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Stop Immigrant-Bashing!

By Jim Lane

North Texas activists gathered for the Amigos Del Mundo forum on May 13. The topic, "Problems of Immigrants," was presented in Spanish. The lively discussion was informative for all.

Intensified worldwide imperialism is driving workers and peasants from all "third world" countries into the industrial centers, where they become the special focus of far-right political groupings. Race, religion, and cultural differences are added to misleading economic arguments to exploit political advantage for the radical right. The situation in the United States may not even be as bad as it is in other industrialized nations.

There can be no doubt, however, that the situation here is worsening. New anti-immigrant laws in Arizona are especially ugly. Armed vigilantes are being encouraged by a U.S. Congressman!

Organizing Is the Answer

The fundamental charge against immigrants is that they take away domestic jobs and bring down wages. In 1999, the AFL-CIO changed their historic pro-deportation position and asked unions to try a more promising solution: organize the immigrant worker into unions and demand higher wages. If immigrants are unionized, they will no longer lower the average wage scale. Several big American unions are having success with this strategy, notably SEIU and UNITE-HERE. The "Justice for Janitors" campaigns in Southern California are a model of success, and Texans look forward to supporting a similar effort in Houston.

In Dallas, UNITE-HERE is having breakthrough successes with Spanish-speaking organizers. One of our forum participants had been in a successful organizing effort in Connecticut, where day laborers held out for a substantial raise and got it. The question was raised as to why there has been no serious effort to organize day laborers in North Texas.

Forum participants who have been undocumented and forum participants working in organized labor agreed that it is not easy to organize immigrants. Romantic notions aside, undocumented workers are little different from everyday Texas citizens when it comes to apathy and ignorance. Bosses use deportation as a special hammer over workers' heads.

Do Undocumented Workers "Steal" Government Benefits?

A great many misrepresentations and outright lies complicate the issue of undocumented workers. Ignorant and/or malicious people say that undocumented workers caused the crisis in Social Security by taking away benefits. They claim that the health care crisis is caused by Latinos who have too many babies. They claim, in general, that undocumented workers are the recipients of overgenerous government benefit payments while putting nothing back into the system. The opposite is true.

Undocumented workers pay billions of dollars into Social Security and income taxes. They qualify for no federal benefits and receive none. In fact, a major section of the Social Security trust fund consists of money piled up by people using fake Social Security numbers; consequently it cannot be paid out. At the local level, undocumented workers pay state and local sales taxes and, through rents that are often exorbitant, property taxes. The benefits they receive at the state and local levels are limited to public school attendance and emergency health care when they can find it and when they have the courage or desperation to go to a county hospital such as Parkland in Dallas.

At one time, immigrant women could get low-cost prenatal care in our area, but they need $2,000 to help their babies be born healthy now.

The availability of public education is under assault by right wingers. The availability of emergency health care is in economic crisis at Parkland. Many other county hospitals have already discontinued indigent health care altogether. Several surrounding counties dump patients on Parkland. The Texas Workforce Commission, which controls job-related benefits such as Unemployment Compensation, job training, and child care, permits no funds to be used for the undocumented. Undocumented workers get no benefits associated with injuries on the job, not even death benefits, and they have by far the highest injury rates, especially in agriculture and construction - the two highest injury occupations.

One participant had been an undocumented worker in New York. He felt that half the population there were working without papers, but they were not primarily Latinos. He worked alongside Greeks, Africans, Italians, Haitians, Asians, and Koreans in 1997.

An ex-soldier at the forum brought up a very questionable "government benefit" that immigrants are using more frequently lately. It is the "right" to serve in the most dangerous adventures of the imperialist army. Undocumented workers get 6 weeks of English instruction in addition to military training. Then, they get the "opportunity" to risk their lives in the Middle East. Citizenship is the bait.

The Solution is Unity

Because there are so many aspects, and because of the high emotional and moral level of the problems, it may be difficult, at first, to see the whole issue and its solution. Our District Organizer made that solution clear at the forum: "Unity of the working class and its allies is the answer." Communists realize that our long-term approach to informing and unifying Americans against their actual oppressors, the capitalist class, is the best and the only answer.

At the same time, one trade-unionist pointed out, "This is one issue where we don't have many allies. It is worse than ordinary racism. It is easier to blame the undocumented instead of capitalists."

Our forum group went over self-help organizations of immigrants. There are few. Churches probably offer more than any other source. Immigrants are a divisive issue among religious organizations, with some favoring the far-right anti-immigrant position, and others heeding their religious call to minister to "the least of these."

It was pointed out that many attorneys and "advice" organizations actually steal from and mislead immigrants. "There is a while community out there robbing los indocumentados," said one knowledgeable activist. Even at the lowest levels of crime, undocumented workers are victimized. There has been a rash of muggings, and at least one recent murder, against ice cream vendors in Dallas.

North Texans were glad to learn that CPUSA is holding a national discussion on immigration in early June. For us, immigrant-bashing is a major obstacle on the road to unity.

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