Arizona "SB 1070": Against the Repressive Immigration Policies of the State: The Solidarity of the Whole Working Class

See also :

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

In April, the Arizona state legislature passed a bill (SB 1070), since signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, unprecedentedly brazen in its attack on both illegal immigrants and workers generally. The immigration issue, which had been gaining importance in the United States for some years, has grasped the head of the bourgeoisie and tugged the bourgeoisie's rhetoric around itself. The various factions of the bourgeoisie, in turn, have endeavored to drag the working class into its discourse on immigration by means of sponsored demonstrations and rallies, all of which play to some nationalism or other and all of which can only be destructive to the working class' actions in its own defense.

One need not read very far into the bill to find what has ignited so much controversy. SB 1070 is a collection of amendments to Arizona's existing collection of immigration laws. The first amendment it makes gives new powers to any Arizona law enforcement official. It states that, "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person"[1]. SB 1070 also mandates the sharing of information gathered about illegal immigrants with Federal agencies, and makes it a crime to obstruct the, "receiving, sending, or maintaining"[2] of information about immigration status. The information can affect applications for Federal or Arizona welfare benefits, drivers' and business licenses, or other government services. Finally, "a law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States"[3]. All of this can be found in the first two pages of the bill. The dominant faction of the bourgeoisie in Arizona has certainly been up front with its policy!

That the right faction of the bourgeoisie in Arizona chose to represent its bill as "cooperative enforcement" of Federal immigration laws within Arizona speaks to its intentions. SB 1070 is not intended merely as "an indispensible tool for the police in a border state that is a leading magnet of illegal immigration"[4]. It's meant to provide a model for other states that have been revising their immigration laws since 2007, the last time a federal effort to reform immigration law collapsed[5]. More than that, it is one model that new Federal efforts at the revision of immigration law would have to consider. Certainly SB 1070 has inspired the Congressional leadership in both houses to revisit the issue: Democratic leader Harry Reid acknowledged that, from the bourgeois point of view, "our immigration system is broken", and invited Senate Republicans to work with Democrats in creating comprehensive immigration legislation[6]. Whatever proposals they might bring will certainly be influenced by SB 1070, as Republicans have been forced, under pressure from primary challengers, to line up in support of the bill[7]. Clearly, the right wing of the American bourgeoisie wants immigration law more restrictive, wants greater police power, and wants these increases codified in Federal law. However, in order to understand the situation fully, it is necessary to grasp the reasons why the right wants these things.

The need for a new policy is something on which the whole of the bourgeoisie can agree. Apart from any other considerations, the bourgeoisie knows very well that their system is always at a rolling boil, and that the conditions of 1986-the last time the Federal government has comprehensively overhauled immigration law-are not the conditions of 2010. The provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act made it illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants, gave amnesty to certain long-term-resident illegal immigrants, and provided a path toward legalization for some illegal immigrants who worked as seasonal workers. However, since then, the number of illegal immigrants has grown to an estimated twelve million.  Objectively, this is not a bad thing for the bourgeoisie, for various factions of which this is variously a pool of laborers to be exploited, competitors with which to threaten other workers, and potential union dues-payers[8]. However, it would be even better for the bourgeoisie if they could keep this group of people in their current condition-cowed, desperate, and afraid to struggle-as well as countable and regulated. This reflects the need of the bourgeois state to bring all social life under its oversight.

That objective, to turn a useful and exploitable group into a useful, exploitable, and controllable group, is at the heart of any bourgeois immigration strategy. The right's turn towards police repression and tightening of border controls allows the state to invade the lives of illegal immigrants, putting them "in the system", as well as making them even more afraid of the state than they are now. This fear will, the right hopes, deter further illegal immigration, drive illegal immigrants away from claiming welfare benefits, and most importantly, make them docile in the workplace[9]. The left of the bourgeoisie, however, is concerned that repression will have other consequences. An actual decrease in illegal immigration would, as already seen, be harmful to the bourgeoisie in its war against the proletariat. They worry also that the United States could be cutting off its nose to spite its face. For this section of the bourgeoisie, the history of segregation, which was useful in the labor market in the same way SB 1070-style immigration reform would be useful, weighs heavily on their minds. They remember the damage that discrimination did to the reputation of the United States, both internationally and internally, as a champion of democracy and "human rights"[10]. At the same time, they remember how useful the movement against segregation was to them politically as a faction, and have speculated that "an immigration debate could help energize Hispanic voters and provide embattled Democrats seeking re-election in November"[11]. These double priorities help explain the energy of the anti-SB 1070 demonstrations, whose members are animated by "anti-racism" and anti-fascism-comparisons to Nazi-era demands for "papers" are rife at their rallies[12]-and whose organizers are backed financially by the movers and shakers on the bourgeois left.

Both factions of the bourgeoisie have appealed to the working class in the language of nationalism. The Right speaks the language of crime and culture, exhorting ‘native' Americans to mobilize against illegal immigrants in defense of their safety and way of life. The Left speaks the language of common humanity, but also the language of ‘pride'. The various Latin American nationalisms are all given play when the Left of the bourgeoisie demonstrates on this issue. One speaker remarked, un-ironically, that Arizona was "Mexican land", a variation on the common Leftist theme that the land was stolen from Native Americans. All these tactics are meant to destroy any relationship between immigrant and ‘native' workers, and to build up nationalist barriers even between citizens. This ultimate aim of dividing the working class, even mobilizing ‘native' workers so that they might police their ‘illegal' fellows, is one of the few things on which the bourgeoisie can agree.

From the point of view of the dominant class there is a pressing need for some kind of 'immigration reform'. However there is no guarantee that they will be able agree on and implement a common policy. As we have seen during the 'debate' over health insurance, and the previous attempt at a comprehensive immigration reform, the ideological polarization within the right and left factions of the bourgeoisie can obstruct policies that are obviously in the best interest of the national capital as whole. Whatever the outcome of the American bourgeoisie's current ideological squabbles on the issue of immigration, one thing is for sure: the only 'solutions' they can offer to the massive displacement of impoverished workers and peasants from the periphery of capitalism will involve more repressive policies, in all their forms. They will continue to have no qualms about taking advantage of this particularly vulnerable sector of the working class for capitalism's benefit.

The only possible solution is for the working class to recognize, not the "common humanity" of all its members, but their common social situation. Against the ideological and material attacks of the bourgeoisie, the working class can only resist by building its own solidarity amid its own struggles, slow as they might be to develop in the current climate.

RW, 6/25/10.



[1] SB 1070, Section 2

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Archibold, ‘Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration', New York Times, 23 April, 2010

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hulse, Herszenhorn,, ‘Democrats Outline Plan for Immigration', New York Times. 29 April, 2010.

[7] Archibold, op. cit.

[8] Immigrant Demonstrations, Internationalism 139

[9] Alexander, From SB 1070 to J.D. Hayworth's Book on Illegal Immigration, "Whatever it Takes", Intellectual Conservative, 2 May, 2010.

[10] Archibold, op. cit.

[11] Ibid.

[12] http://nuevaraza.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/austin-counterprotest-rally-against-supporters-of-sb-1070-june-12/