Arizona Immigration Controversy Highlights the Bourgeoisie’s Impasse

Printer-friendly version

Although a ruling is not expected until June, the large measure of support shown by the Supreme Court in the initial Arizona v. the United States hearings for the state’s independent enacting of immigration policy, the political difficulties facing the ruling class in the United States have reached a new level.  Despite US state capitalism’s serious need for comprehensive federal immigration reform (which hasn’t been enacted since 1986, despite drawn-out attempts made in 2007 and again in 2010), no faction of the ruling class has been able to unite the others around a federal immigration reform policy—and a growing segment are engaging in out-and-out obstructionism for purely political and ideological reasons.  In the absence of federal action, states have begun enacting their own immigration policies, Arizona being the first of five so far.  From the perspective of state capitalism, matters so closely affecting the health of the national economy as immigration policy cannot be decided differently across different states.  Yet the difficulties of rationalizing the system, and the increasingly ideological motivations of a part of the ruling class, have not yet allowed for the passage of any comprehensive reforms. 

Until recently, the ruling class had opted for a somewhat porous border policy, separating the different enforcement duties between the state and federal governments to allow a stream of illegal immigration into the country and maintain the flow of cheap labor whilst partially enforcing immigration policy for the purposes of repression and the fear it creates amongst these laborers.[1]  This of course has become increasingly chaotic over the years, as the population of undocumented immigrants living in the United States swelled to 12 million in 2007, and was still estimated at 11.2 million as of March 2010.[2]  For state capitalism it is completely unacceptable to have such a large portion of the population totally unaccounted for, unable to vote, fearful of cooperating with law enforcement, and totally alienated from the state.  Furthermore, in the context of the crisis, states see the need to streamline health care costs, regulate the costs of social programs, and strengthen the border to control the influx of more immigrants.  While Arizona’s SB 1070 law effectively exacerbates many of these problems, it presents itself as complementary to existing federal law—which is specifically what was challenged by the Obama administration’s lawsuit against Arizona.  SB 1070 explicitly criminalizes the obstruction of information sharing about immigration statuses but also mandates that any “reasonable” suspicion that someone is in the country illegally be “reasonably” investigated.[3]  These more controversial parts of the law, which even allow unwarranted arrest of persons suspected of offenses making them eligible for deportation, and have correctly been criticized as encouraging racial profiling, were explicitly left un-discussed in the Supreme Court hearings.[4]  But even the administration’s argument that Arizona was overstepping its jurisdiction was, according to Justice Sonia Sotomayor “not selling very well.”[5]

While net immigration from Mexico has effectively flat-lined with the collapse of the job and housing construction markets, increased repression, and a spike in deportations (in fact, record numbers have been deported each subsequent year under the current administration), the deepening of the crisis means the issue of immigration reform is not going to disappear.[6]  The challenge for the bourgeoisie is to balance their need to integrate 11 million undocumented immigrants into US society, while maintaining their ideological campaigns to create a culture of resentment and scapegoating among the working class in order to have a freer hand in pushing through the cuts in social spending and other austerity measures the crisis will demand, one demographic at a time.  As we wrote in Internationalism 155:

“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. …to turn a useful and exploitable group into a useful, exploitable, and controllable group, is at the heart of any bourgeois immigration strategy.”

However it is proposed, there can be no gain for the working class as a whole from any immigration reform.  The myriad ideological campaigns about immigrants taking jobs from “native” workers and the attempts to integrate this population into state structures must be carried out together with a strategy that keeps the working class divided and fighting amongst itself as separate demographic units begging for ever-shrinking crumbs from the ruling class’ table.  The increasing irrationality of extremely reactionary factions of the ruling class which demonize ‘illegal’ immigrants and scapegoats them for the social decomposition and deepening economic crisis of capitalism, may well further fracture the attempts at regulating and systematizing the immigration law, while also risking to create a ‘mob’ mentality among the least conscious sectors of the population.  This could ultimately lead to a situation of intolerable and difficult-to-control social chaos.

The systematization of what was intentionally left nebulous in the past, on the federal level, has proved increasingly difficult as a part of the bourgeois right continues to act increasingly out of ideological rather than political or economic concerns, taking their own demagoguery at face value.7  What is novel about Arizona v. The United States is the degree to which the Supreme Court seems to be prepared to uphold the state-level initiatives around immigration law, regardless of the consequences to national capitalism and the ability of the federal government to assert its authority over the states in matters of dire consequence for national capitalism.  With more than 5 states already taking up Arizona’s example and pushing through their own immigration policy, the ruling class’ lack of perspective and inability to take united action can only push toward more and more problems for state capitalism in the US further down the road.



[1] At one point during the April 25 hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized this by speculating, to the administration’s solicitor, Donald Verrilli, “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn't want to know who is here illegally or not.”  Mears, Bill. “High court appears to lean toward Arizona in immigration law dispute.” 25 April 2012. <>

[2]Passel, Jeffrey & D’Vera Cohn. “Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010 .” Pew Hispanic Center. 1 Feb 2011. <>

[3] SB 1070, Section 2.

[4] Before the solicitor general even began, Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “I'd like to clear up at the outset what it's not about.  No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?" To which the solicitor agreed. Mears, Bill. “High court appears to lean toward Arizona in immigration law dispute.” 25 April 2012. <>

[5] de Vogue, Ariane. “Conservative Justices Receptive to Parts of Arizona’s Immigration Law.” ABCNews. 25 April 2012. <>

[6] Drum, Kevin. “Net Immigration From Mexico Now at Zero.” Mother Jones, 24 April 2012. <>  & Bennet, Brian. “Obama administration reports record number of deportations.” Los Angeles Times, 18 October 2011. <>
7For example, by constantly inferring that the president is pushing for amnesty, or that any attempt to provide a path to legality for 11 million “lawbreakers” amounts to selective enforcement or the erosion of the rule of law.



Recent and ongoing: