Zero tolerance for illegals Ruthless Criticism

Translated from GegenStandpunkt 2-2006

Reforming US immigration law in the interest of homeland security:

Zero tolerance for illegals

Since 9/11, America has claimed to need a new, modern immigration law that takes account of its increased security interests. The House of Representatives passed such a bill last December. This bill[1] on border security stipulates that virtually all illegal immigrants living in the USA will ultimately have to leave the country. The Senate is now working on a modified version that also provides and regulates a right of residence.

The USA has suddenly discovered that there are several million people living on its soil who, under the law, are not actually allowed to. The American population includes a lot of illegal residents, some of whom have been populating American cities and rural areas for years or even decades. The fact that they have made it this far is due not least to the American state and its calculations regarding this group, which has now been declared an urgent ‘security problem’. Legally seen, the authorities simply ignored these people; practically, they cynically tolerated them[2] because of the useful services they provide for national growth. Their status as non-legal aliens who can in principle be deported across the border at any time makes them absolutely cheap and willing human material for entire sectors of the economy, from agriculture to the service industry to the meat packing industry. Although the useful illegals have access to state social services such as hospitals and schools, they are under the constant threat of being deported at the slightest suspicion.

The American state has also made full use of this legal situation to detain and deport people in the course of its domestic war against terrorism. This is no longer enough. Its efforts to make the home front terror-proof are putting the illegal masses in a new light. Although not even right-wing Republicans count Catholic Latinos as part of Bin Ladin’s fifth column or even the morass in which Islamist terror thrives, the mass of uncontrolled immigrants is now seen as an index of the country’s criminally neglected security and far too open borders. Now the economically beneficial laissez-faire approach is being targeted for a lack of oversight and control not only over the border, but over an entire section of the – at least de facto – American nation. All factions of American politics agree that this grievance must be eliminated.

They disagree on the question of how to reconcile the need for state control with the obvious benefits that this type of humanity – from tomato pickers to cheap nannies for the higher earners – provides for the functioning of American society. In the public debate, agitators from the Republican Party are calling for the mass deportation of all illegals. President Bush distinguishes himself from them with the extremely philanthropic stance that the majority of illegal aliens are “decent human beings,” i.e. that they should be carefully sorted into those who are wanted and those who are not, and that the residence and use of those admitted should only be brought under proper state control and effectively supervised.

The immigration reform being debated in the Senate provides for a three-part security package: First, the USA’s external borders must be made truly impenetrable in the future. Second, the punishment for illegal border crossings into the country must be taken seriously. Third, a ‘guest worker’ status should be created, which would allow previously illegal immigrants to stay for a limited period of time under certain conditions.[3]

1. Make the border impenetrable!

Illegals enter the realm of freedom via the southern border in two ways. Either they come to the USA legally under the agreed quotas of harvest workers, but “fail” to return when their contract expires and instead disperse into American society unregistered. Or they cross the border illegally; swimming, digging, on foot or with the help of smugglers who take them directly to the nearest fields. In order to barricade the loopholes, the government has already increased the number of border police by more than 30% in the last 5 years; a further 12% is to be added this year.[4] With over 2 billion dollars, the paramilitary equipment of the border police is to be further upgraded with unmanned inspection vehicles and search drones, the border fence with Mexico is to be extended by 1100 km and brought up to the latest level in barbed wire. The state machinery is supplemented by American recreational militias whose private patriotic entertainment is hunting coyotes (smugglers) in inaccessible border terrain.

Despite all these efforts, too many are still managing to reach US territory. Over 6 million have been sent back across the border in the last 5 years, including – oh my god! – 400,000 people with criminal records. Those with a keen eye for security policy will be aware that the poor of Latin America who are spilling over the border includes not only the prized cheap undocumented workers, but actually also ‘criminals’, that drug smugglers are also making their way across the border, and that even gangs from the Central American states are setting up branches in Texas and California. Think of what terrorists could do with such opportunities!

