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The People Shout No
N o! That’s what hundreds of thousands of people were saying as they came out of their homes into the streets all over the country—a million in Los Angeles, half a million in Chicago, tens of thousands in New York crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, hunger strikers in San Francisco, demonstrations in states where the immigrant community has been virtually invisible until now, such as North Carolina and Tennessee, and in towns like Tucson, Santa Rosa, and Omaha.
Everywhere, immigrants and their supporters are condemning the measures passed by the House of Representatives in December, especially the provision that would make undocumented people federal felons. But the demonstrations have a positive demand as well, one that condemns the slight-of-hand being practiced in the Senate where second-class guest worker programs are being called a “path to legalization.” Those myriad marchers reject the idea that the only way to gain legal status for their undocumented members is to spend a decade working as braceros. They propose an alternative: equality.
Many unions support them. Among the most outspoken are the Teamsters in Orange County, heart of the anti-immigrant offensive where the mayor of Costa Mesa told his police department to begin picking up immigrants who lack visas. Teamsters Local 952 says people need real legal status, not a guest-worker program. The union “opposes any form of employer sanctions because they have historically resulted in ‘employee sanctions’ in the form of firings of workers for union organizing and discrimination practices on the job,” and “opposes guest worker legislative proposals because such modern day ‘bracero programs,’ create an indentured servitude status for workers.”
The AFL-CIO says the same, pointing out that if there are jobs for 400,000 braceros a year (the goal of the Senate reform bill), those immigrants should be given 400,000 green cards or residence visas instead, which would guarantee them equal status in the workplace and communities.
When Senator John McCain, co-sponsor of the Senate’s main guest worker plan, tried to defend it to a building trades union audience in his home state in April, he was booed.
Despite a concerted effort in Washington by some lobbyists to convince legislators that guestworker status, while unpleasant, is something immigrants themselves would be prepared to accept, outside the beltway their proposal has met a rising tide of rejection. In New York City, Desis Rising Up & Moving and 20 other groups formed Immigrant Communities In Action and condemned both House and Senate bills for not halting the wave of detentions and deportations visited on Muslim communities since 9/11.
Another coalition, which includes the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said, like the Teamsters, that instead of setting up guest-worker programs, Congress should abolish employer sanctions since they’re used to retaliate against undocumented workers who demand their labor rights.
The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights criticized the Senate bill, saying it held “no promise of fairness in immigration policy and would undermine the rights, economic health, and safety of all immigrants and their children. Congress needs to go back to the drawing board to come up with genuine, positive and fair proposals.”
Over 170 million people now live outside of the countries in which they were born. The work of migrants is indispensable to many industries, from agriculture to construction. So is the work of people born here. Everyone needs a job.
Deporting or denying work to migrants does not create a single job for anyone else. In 1986 the AFL-CIO supported passage of employer sanctions, arguing that if workers without papers were expelled from their jobs, they would leave the country and other workers would fill their places. The results were disastrous. No jobs were created for anyone and when the prohibition was heavily enforced, union organizing was undermined. Employers used the law to push income down and threaten those who demanded workplace rights. In 1998 the AFL-CIO finally called for repeal of employer sanctions.
In 1999 the AFL-CIO proposed a freedom agenda that included legalization, repeal of employer sanctions, increased availability of family reunification visas, and enforcement of workplace rights. Community coalitions around the country, including Filipino Civil Rights Advocates and the American Friends Service Committee, have proposals that advance immigrant rights without tying them to guestworker or enforcement schemes. The Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations advocates recognizing the community rights of immigrants, instead of treating them as cheap labor, and calls for a general immigration amnesty.
T he last such amnesty was signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1986. It successfully led to legal status for over four million people, who are now active members of communities and many have become citizens. A similar proposal, HR 2092, has been introduced by Congressperson Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressional Black Caucus members. It would give permanent residence visas to undocumented people already here and outlaw discrimination based on migrant status.
Jackson Lee also believes federal policy should not pit migrants against native-born, as do guestworker programs. Her legislation would fund job training and creation in communities with high unemployment. Unions like San Francisco’s UNITE HERE Local 2 also call for taking down the de facto color line, increasing access to jobs while protecting the rights of migrants in the workplace.
Instead of promoting a fight over jobs, Congress should make reducing unemployment federal policy, as the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act proposed a decade ago. Increasing the number of green cards, or resident visas, would ease the pressure to illegal crossings and give migrants a status more equal to everyone else. People could reunite families without waiting decades. Meanwhile, changing U.S. trade and economic policies abroad would decrease the pressure for migration. Treaties like NAFTA promote poverty and low wages as incentives for corporate investment. The WTO’s proposed international guestworker program would exploit the workers that free trade displaces.
Instead, to keep small Mexican farmers on the land, the U.S. could provide rural credit and stop cheap NAFTA-facilitated corn exports. U.S. policy could stop boosting privatization of manufacturing and services, which lead to declining wages and huge layoffs. When the U.S. promotes dumping, privatization, and unemployment, where do they think those affected will go?
Congress will never consider pro-immigrant, pro-labor proposals if its current push for guestworkers and increased enforcement isn’t defeated first. A strong coalition between immigrants rights groups, unions, civil rights organizations, and working families can build a movement powerful enough to win legal status and rights for migrants—and jobs and better wages for everyone. It can not only stop the rightward push, but win something much better. It’s time to fight for that.
David Bacon is a freelance writer and photographer living in California.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.