The failure of the so-called "immigration reform" legislation in the Senate this summer is an absolute disaster for the dominant fraction of the American ruling class and yet another example of its increasing difficulty to control its own political apparatus. Deteriorating social and political conditions, particularly in underdeveloped countries, forces millions of poor workers to risk all and flee towards the capitalist metropolises. The desperate search for survival and some modicum of a better life for themselves and their children has flooded the U.S. with millions of immigrants to the extent that 40 percent of the population of New York City was born in a foreign country. Immigrants and their American born children account for 60 percent of the New York's population. Official estimates put the number at 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S., but the actual number is surely even higher.
The unresolved status of so many people creates a multitude of social, economic, and political problems for the bourgeoisie, which very much needs to be resolved. These problems involve the availability and delivery of medical, social, educational and other public services, as well as a variety of legal questions pertaining to their American born children and their property. These are not only problems for the immigrants, but for the state as well. The fact that their parents are illegal and hesitant to utilize services creates educational and health problems, which the state needs to deal with. The illegal status of such a large number of people, who are afraid to speak to the police and other law enforcement agencies, makes them susceptible to criminal victimization. The existence of antiquated laws which make employing illegal immigrants a legal violation for employers creates serious problems for industries that rely on the exploitation of low paid immigrants, including the retail, restaurant, hotel, janitorial services, and meat packing industries.
The demands of the far right to criminalize illegal immigration (currently it is a civil violation, with deportation, not jail sentences, as the most serious consequence) and to round up and deport 12 million immigrants was rightly considered by the dominant fractions of the bourgeoisie as irrational, impractical, and harmful to the American economy, which needs the low paid workers, and rejected outright. The fact that the Bush administration and Sen. Edward Kennedy, from the left of the Democratic Party, could unite on compromise legislation to address the immigration crisis, shows how important the bourgeoisie considers this problem. The same political elements who are locked in seemingly irreconcilable divergences over imperialist and military policy, particularly in Iraq, were quite able to find common ground in addressing immigration.
The bill was in no way a boon to immigrants. The proposed immigration reform is in no way a humanitarian gesture, but rather an attempt by the state to exert control over the flood of immigrants pouring into the country. The legislation called for the militarization of the border, the legalization of illegal immigrants already in the country, and measures to control the future flow of immigrants. It included provisions for tightening the border, and restricting the inflow of new immigrants. While it provided a means for illegal immigrants currently in the country to legalize their status, it was in no way an "amnesty," including time delays and huge fines.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration was unable to mobilize its own party, and the legislation fell victim to a vicious, chauvinistic propaganda attack by the right-wing of the Republican party and know-nothing talk radio broadcasters, that fed off a long standing xenophobia towards immigrants that has always belied America's self-serving mythology about being a melting pot that welcomed immigrants to these shores. Historically there has long been an ugly bourgeois ideological hatred of newcomers, whether it was the Irish, Italians, Jews, Slavs, etc. who were portrayed as strange and different and threatening to native born workers. This ability to divide the working class against itself has often served the interests of the capitalist class in its efforts to derail the class struggle.
However, today the inability of the bourgeoisie to control its own political apparatus when it so urgently needed to deal with the immigration problem is a serious weakness for the ruling class. There is no chance for the problem to be addressed again until after the new president takes power in the winter of 2009.
From the perspective of the working class, the whole immigration crisis is entirely artificial. The working class is an international class that owes no allegiance to any state or nation. All workers are ultimately immigrants. The struggle we face is not one that pits immigrant against native born or naturalized workers, but in which the working class confronts the capitalist class.
Internationalism, July 2007