TUCSON, Ariz. — Communist Party activists from across the country gathered here June 4-5 to review and update the party’s work on immigration and with immigrants.

Arizona is on the front line of some of the nation’s sharpest immigration issues. Hundreds die each year from the harsh conditions of the desert crossing. Vigilantes called “Minutemen” have been intimidating immigrants. And numerous ballot initiatives are among the sharp struggles.

Despite the sensationalism whipped up by the ultra-right — that immigrants, particularly from Mexico and Central America, are “invading” the country — the U.S. receives only 3 percent of worldwide immigration.

Since 1994, when NAFTA was signed, 6 million Mexican farmers and families have been driven off the land and forced to emigrate to find a means of livelihood. Major sectors of industry in the U.S. depend on immigrant labor, such as restaurant, hotel, agriculture, meatpacking and construction.

In his opening remarks, Rosalio Muñoz, organizer for the Southern California Communist Party, said, “In the 21st century, the number one issue is how to deal with corporations making super-profits off of immigrants — documented and undocumented.” Racism in immigration goes back to the anti-Chinese laws of the 1800s and the denial of constitutional protection to “aliens,” Muñoz said.

“The Communist Party and immigration issues are interwoven. The party was founded in 1919. By 1920 the ‘Palmer raids’ and other reactionary measures against immigrants were in full swing, because immigrants, particularly after the turn of the century, were coming to the U.S. with revolutionary consciousness and vast experience in class and democratic struggles,” Muñoz said. “Deportation of Communists, other progressives and labor organizers was a big component of the McCarthy era, as well.”

The discussion was rich and varied. From corporate globalization and its impact on immigration, to the Patriot Act and the McCain-Kennedy bill, to building unity among the multiracial U.S. working class, to stepping up Communist Party involvement in the ongoing struggles for immigrant rights taking place today, all were food for thought.

Ricardo, who comes from Central America, said that immigrants themselves are in motion and struggling for their rights, including the right to organize. “They are often very much seasoned in struggles from experiences in their home countries,” he said. A Texas-based activist, Margarita, also pointed out that immigrants who are waiting six years or more for their “official status” are not standing still. They are sinking roots and becoming integral to their communities.

Labor’s involvement in the fight for immigrant rights is crucial, CPUSA Labor Commission Chair Scott Marshall said. “Linking globalization and immigration is important. We have to find ways to make the link clearer. The Immigrant Rights Freedom Ride was a real high-water mark of involving labor in the struggle for the rights of immigrants. The labor movement is focused on defeating CAFTA. Yet defeating CAFTA is a very important immigration issue. But it is not placed that way.”

The meeting’s setting could not be more appropriate: The Salt of the Earth Labor College. The college was founded in the early 1990s in Arizona’s copper mining belt, which was a significant pull for immigrants. The building has an extensive labor library. Community, trade union and Communist Party stalwarts Lorenzo and Anita Torrez are among its founders. Both participated in the conference and are veterans of the famous Empire Zinc Strike and the movie that inspired the school’s name.

Based on the conference a resolution on immigration will be presented to the Communist Party’s July 1-3 convention, where a workshop on the issue will be held as well.