The problem of immigration is, more precisely, a problem of uncontrolled international migration. Some political leaders have reacted to the problem with proposals of exclusion, while others focus on inclusion and respecting the rights of the immigrants. Neither band analyzes or proposes solutions to the global problem of uncontrolled international migration.
In his first month in office, President Donald Trump has taken decisive steps toward controlling and reducing immigration to the United States and deporting undocumented immigrants, consistent with his campaign rhetoric. The measures taken by the Trump administration, although they have generated a high level of conflict and controversy, respond to concerns and fears of the people, inasmuch as there is widespread belief that the government has not been taking sufficient steps to control illegal immigration, and that the United States does not have sufficient employment or social services to receive immigrants, legal and illegal, from the impoverished and conflicted areas of the world.
Popular concerns are to some extent fed by the sometimes cavalier attitude with respect to immigration laws on the part of some of the defenders of the rights of the immigrants. David Bacon, for example, criticizes the U.S. government for its enforcement (during republican and democratic administrations) of immigration laws, and he advocates direct action resistance against them. He maintains that the firing and deportation of undocumented workers, in accordance with immigration laws, functions to ensure low-wage labor, because it leads to greater use of guest worker programs, which typically are limited to one year of employment (Bacon 2017). Such commentary implies that nations do not have a right to enact laws controlling migratory flows, and to enforce them.
To be sure, immigration policies should not be driven by an orientation to providing a cheap labor supply and maximizing corporate profits. But governments ought to control immigration, adopting policies that are designed to serve the good of the nation and the world; and to this end, all governments must enact, and should enforce, immigration laws.
The current demands of the Left for non-enforcement of immigration laws and its orientation to direct action resistance give the impression to the people that the Left does not recognize the right and the duty of government to enact and enforce immigration laws. They give an impression of immaturity, irresponsibility, and idealist disconnection from real problems. In this and in many issues, the Left conveys an image that does not inspire confidence, thus ensuring its limited influence among the people.
In the raging conflict, many have viewed the Trump anti-immigrant measures as a violation of a tradition in the United States of receiving immigrants. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, for example, declared that “there are tears running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty.” However, comments of this kind ignore the fact that the situation today is fundamentally different from the great migrations of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The world-economy has become stagnant since the 1970s, having overextended its geographical limits; and the U.S. economy has declined since the 1970s, relative to other core economies. The immigrants today to the countries of the North are not being pulled by expanding economies; rather, they are being pushed by the increasing deterioration of economic and social conditions in peripheral and semiperipheral zones of the world-economy, and by the violence and chaos resulting from wars of aggression and interventions by the core powers.
The world situation is today out of control, with poverty and violence in many regions of the world, and uncontrolled migration from the most desperate countries. The political elite, committed primarily to the defense of its interests and those of corporations, does not respond adequately to the situation. Living in an exclusive manner, the members of the power elite are less adversely affected by the problems that the people face, such as that of uncontrolled international migration, so they have little interest in addressing them. This is sensed by the people of the United States, who do not have good understanding of global dynamics, but they do have the commonsense intelligence to intuit that the global situation is out of control and that the elite is responding only to its own particular interests. This is why the anti-immigrant messages and actions of Trump are attractive to many of the people.
In this situation, the Left does not have an adequate response. It defends the rights of the immigrants, which of course is demanded and required by ancient prophetic calls of justice for the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigner. But defending the rights of legal and illegal immigrants is not enough. What is required is a credible and workable alternative to the anti-immigrant discourse and policies of the Right. The Left, however, does not come close to offering an alternative. It dismisses the concerns of the people as symptoms of xenophobia. It does not take seriously the concerns of the people and propose solutions to address them.
The Left should recognize the right of governments to enact and enforce immigration laws, and it should propose more just immigration laws, designed from the vantage point of the well-being of the people and the nation. The guest worker program, for example, could be reformed, such that, instead of a maximum of one year, the worker’s participation could be renewed for a period of five to seven years, following which the worker would be eligible for permanent residence and citizenship. The reform could include guarantees for the protection of the workers’ rights, including minimum wage and the right to organize. It also could establish that criminal behavior would give the government the right to deport the worker. The reform of the guest worker programs could be the basis for a controlled, orderly and legal migration that responds to: the need for workers in fields where labor is in short supply; the desire of persons to migrate to the United States; and the concerns of people in the United States with respect to the existing uncontrolled nature of immigration. Such specific proposals for immigration reform should be at the forefront of the Left’s presentation, for they would convey a much more mature and responsible image to the people than do calls for non-enforcement of laws and direct action resistance. It is a question of having the political intelligence to propose solutions to problems and having the patience and the capacity to educate the people on the reasonableness of the proposed solutions.
In addition, the Left should be explaining to the people that uncontrolled international migration is one of several symptoms of the sustained structural crisis of the neocolonial world-system, which demonstrate its unsustainability. It should make clear that, in the long run, the problem of uncontrolled international migration will be overcome when the regions from which the migrants come experience economic and social development. Accordingly, the governments of the North should be cooperating with the governments and movements of the Third World, seeking to promote the development of peripheral and semiperipheral regions, so that a just, democratic and sustainable world-system can emerge.
I will have further commentaries on the need of the Left to formulate an alternative discourse in subsequent posts in the series of posts on Trump.
Bacon, David. 2017. “What Donald Trump Can and Can't Do to Immigrants,” NACLA Newsletter, February 6.