Migrant upsurge & MAY DAY

By Teresa Gutierre
April 26, 2016

Gutierrez has been a co-coordinator of the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights for a decade and is currently campaign manager for the Workers World Party 2016 election campaign.


Teresa Gutierrez
photo: Brenda Ryan

May Day actions this year mark the tenth anniversary of the upsurge of immigrant workers that gave birth to today’s national immigrant rights movement.

Legislation introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) in December 2005 had been one of the most racist and reactionary bills to pass in the House.

The Sensenbrenner bill would not only have made it a felony to be in the United States without documents, it would have made any relative, employer, coworker, clergy, lawyer or friend of an undocumented immigrant into an “alien smuggler” and also a criminal.

This threat sparked an explosive reaction from immigrant workers.

Throughout the spring of 2006, tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters poured into the streets, not just once but several times.  Mexicans, who make up the bulk of the immigrant population, brought out their flags in a show of pride and coined the phrase heard many times in the days to come: “Sí, se puede.” (Yes, we can).

Mexican immigrants were joined in many cities by Caribbean, Asian and African migrants who also came out to fight for their right to be in the U.S.

The actions culminated on May Day 2006, which amazingly was one of the largest days of protest ever in this country’s history and revived International Workers’ Day in the U.S.

At least 2 million people marched on May 1, 2006. It was a general strike and a boycott, as workers and students walked out of their jobs and schools in a show of militant defiance in “A Day Without Immigrants.”

Businesses were forced to shut down across the country.  Cargill and Perdue Farms closed more than two dozen plants, employing over 20,000 people. In Arizona protesters formed a human chain and blocked off Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Workers shut the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in a stunning blow to capitalism.

Also in Los Angeles, almost 75,000 students were absent from school. Cities like Dallas, Phoenix and Las Vegas had the largest demonstrations in their entire history.

Wall Street and Washington were stunned by the defiance.

Two steps forward, one step back

The Sensenbrenner legislation was defeated.  But in the years to follow, a backlash ensued.

Because of the economic downturn after the stock market crash of 2008, the bosses were no longer in need of a large vulnerable supply of surplus labor. The ruling class launched a complex, intense anti-immigrant campaign that aimed to not only push undocumented workers back into the shadows but many out of this country altogether.

At the root of this backlash was not just a crisis in the economy but the age-old racist frenzy used to accomplish the bosses’ goals.

The fear of the “browning of America” took hold as the existence of more workers of color threatened the ruling class’s social peace.

Arizona and states in the South became ground zero for racist repression as Washington imposed measures such as the 287(g) Program. Started in North Carolina, these measures gave states the right to enforce immigration law. It gave local law officials like Phoenix’s fascist Sheriff Joe Arpaio — who has now endorsed Donald Trump — the green light to racially profile and check the immigration status of anyone in jail.

In this election year it is important to point out that the foundation of 287(g) was established under the administration of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when rotten anti-immigrant legislation was passed.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “Today’s explosion in detention is fueled in large part by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Enacted during the ‘tough on crime’ years of the Clinton administration, IIRIRA is based on the false premise that we need mass detention and deportation to keep dangerous ‘criminal aliens’ off our streets.” (aclu.org, Oct. 20, 2011)

In 1994, the Clinton administration began Operation Gatekeeper, which aimed to stop immigrants at the southern border between San Diego, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico. The goal was to push migrants further east into the cruel deserts of Arizona or Texas.

Called the “funnel effect,” it is estimated that because of these steps “over 6,600 migrants have died on the U.S. side of the southern border, and the remains of another 1,000 migrants have been unidentified.” (telesurtv.net, April 18)

On the 15th anniversary of Operation Gatekeeper it was reported that it was “being observed with outrage by humanitarian activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.” (NBC San Diego, Sept. 30, 2009)

Notably, it was also under Clinton that the mass incarceration of Black youth began that led to the U.S. jailing more people than any other country in the world.

The capitalist state decentralized immigration policy, despite the clamor for a national humane and just reform.  Democrats allowed Republicans, especially the Tea Party, to create a stalemate in Washington.

