Bush plans racist immigration reform in the US

FRFI 177 February / March 2004

It is a presidential election year in the United States, which means the spectre of false immigration reform is once again on the horizon.

On 7 January President George W Bush, acting ‘out of common sense and fairness’ and flanked by anointed leaders of the Latino community, introduced his version of a guest-worker programme.

The proposal is similar in many respects to an earlier US guest-worker proposal profiled in FRFI 174. Undocumented workers, for a fee, would win the opportunity to spend short stints of low-wage servitude in the United States, before being forced back to their countries of origin. The plan satisfies with comparable grace those two important forces of reaction, capital and racism. The plan caters to capital, on the one side, by ensuring the workers will be uprooted every three years, thereby guaranteeing the continued existence of a permanently disorganised source of inexpensive labour. As Bush intoned, ‘Our nation needs an immigration system that serves the American economy’ – ‘the economy’ referring, as usual, to profit margins inflated by forcing down the price of labour.

The plan equally satisfies the unnamed but pervasive coalition to Keep America White, by explicitly rejecting any path to citizenship or permanent legal residency for ‘guest workers’.

The ‘immigration reform plan’ is a central part of Bush’s re-election bid – to put on a ‘compassionate conservative’ face and bamboozle the fast-growing Latino voting population into thinking there’s something positive about this sort of immigration reform.

This strategy is no easy task, considering the exploitation encouraged by the plan. Its success is contingent on a sophisticated public relations campaign. With every new guest-worker plan, several dozen reactionary ‘Latino community leaders and politicians’, an inordinate number of whom are Cuban-Americans, flood Spanish TV stations to praise this day of justice for immigrants. In fact, these politicos are on the right wing of the Republican Party, but they have names like Sanchez and Gonzalez.

The Bush proposal adds a new element to previous guest-worker proposals: indenture. Guest-worker status would be tied to a specific offer of employment. For undocumented immigrants, this means that the only path to obtaining some sort of recognised status – without which drivers’ licences, health insurance and other basic necessities are unattainable – is to remain in the good graces of a sponsoring employer. If, by some chance, wages or working conditions under that sponsoring employer are unacceptable, the worker faces deportation as an alternative. This monopoly of access to an immigrant’s labour means the employer benefits from the full machinery of the state’s immigration police as a tool for dominance and intimidation.

The whole arrangement bears a strong resemblance to the approach to immigration of several oil-producing Arabic despots, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is completely dependent on imported labour for manual production. For decades linking immigrant employment to specific employer-sponsors has allowed the UAE to wield the club of deportation to disrupt attempts at organizing, keeping the price of labour abominably low across the whole market.

The intentions for the US plan are similar.
Dalton Hilliard


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