2. Enforce the immigration laws too!

In order to really close this “window of vulnerability,” the border authorities’ treatment of Latinos who are caught entering the country illegally will also be updated. An effective border regime should not only prevent illegal border crossings, but also penalize attempts to do so in order to deter those caught a second time and other immigrants in advance. All of this has been criminally neglected to date, according to the new position on the previous approach. Up to now, the authorities released most of those caught crossing the border immediately afterwards on the condition that they return for a court hearing. Conveniently, the period from arrest and release to court hearing lasted just as long as the harvest season in the southern states. The border police, thinned out during these phases, would then step up their activities in the interior again at the end of the harvest season in order to collect the illegals from the fields and deport them in buses via the border crossings after they had undergone identification procedures. In this way, generations of ‘Chicanos’ were sucked into the seasonal rhythm of US agriculture and spat out as an integral part of US agricultural capital in terms of price and volume.

Now there’s a war on terror, and the field workers’ old access routes are being discovered as a potential threat to internal security. It’s now considered a scandal that it takes an average of 66 days for a case of illegal immigration to be processed, and the vast majority of cases never come to trial because the offenders are not even taken into custody or have long since been released – a veritable invitation to permanent illegal residence! Deportation should therefore be accelerated and its enforcement legally simplified. For illegal immigrants, arrest is no longer followed by release, but deportation: those who are apprehended are transferred for deportation. When it came to the question of how to proceed, the state distinguished between two main groups: Apprehended Mexicans, the absolute majority, were previously simply escorted back across the border. This is no longer an option, as it only leads to new attempts to enter the country. A practice from Arizona promises more success: uninvited immigrants are brought back to their respective home towns. Many who come from the south of Mexico, it is calculated, will not be able to afford the cost of another attempt because their belongings have been used up on the first ‘journey’, including the traffickers. The remaining Latinos, aptly named OTMs (Other Than Mexicans), are to be collected and deported en bloc to their home countries. In order to accomplish this difficult task, prison capacities are being increased and fast-track courts are being set up to ensure the desired deportation with immediately enforceable sentences. In addition, the current law, according to which illegal immigrants can only be deported with the consent of their home country, will be repealed. The Latin American countries of origin are being called on to remove all bureaucratic obstacles that could stand in the way of the new legal situation. They should make the USA’s problem with its emigrants their own and become accomplices to its border regime, as well as settle the occasional repatriation to the wrong country of origin among themselves.[5]

Even those who have already found work and a place to stay in the promised land cannot feel safe if the state wants to straighten out the existence of an illegal resident population. No one can count on a halfway unscathed existence in an illegal status. The Department of Homeland Security is setting up a new special task force to terrorize the typical work and living places of Latinos with large raids, tracking down and arresting illegal immigrants, and deporting them immediately. Furthermore, the informal networks of immigrants and their services for surviving in illegality are being targeted: the unofficial channels for obtaining identity documents, housing and work are to be dried up – after all, terrorists could also make use of them or have already done so. In the ID card-free USA, other registration documents are made forgery-proof, above all the social security card. This is becoming increasingly important as a substitute for ID and is now required when registering for a driver’s license, buying or registering a cell phone or car, or opening a bank account. This surveillance tool, which affects all Americans, makes it particularly difficult for illegal immigrants to integrate into American society. In addition, ‘guest workers’ are to receive their own forgery-proof IDs.

3. Stop the illegals: Get out or become a registered “guest worker”!

It is precisely this kind of tolerated illegality that forms the basis of the proletarian conditions that US capital values so highly. The American state also knows who is doing the cheap labor at dirt poor wages in the country and does not want to shut down this source of American prosperity. The reform therefore aims at the small feat of abolishing the illegal immigration system, but not the low wages that only exist on the basis of the exploitation of illegal immigrants. President Bush wants to provide a legal route for “willing American employers to fill jobs with willing foreign workers where no American is willing to work,” which he believes is the most appropriate way of ensuring that the state’s security needs are met.