No proposed legislation on Capitol Hill, however, ever addressed the desperate needs of the undocumented.  No proposed legislation ever granted legalization to the over 12 million undocumented people, despite workers having earned it a hundred times over.

No proposed legislation ever recognized the root cause of migration — U.S. government foreign and economic policies — that forced workers to leave their homelands in the first place.

In the courts, out of sight

Today, a highly political juggling act is taking place in Washington. Immigrants are the objects thrown into the air.  Immigration reform has been forced on the courts.

On April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of United States v. Texas, otherwise known as the “DAPA/DACA” (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans/Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) case.

At stake is the implementation of two parts of President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive action. DAPA/DACA aimed to provide some administrative relief from deportation but is temporary and could be reversed by the next president.

This minor but important relief has been blocked by a heartless — and legally unsubstantiated — lawsuit initiated by Texas and 25 other states.

On April 20 a New York Times editorial described the current Supreme Court debate as “momentous” where “the lives of millions hang in the balance.” The Huffington Post said it was dubbed the “biggest immigration case of the century.”

Yet a decision is not expected until June.

Where is the outcry by the Democratic Party, which is right now aggressively courting the Latina/o and Black vote, to get DAPA/DACA passed and give it some real teeth?  Where is the outrage over the violation of the rights of families who have toiled for decades in the shadows selling their labor, only to be told “Wait, wait, vote for me and maybe I’ll set you free next year, or the year after that.”

How can anyone respect the words of leaders of the Democratic Party when President Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history!

If the Democrats really care about Black and Brown people, why not call for an emergency demonstration of millions and demand that Congress walk out in anger not only for the lives of immigrants but for the families of Black youth who have lost their children at the hands of law enforcement?  Why not force the jailing of killer cops?

Where is the program that will genuinely bring back jobs for all, instead of going along with the lie that blames migrants for unemployment?  It is not migrants who close factories, laying off workers, and go to other countries where labor is cheaper, but the very corporations that donate to the Democratic Party!

The Supreme Court case, like the elections, is a game to divert workers from the real issues and from the fact that immigration policy is implemented every moment.

Case in point: while this alleged historic case is being considered, a New York-based immigrant rights group reports an ominous development.

In a March 24 press release, DRUM South Asian Organizing Center reported that “Immigration authorities have begun transporting South Asian detainees to Florence, Ariz., as a staging ground for impending mass deportation. Many of the Muslim migrants from Bangladesh were participants in … hunger strikes at the end of 2015 … and brought attention to the prolonged, unjustified, and discriminatory detention of Muslim and South Asian migrants.

“As candidates Trump and Cruz stir anti-Muslim sentiment … the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration is already racially profiling against Muslim migrants, by holding detainees for indefinite … periods of time, setting unusually high bond amounts, and now preparing to deport Muslim detainees en masse to their potential deaths.”

Lessons learned: Look to the youth

In 2006, at many of the massive demonstrations, workers brought the U.S. flag — in defiance, for protection, and for a myriad of other reasons. Legalization and “We are not criminals” were the main slogans.

In the past 10 years, it has been demonstrated that the workers cannot count on Washington for any relief. In fact, it is Washington that puts them in harm’s way.

They cannot count on the Democrats who, despite the good intentions of some, wear the complex shackles of the capitalist system that will rein them in every time.

That is why, in this period, it is important to look to the youth.  Black and Brown youth are especially upping the ante and are challenging and shutting down not only Trump events but challenging the Democrats as well.  Black and Brown youth have seen the truth and are coming to realize it is they who have the power, not the elected officials.

Immigrant youth are coming to protests demanding not legalization but LIBERATION.  Revolutionary attempts are being made to unite the immigrant rights struggle with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The masses can be confident that the next upheaval around the corner will be an escalation that will bring real change.

Immigrant workers are permanent members of the U.S. working class, despite the ruling class’s attempts to expel them. As workers, they are the gravediggers of our oppressors.