The other day I was getting caught up on my breakfast reading, taking a look at an article in the Sunday edition of the Cuban newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, written by three Cuban journalism students. I said to my Cuban wife, “According to this article, the proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexican border will cost twenty-five billion dollars, and it will consume seven million cubic meters of concrete and a million cubic meters of cement.” She replied, “You could build a lot of houses with that quantity of concrete and cement.” Olga Lidia is a mineralogical engineer and a member of the Cuban Communist Party, and she persistently demonstrates a good head for technical and practical issues, combined with a commitment to social justice for the people.
Reading on, I saw that the three Cuban journalism students were doubtful that the wall would have any effect. They observed that the traffickers of drugs and other illegal products always find alternative methods for entering the United States when their existing methods confront new obstacles. They asked, “Why would the illegal trafficking of human persons be any different?” I began to imagine expanded opportunities for those in the business of fabricating documents; or for those who have boats capable of transporting persons from the Mexican Gulf coast to the shores of Texas or Louisiana, or from the Pacific coast of Mexico to California.
Since the wall might not have much effect on the number of persons who enter the United States illegally, maybe we should go with Olga Lidia’s idea. Rather than using all that concrete and cement to little effect, why don’t we use them to construct houses in Mexico? If we were to do it in cooperation with the government of Mexico, we could be the co-sponsors of a significant housing program in Mexico. This would be consistent with what we should be doing with respect to the problem of uncontrolled international migration: cooperating with the governments of the Third World in promoting the economic and social development of their nations, so that their people do not feel compelled to undertake the risky journey to the North in order to make a living and to provide financial support for their extended families back home.
On February 21, the Trump administration released documents that reveal plans for a significant increase in deportation of undocumented immigrants. The new measures would include: an expansion of the expedited deportation process, which would affect undocumented immigrants that have been in the country for less than two years; the detention of undocumented immigrants while their deportation cases are being processed; and the training of local police officers for cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the enforcement of immigration laws.
For the most part, the new measures point to a more complete and more efficient enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. As the New York Times writes, “President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally. . . . Because of the changes, millions of immigrants in the country illegally now face a far greater likelihood of being discovered, arrested and eventually deported.” Whereas the Obama administration gave priority to the deportation of undocumented immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes, the new measures are directed against undocumented immigrants in general, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes. The new measures are intended to achieve “faithful execution of our immigration laws,” according to John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security. They seek to overcome a legacy of lax enforcement, which has created an endless flow of illegal immigrants, according to some Congressional Republicans.
Why is there a legacy of lax enforcement of immigration laws? It is a consequence of the U.S. government catering to the interests of corporations that have an interest in a supply of low-wage labor, unprotected by any labor rights or labor laws. Although lax enforcement benefitted certain corporations and other employers of domestic labor and informal workers, it was unjust to the undocumented immigrants themselves. The great majority were pushed by the limited economic opportunities in their countries of origin, some with a distorted image defined by the “American Dream,” and others with a determination to provide support for their families in their native countries. The situation of lax enforcement combined with restricted legal immigration compelled many to make exorbitant payments to traffickers, to undertake physical risks, and to exist in a condition of perpetual illegality and uncertainty.
The legacy of lax enforcement has had consequences for the people of the United States, and we are experiencing today its political effects. The New York Times reports that the new measures will be supported by Trump’s “core constituency — those who blame unauthorized immigrants for taking jobs away from citizens, committing heinous crimes and being a financial burden on federal, state and local governments.” The New York Times maintains that these folks are mistaken: “research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans.” Many advocates of immigrants’ rights point to this fact, and they also note that the immigrants hold jobs that no one else wants, and they contribute more to the economy and they take.
But isn’t it understandable for people with little meaningful personal contact with illegal immigrants to believe the worst about them, even though untrue? Isn’t understandable, in a world that is uncertain and insecure on many fronts, for people to have doubts about eleven million persons who entered the country in a form that nullified normal legal requirements for review, and who are compelled by their circumstances to live in a kind of permanent illegality? If for no other reason than the potential of erosion of confidence in public institutions, lax enforcement of immigration laws should not have occurred. The fact that it was permitted by the political-corporate elite, ignoring the inquietudes of the people, has now led to a level of popular support for the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump, who is taking decisive action to rectify the lax enforcement. Thus far, however, the Trump administration does not show any indication of turning to enforcement of immigration laws in a manner that makes any allowance for the fact that the U.S. government has encouraged illegal immigration for years, through a combination of lax enforcement and limited legal immigration.
Before this situation, the Left has not had a politically effective and comprehensive proposal. It has a limited understanding of the global sources of the problem of uncontrolled international migration. It has not proposed reasonable strategies in response to the problem, and even less has it figured out how to explain to the people the benefits to the nation and the world of its proposed strategies. It has embraced the cause of the rights of immigrants, as it should. But it has done so in a manner that appears to imply advocacy of lax enforcement. Thus the Left came to be seen as part of the problem by a significant sector of the people, enough to make possible the election of Trump as well as a level of popular support for his immigration policies.
The Left has come to the defense of the rights of immigrants, but without a comprehensive proposal with respect to the problem of uncontrolled international migration. Moreover, it has not taken seriously the inquietudes of the people, dismissing them as manifestations of racism and xenophobia. With its limited understanding and attitude of moral superiority, the Left has discredited itself in the eyes of the people, thus undermining its influence. The Left is reduced to shouting from the sideline, scarcely present in a public debate between the corporate neoliberalism and the neo-nationalism of Trump and his team. The protests of the Left are sometimes noticed, but this is hardly a venue for effective explanation.
The Left must reconstruct its discourse on a foundation of an historical and global understanding that is rooted in universal philosophical-historical-social science. It must explain to the people in a manner that respects the sentiments and the common-sense intelligence of the people, even as it recognizes that the people must be educated. In regard to the problem of uncontrolled international migration, the Left should be proposing: cooperation with Third World governments, seeking Third World economic and social development, so that the people will have more opportunities to earn a living in their native lands; an end to the aggressive wars and proxy wars in the Middle East, so that people are not forced to flee the violence being unleashed in their native countries; a controlled process of international migration, with work permits and permanent residency being legally emitted on a scale that fully responds to the labor needs of the United States, thus creating an orderly process for persons from other nations who desire to migrate to the United States; full respect for the labor rights of foreign nationals with work visas, including the right to organize; amnesty for most illegal immigrants that have been living in the country for more than two years, in recognition of U.S. government complicity in illegal immigration, by virtue of its lax enforcement combined with its limits on legal immigration; and the full and effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, with the cooperative participation of various U.S. law enforcement agencies.
The Left in the nations of the North must recognize that international immigration is out of control. It cannot simply seek to protect the rights of immigrants, without seeking to attend to the issue of uncontrolled international immigration, which itself is a symptom of the sustained structural crisis of the world-system. It cannot dismiss the inquietudes of the people, rather than attending to them. It must make clear its commitment to: overcoming the current chaos with respect to international migration; the establishment of a legal, controlled, orderly and safe process of international migration; the enactment of just laws and policies with respect to immigration and the rights of immigrants; the enforcement of the nation’s laws; and cooperation with other nations in a quest for a just and sustainable world-system. To continue on its erroneous path of defending the rights of immigrants while dismissing the inquietudes of the people as racist and xenophobic would be to perpetuate its marginality, and thus leave the political terrain open for right-wing politicians made in the image of Donald Trump.