The bill under discussion in the Senate for the temporary guest worker program aims to create a strict distinction between illegal immigrants who must leave the country and other illegal immigrants who, if their application to have their stay legalized is approved, will be registered, monitored and allowed to continue playing the role of domestic workers for a limited period of time. Residence and work permits can be issued two times in three years. In this way, the beneficial pressure on immigrants, the uncertainty that makes them so industrious and humble, is maintained for the time being. Of course, the permit is subject to conditions. Anyone who has a criminal record and can’t prove that they have lived in the USA for at least 5 years has no chance. Since such proof is naturally difficult to provide for an illegal immigrant, the lawmakers have come up with a truly American substitute for this proof: If you want to be legalized, you have to pay a $1,000 fine for crossing the border illegally and a further $2,000 as a tax lump sum for five years of illegal work. The handsome sum separates those who have made a living with their cheap labor, i.e. who have obviously made themselves useful in and for the promised land, from people who have only managed to get by with occasional work and with the help of their family and kinship networks and have remained destitute. They’re out.[6]

The bill proposed by McCain and Kennedy envisages opening up a – of course, lengthy and never guaranteed – path to US citizenship for those who register with the guest worker program and help drain the swamp of illegal immigration through their registration and their monitored, impeccable lifestyle. Provided they are not guilty of any legal violations and repeatedly and permanently prove their ability to be “financially responsible”[7], they are first offered the prospect of an extension of their residence permit for a further three years; after a total of four years, they can apply for a Permanent Resident Card (an unlimited residence permit – a Green Card). If this is approved, they are free to apply for American citizenship after another five years, have their lifestyle and English skills checked again, and hope for final naturalization.[8] And there is another path open to them – as before: Those who are prepared to stick their neck out in advance for their future country[9] will be granted US citizenship after serving in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 20,000 former foreigners have already made use of this option. Some have not made it through the naturalization process alive, but America cares about those who care about America: the relatives of fallen soldiers who have become Americans in death are also granted citizenship.

On the other hand, capitalists are also going to be made responsible for national security, even if this involves certain costs and business restrictions. In the future, they will have to pay attention to whom they offer low wages. The state will continue and increasingly impose its free screening of applicants on them; in return, “employers who hire illegal immigrants will no longer be able to count on accommodating state treatment if they violate the law.” (Boston Globe, 4.22.06.)[10]

4. The Hispanics defend themselves in a very American way

With the stroke of a pen, the American state takes away from the wretched Latin Americans the basis of their hitherto miserable existence, making it clear that the tacit toleration of their presence in the country is a mercy on its part, which it bestows and withdraws according to its calculations. It is characteristic of the bleak situation of Latinos that they defend this existence outside the law and therefore below the normal poverty level in the USA as their chance in life, which they do not want to have taken away from them.[11] But it is also a sign of the American political maturity that they have long since acquired that they are waging their fight against the threatened deportation of a large proportion of them and against the destruction of their family and neighborhood networks with a single great commitment to the country that has treated them so badly and wants to treat them even worse. Supported by churches and civil rights groups, they bring more than a million demonstrators onto the streets of major cities for the second time in four weeks to wave the stars and stripes in opposition the government’s plans. Their protest explicitly uses the argument that they are good people who have not done anything wrong and who have always been reliable and happy to do the dirty work for the true Americans for a handful of dollars. In this way, they emphasize their loyalty to America and find it unfair that they are subsumed under the threat of terrorism and treated as a security problem. They deserve to be treated, if not as real US citizens, then at least not as undesirable aliens and at least to be granted permanent resident status. They want their role as a cheap underclass of the US economy to be legally “secure.” In order to demonstrate the contribution they make to the country as workers and consumers, the most radical step they take is to declare May 1st a “Day Without Immigrants” and plan to demonstrate for a day, strike at workplaces and schools and not spend a dollar. They immediately get into an argument among themselves about whether this doesn’t look too much like a fight against US society and deprives their petition of sympathy from the white majority instead of winning their support against Bush’s Republicans. So on May 1st, they refrain from striking and publicly demonstrate their solidarity with America with slogans like “Let me love your country!” and go one better: Illegals and their already established Latino brethren sing the US anthem together in Spanish.

