White House launches anti-immigrant surge

LOS ANGELES — On Aug. 10 the Bush administration, invoking its executive authority, announced a 26-point program of harsher, more punitive immigration policies, including the further militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the expansion of temporary worker programs.

The package contains no provisions for the legalization of over 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Basically, the Bush plan amounts to the implementation of the demands of Republicans in Congress for “enforcement first” and “enforcement only” in immigration policy. Critics call it a program for increased fear, vulnerability and exploitation for undocumented workers.

Along the border, the plan projects an additional 18,300 Border Patrol agents, 370 miles of fencing, 300 miles of vehicle barriers and 105 camera and radar towers. It calls for greater cooperation between state and local police, the expansion of detention facilities and expedited deportations.

Mass firings

At the heart of the stepped-up enforcement is the collaboration of the Social Security Administration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Social Security system will share data with DHS about “no match” letters it sends to employers informing them about employees whose Social Security numbers do not match with their names.

Originally such letters were meant to help the system allocate Social Security contributions to the appropriate person. Now they will be used as triggers for mass firings of workers or the investigation and prosecution of employers.

The plan involves sending out 140,000 letters to employers with at least 10 workers with discrepancies in their numbers. The employer will have 90 days for the employees to resolve the problem or be fired. If the problems are not resolved, the employer will be subject to prosecution.

Un-American plan

Criticism of the package was swift and emphatic.

“These proposals … foster discrimination, terrorize communities and promote an increasingly anti-immigrant climate that is fundamentally un-American,” said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union.

Janet Murgia, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), called the program “an assault on the civil right of all Hispanic Americans” and “the racial profiling of all working Latinos.”

Ana Avendaño, associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO, said, “The enforcement is only on the immigration side; they don’t do any labor inspection, so they are just giving employers another tool to repress workers rights.”

Labor and immigrant rights activist/journalist David Bacon said, “If this is fully implemented, millions will lose their jobs. More likely it will be done selectively to cause a lot of harm to workers, like the raids on union shops in the past year.”

Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, said, “This will hurt not only immigrants.” While they are the main target, he said, “there are 18 million workers with discrepancies, many with changes of names, addresses, foreign-born with names with unfamiliar spelling” who could be victimized by the measures.

NCLR spokesperson Michele Waslin said the White House is “appealing to a small segment of the electorate to appease them by appearing tough” on immigrants.

‘Tough’ enforcement doesn’t equal less immigration

Peter Shey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, sees the program as a part of “the Republican strategy for presidential elections.” He pointed out the public blames both parties for not agreeing on an immigration law, “so now they will trumpet being tough on enforcement.”

Shey, a leading immigrant rights attorney since the 1970s, said, “There is no correlation between ‘tough’ enforcement and less immigration. The past 25 years have seen more and more enforcement … what does happen is more desperation and exploitation.”

“The situation of the community was already serious, and now this,” said Father Richard Estrada of La Placita Catholic Church in Los Angeles, a parish that includes many immigrants. “There is much sadness, anger, hopelessness in the community. Some really serious organizing with many different approaches is needed.”

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party, said, “Bush is undermining the democratic process by issuing these regulations during the congressional recess. A great public outcry is needed to stop them before they are implemented.

“These regulations are designed to terrorize the immigrant community, but they will hurt all working people,” she said. “The attempt to make immigration into a wedge issue to divide voters in 2008 must be turned into its opposite. All democratic minded people must come together and reject these punitive policies.”