accumulating data files on everyone in the country, but would not give undocumented workers a path to citizenship and equality. It would codify the super-exploitation of the undocumented instead of ending it.
What is chiefly wrong with the proposals is that they do not guarantee that the mass of undocumented workers and their kin will be allowed to regularize their status in this country and enjoy equal rights with other non-citizens, and/or eventually achieve citizenship.
Immigrant workers will be forced to rely on the good will of a single employer, the one who signed the papers stating that a job was available to them and not wanted by a U.S. citizen. This gives employers a mighty union-busting tool, and thus will serve to keep wages down and working conditions bad.
Further, without any guarantees, the immigrant has to deliver himself or herself into the hands of the U.S. authorities, and rely on them not to use this contact as a basis for arrest and deportation. Given the recent experience of the “registration” program for nationals of Muslim countries, to place such reliance in the U.S. administration would be folly.
What game is Mr. Bush playing? The press says he is angling to get Latino votes in the 2004 elections by creating a vague feeling of good will toward him in this sector of the population. Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, former Mexican ambassador to the United Nations, told the Spanish-language newspaper Hoy that Bush’s plan may be yet another mechanism to collect files on people so as to be able to crack down on them later. Both of these things may be true. I think, however, that Bush is playing a deeper and more devious game, one intended to weaken solidarity among forces opposing his policies.
The struggle for the rights of immigrant workers in the United States has been building a mighty coalition between the immigrant communities and organized labor, which has strengthened both. Suffice it to mention last year’s successful Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride.
The government of Mexico has been an inconsistent ally in this effort. Mexican President Vicente Fox, trying to keep an increasingly restive Mexican public opinion at bay, has to be seen as doing something to relieve the plight of Mexicans north of the border.
President Bush is not a fool, he just plays one on television. Or maybe he is a bit dim, but he has a team of crafty and ruthless advisors who know how to play the game of divide and conquer. Seeing the de-facto three-part alliance among U.S. labor, immigrant workers and the Mexican government, the Bush administration is now exploring ways to drive wedges into that alliance. Such plans must be foiled.
Strengthening and expanding the labor-immigrant alliance is a critical task. In the few days since Bush made his announcement, major labor union leaders have joined immigrant community leaders in criticizing the Bush proposals, and continuing to demand a full legalization program. But at the level of the mass of the immigrant population, we will have to see if the efforts of some to sell this fraudulent plan as “a new amnesty” will lead to false optimism.
Be that as it may, this labor-immigrant alliance needs to be further built, including organizing support and solidarity for it from all sectors of the U.S. population, immigrant and non-immigrant alike. All progressive activists should understand the importance of this task, and give what support they can.
Emile Schepers is an activist in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.