However, this proof of loyalty is not at all appreciated by the American President. When it comes to national symbols, he’s dead serious – only in English.[12] A declaration of loyalty in the wrong language seems to him to be nothing but presumptuousness, a symbolic appropriation of the southern USA by the Hispanics who were driven out by the good Americans in several wars of conquest a good century and a half ago. The question of national security in times of the war on terror and the political reliability of the resident population thus consistently ends up with the more fundamental concern about the national identity of the American people, i.e. the fear of foreign infiltration by the massive influx of overly fertile, non-white and non-Protestant South Americans.

[1] House Resolution 4437: The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005

[2] The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has assigned tax identification numbers to nearly 7 million undocumented immigrants since 1996 at their request, without granting them any recognized status. (LA Times, 4.17.2006)

[3] Bush: “Finally, comprehensive immigration reform must include a temporary worker program that relieves pressure on our borders, while rejecting amnesty. A temporary worker program would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that no American is available to do. By creating a legal channel for those seeking temporary work in America, we would reduce the number of people trying to sneak across the border. This would free up law enforcement officers to focus on criminals, drug dealers, terrorists, and others who mean us harm. A temporary worker program would also improve security by creating tamper-proof identification cards, so we can keep track of every temporary worker who is here on a legal basis and identify those who are not.” (President’s Radio Address, 4.8.2006)

[4] The Congressional draft provides for a doubling of the number of border guards by 2011 with a further 14,000 men.

[5] This also invalidates the little trick used by some Indians to protect themselves from deportation to their distant homeland by speaking Mexican Spanish with as little accent as possible. Recently, the US Border Patrol has offered some of the indigenous illegal immigrants a real job: they have the task of using the Indian dialect of those apprehended to determine their region of origin and thus the destination country of their deportation.

[6] The Pew Hispanic Center (a pro-Latino organization) has benevolently calculated that a good 7 million of the illegals are in more or less regular employment. For the rest, at least 4 million, they do not expect that they can meet the criteria for legalization.

[7] Ability also includes: proof of health checks and, in the event of job loss, a replacement job within 60 days.

[8] In all of this, it has not yet been decided how many H-5A visas (the official name) there will be. The only thing that is certain is that the number of ‘guest workers’ admitted is to be adjusted upwards or downwards according to the needs of the economy.

[9] More than 16% of Marine recruits last year were Hispanic, according to the Boston Globe on 4/25/06.

[10] WalMart, America’s largest private employer of legal labor, for example, recently had to legalize its equally extensive illegal division in exchange for a million dollar fine and the threat of jail time.

[11] Of course, the reform also affects the relatives of immigrants in the South American home countries who live to a large extent from the dollars they remit from their low wages and send back. In some countries, these dollars are the largest source of foreign currency; in Mexico, they are on a par with oil revenues; in Ecuador, the state’s access to this flow of dollars is the largest budget item. Consequently, the new US program is also an unpleasant reminder to the states that their own social and national wealth is a by-product of the shadow economy of the superpower in the North. This is why they are complaining in Washington that the benefits they derive from the external exploitation of their miserable people, whom their own economic conditions produce en masse and who they don’t know what to do with at home, will be curtailed if they are soon deported back to them at the will of their big neighbor. In the interest of the influx of money which supports “social stability” among the poor sections of the population and plugs holes in the national budget, Central and South American governments are protesting against the rough treatment of their citizens by the gringos, declaring it to be disrespectful toward them and then very carefully asking for consideration so as not to have a falling out with the USA in this matter. So they don’t put up too much of a fight against being asked to make their own national sacrifices for the internal security needs of the USA.

[12] Spanish has long been a de facto second official language in California, Texas, and Arizona, and other elements of the cultural heritage of Hispanics have also more or less been allowed in the country where all citizens were originally immigrants. When it comes to national symbols, however, tolerance finally comes to an end.