I live less than 100 miles north of the border with Mexico. All my life I’ve experienced U.S. Immigration efforts to control the migrant stream of Mexican workers traveling north across the border looking for jobs and the benefits those jobs are able to provide – things like better working conditions, better education for their children, better health care and housing. These are the things our America is about. Is there anything criminal about such activity? No. What is criminal is to be denied privileges or rights.

The freedom to travel, to search for a better job and a better life, is what our America is all about. When these things are denied or subverted by U.S. employers, American workers organize and form unions to enable themselves to exert collective power in order to obtain all of the above.

Once upon a time immigrants were welcomed with open arms. In fact all kinds of devices and methods were developed to make sure the young country being built had a sufficient source of labor power at hand. The Statue of Liberty which stands in New York City’s harbor is a testament to the welcome given to arriving immigrants. Inscribed on the statue are these words of appreciation: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!”

There are no such statues on our west coast, our northern border with Canada, or our southern border with Mexico. However this does not mean that the poor and huddled masses have not been coming across the north, west or southern borders. Millions were brought in by the trainload from Mexico in years past when our young country was expanding in all directions. Workers were recruited worldwide once upon a time!

In the early 1900s, spurred by American Nativism and anti-immigrant phobia, the U.S government initiated immigrant control legislation. This led to the formation of the present Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Militarization of the agency was soon to follow. Today the U.S. Border Patrol uses extensive military tactics to enforce its control, especially heavily on the border with Mexico, with steel fences, trenches, surveillance cameras, searchlights, sensors, databases, all-terrain vehicles, helicopters and other military paraphernalia. Instead of welcome statues, it’s more like the appearance of the military-constructed line that separates North and South Korea!

Is this democracy? Does this symbolize an open democratic society that President Bush boasts about when he appears on our TV set? If it is, God forbid, then what is the future for our children and grandchildren?

Are metal fences strung for miles upon miles across the deserts and mountains on our southern border symbols of democracy? Is the ever-increasing militarization of the INS a symbol of democracy? Does democracy come from the barrel of a gun? No, I don’t buy it. I never have.

Rather than symbols of democracy they are symbols of oppression, severe oppression. The kind of oppression that has already caused us 165 deaths in the Arizona deserts. All are symbols of a closed society! They are symbols of fear and xenophobia! Finally, they are symbols of a desperate dying society.

No! Steel fences and extensive militarization will not do the trick.

They will not stop the natural flow of human beings – workers – in search of a better life. Workers will not submit passively to dying of hunger. They will fight back even if they lose their life in the process.

What is needed is a radical change in foreign policy, a good neighbor policy designed to eliminate poverty, disease and hunger. A good start in that direction is to dismantle the steel fences!

Lorenzo Torrez is chair of the Communist Party of Arizona. He can be reached at LpTorrez@aol.com