Both the Right and the Left are partially right. Conservatives and the Right are correct when they argue that the nation ought to enforce its immigration laws. All nations have the right to enact and the duty to enforce immigration laws; it is a dimension of the responsibility of the state with respect to economic development was well as the control of crime. At the same time, liberals and the Left are right when they insist that the human and civil rights of all immigrants must be respected, when they are attempting to cross the border, and once they have arrived and are living in the country.
Both the Right and the Left have excesses. Many on the Right on the issue of immigration are motivated by racism and hate, and many have little regard for established national customs with respect for the due process of law. On the other hand, many on the Left have a tendency to be opposed to any control by the state structures of law enforcement, even those that are necessary for the common good.
Neither the Right nor the Left has a comprehensive proposal, which ought to include two aspects. First, an analysis of the problem, globally and nationally, is required. Secondly, concrete practical steps at the global and national levels must be proposed.
Global analysis of the problem. The structural foundations of the world-system were established by colonial domination of the vast regions of what came to be known as the Third World, forged by competing European colonial empires and including the American and Japanese empires, during the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. The resistance of the colonized led to a process of decolonization, during which the colonial powers conceded political independence. But the global powers adopted imperialist policies, designed to ensure their continued access to the raw materials, cheap labor, and markets of the formerly colonized peoples, resulting in the consolidation of the neocolonial world-system during the period 1946 to 1979. The world-system, however, had overextended its geographical and ecological limits, and during the 1970s, it began to show various signs of crisis, including lower levels of profits for the large corporations. The global elite responded to the crisis with economic and military attacks of the Third World, designed to roll back concessions and reestablish firm control. The economic attack took the form of neoliberalism, beginning in the 1980s, which especially affected the nations of Latin America and Africa. Subsequently, a series of wars and military attacks were launched after September 11, 2001, especially affecting the Middle East.
The structures of the world-system were designed to promote the wealth and economic development of the conquering powers, and they had as a consequence the promotion of underdevelopment and poverty in the colonized and neocolonized regions, except for sectors and nations that could insert themselves in an economically advantageous position. Accordingly, from the outset, global economic structures generated migration from the peripheral (conquered) regions to the core (colonizing) nations. This tendency accelerated following the post-1980 economic and military attacks by the core nations and their cooperating institutions and allies, which created a situation of social disintegration, extreme poverty, and desperation in various regions of the earth. As the global crisis deepens, many other symptoms of crisis emerge in the nations of the North, including economic, social, and physical insecurity, such that uncontrolled international immigration has become a major social and political issue.
Analysis at the level of the nation. The United States enacted stricter immigration laws in the 1920s, and since then until 2016, the national and local governments of the United States were lax in the implementation of immigration laws. Various factors drove this. U.S. employers had an economic interest in employing illegal immigrants, inasmuch as they could be exploited more easily. In addition, the segmentation of law enforcement institutions, as well as increasing requirements to protect civil rights, complicated law enforcement efforts.
Proposals at the global level. In order to ensure global political stability and sustained economic growth, the global powers must abandon imperialism and aggression, and turn to cooperation with political and social movements of the Third World. We must develop the capacity to listen to and appreciate the insights of Third World leaders who are lifted up the by people in their nations. During the last eighty years, such charismatic leaders have emerged, only to be demonized by the Western press and political leaders. They include: Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Nasser of Egypt, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Nyerere of Tanzania, Allende in Chile, Qaddafi of Libya, the Iranian Revolution, Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. All were proposing national projects of autonomous economic and cultural development, seeking to break the core-peripheral economic structures that were promoting the underdevelopment and poverty of their nations. But their basic concepts and proposals of their nationalist project were distorted in Western political discourse, facilitating popular support for economic and military attacks against their nations. Military interventions, economic sanctions, support for opposition groups (including terrorists), interference in national affairs, and dissemination of ideological distortions through the mass media became the standard fair. By attacking rather than seeking common ground with the leaders that were lifted up by colonized and neocolonized peoples, the global powers were undermining any possibility for a constructive resolution of a fundamental structural problem in the world-system, namely, that its promotion of material wealth among certain sectors was accomplished by taking material necessities away from other sectors.
The policies of the governments of the United States toward the Third World since 1980 are a new stage in imperialism, more aggressively pursuing U.S. control of raw materials and markets. Imperialist and aggressive polices must be cast aside, not only because justice demands it, but also because global political stability and sustainable development require it. The United States should cooperate with the dynamic and creative leaders that are lifted up by the neocolonized peoples of the world, so that they together can search for mutually beneficial solutions to the problems that humanity confronts.
In the past, the popular movements of the Left have provided historical and global analyses, seeking to educate the people, as a result of their being influenced by Marxist, anti-imperialist, and Third World perspectives. Today, the Left in the United States has the duty to be faithful to this historic legacy. It should be providing the necessary analysis at this historic moment of crisis, seeking to educate the people. In doing so, it should be able to completely discredit and delegitimate the historical and current political leaders of the nations of the North, who with their shortsighted and self-interested policies have brought humanity to the brink of chaos. Calling for the humanitarian protection of the rights of immigrants is not enough; the irresponsible behavior of the global elite should be brought to light.
National proposals: Concrete practical steps. In addition to disseminating a comprehensive understanding that exposes the moral and theoretical limitations of the global elite, the Left should be proposing concrete steps, informed by historical and scientific analysis. (1) Inasmuch as the U.S. government had been complicit in tolerating illegal immigration prior to 2016, illegal immigrants should be pardoned. A program for the legalization of current immigrants in the United States should be developed, as many organizations dedicated to the protection of the rights of immigrants have proposed. (2) Recognizing the necessity of controlling illegal immigration, support for law enforcement agencies should be increased, accompanied by a greater integration of their functions. The goal would be to more effectively enforce immigrations laws, and to reduce illegal immigration from now on. (3) A foreign policy of cooperation with the nations of the Third World should be developed, so that the United States would be cooperating with the governments and popular movements of the Third World in overcoming underdevelopment and poverty, thus attacking the problem of immigration at its source. Special attention should be given to those areas from which a number of immigrants come, such as Mexico and Central America.
Parenthetically, I have observed that Cuba has developed such an approach with respect to internal migration. Aware of the problem that exists in many underdeveloped nations of mass migrations to the capital city, thus overwhelming the resources of the city, the revolutionary government developed a policy of requiring all persons living in Havana to have a reason for being there, be it work, study, or family. The police would occasionally check the credentials of persons, seeking to verify that they had a legal address in the city. Not that they would send “illegal immigrants” to a prison farm: they simply would put them on a bus back to where they were supposed to be. Meanwhile, they made every effort to promote the economic and social development of the provinces, so that the people would have less economic and educational motive to move to the capital. High quality schools, universities, centers of science and production were developed everywhere. Basically, it has worked: the provinces enjoy a high quality of life, and the capital city is not overwhelmed. Cuba never violated the rights of an “illegal” migrant, but neither did the Cuban revolutionary government act as though it believed that migration should not be regulated and controlled. On the international plane, Cuba calls for something similar: a safe, orderly, and legal international migration, forged through the cooperation of the nations of the world.
The duty of the Left is to search for that pedagogically and politically effective approach that can make possible a consensus among our people, moving the nation beyond its current division, with respect to immigration as well as all issues that concern our people. Our task is not to take sides against the Right, but reformulate the terms of the debate, so that the nation can move forward in a constructive, positive, and hopeful form.