by Ellen Isaacs
On September 14, members of Close the Camps (closethecamps.us) in New York City occupied the showy Microsoft store on 5th Ave. to protest Microsoft’s $19.4 million contract with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). Some protestors entered the store, dropped banners and fake bloodstained money and occupied the main floor. Another three rows of demonstrators blocked the front door with signs and banners, while chanting against collusion with ICE, border walls, racism and fascism. Although the police arrived quickly, Microsoft told them to back off, and the action continued unabated for two hours. Meanwhile, other demonstrators took up residence across the street after marching across midtown. Eventually, the occupiers moved to block traffic on Manhattan’s central 5th Ave. and were arrested, 76 in all. The ensuing publicity forced Microsoft, whose store was closed for the entire day, to issue a statement. They tried to appear innocent by denying involvement in locking up children and claiming to be multiracial and multinational, but they were forced to admit that “our current cloud engagement with ICE is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.”
Fascist Tactics Rise
Increasingly, the government is issuing edicts to restrict the rights of migrants and those who wish to help them. Asylum seekers are now required to apply in the first country through which they cross, thus preventing application in the US by Central Americans crossing through Mexico, a policy recently allowed to continue by the Supreme Court. Those who apply for asylum at the southern US border are required to wait for months in Mexico, where jobs and housing are in short supply, until called for a hearing. Desperate poverty, usually caused by a combination of US policies and climate change, gang violence, and domestic violence are opposed as grounds for asylum by this administration. Trump further wants to limit legalization to those with high skills and income, which would exclude virtually all immigrants at the southern border.
There are currently over 200 immigrant prisons and jails in the US, 60% of which are private. Seventy percent of detainees are held for less than a month, but these figures are skewed because many are immediately deported within one day (https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/detention-statistics).
In 2018, there were an average of over 42,000 people in custody each day (CNN, 11/12/18). At least 2654 children under 17 were separated from their parents by Trump’s orders, a policy which was supposedly reversed in June, 2018. However, during June, 2019 over 2000 children without their parents. were in ICE custody each week, as well as about 16,000 adults, in conditions described as akin to concentration camps (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/25/18715725/children-border-detention-kids-cages-immigration). About 1300 unaccompanied minors may be held in indefinite custody until they are 18, at which time they are likely sent to adult facilities (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/thousands-of-unaccompanied-migrant-children-could-be-detained-indefinitely/). Twenty-four immigrants have died in custody since Trump took office through 6/19 (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/24-immigrants-have-died-ice-custody-during-trump-administration-n1015291), including seven children.
Widespread Actions Defend Immigrants
On August 11, Close the Camps occupied the West Side Highway in Manhattan to protest ICE’s secret occupancy in a nearby office building, resulting in 105 arrests. More actions are planned. But they are not alone. Protests against the treatment of would be asylum seekers in the US are increasing amongst many sectors of the population: undocumented and documented immigrants; union members and other workers; civil rights advocates and lawyers; young Jews, and many young workers and students. Others are actively helping new immigrants seek safety, from providing water in the desert to giving medical and legal aid at the border, providing sanctuary in churches and homes, providing rights education to those in danger of deportation, or giving help with the asylum process in many cities.
Labor has been increasingly involved in the fight against anti-immigrant policies. When Trump banned Muslims from seven nations from entering the US in 2017, the UFT, NY Taxi Workers Alliance, and SEIU 42 BJ mobilized their members to go to the airports and rally the next day (https://ucommblog.com/section/national-politics/unions-stand-immigrants). Similar actions occurred all over the country. On August 15, 2018 thousands of union members from Unite Here, IUPAT, AFSCME, UFCW and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO marched to demand an end to child separations and good wages for all (https://ucommblog.com/section/community/union-members-call-end-zero-tolerance-immigration-policy). The mass immigration raid in Koch, Mississippi by ICE seized 680 workers who were members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1529. This was soon after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had found in the workers’ favor due to mistreatment by the company. The California and American Federation of Teachers joined the fight along with UFCW to reunite families and distribute food and supplies (https://www.cft.org/article/support-union-families-torn-apart-mississippi-ice-raids). Many major hotel chains, such as Marriott and Hilton, are refusing to house ICE detainees, as Trump wished to do, because of pressure from their unions, which employ many immigrant workers (https://ktla.com/2019/07/21/advocates-unions-pressuring-hotel-companies-not-to-house-migrants-arrested-by-ice/). Hundreds of workers at companies that collude with ICE, such as Microsoft and Amazon, have signed letters protesting their employers’ policies. These are only a few examples. (See also https://multiracialunity.org/2019/08/07/taking-action-against-detention-prisons/#more-1917)
The Role Immigrants Play
Undocumented workers make up about 5% of the US work force, but are 53% of hired agricultural workers, 15% of constructions workers, and 24% of maids and cleaners. While immigrants are now only 4% of home health aides, it is estimated that 800,000 more such workers will be needed in the coming decade as the population ages. Many employers and industries, especially agriculture, rely so heavily on immigrant workers, many of whom are undocumented, that they are in a panic over government policies (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/illegal-immigrants-us-jobs-economy-farm-workers-taxes/).
So what is behind the crackdown on immigration? By keeping undocumented workers in a continual state of terror, it insures that they will accept low wages and horrible working conditions and be hesitant to fight back or to organize themselves. Moreover, wages and benefits for native born workers are held down when they do not unite with those of a different ethnicity because they are led to blame social problems or low profits on immigrants. This is the same role racism has always played in the US. When a larger military is needed, sure to happen soon, immigrants who are promised a pathway to legalization can be easily enlisted. (For a more comprehensive view of migration, see https://multiracialunity.org/2016/05/07/migration-a-reflection-of-capitalism/ and https://multiracialunity.org/2017/01/06/immigration-policy-in-the-us-its-all-about-race/ on this blog.)
What Must Be Done
The upsurge in opposition and militancy against attacks on immigrants is welcome and necessary, but has only slightly mitigated the fascist practices of the US government. It is a mistake to think that if a Democrat, even one of the more liberal ones is elected, that much will change. Gross practices like filthy cages may go, but we must not forget the “post-racial” Obama deported three million people, a staggering number. He just did it more politely. The need to migrate is going to rise in coming years, due to climate change, the consequences of a declining US economy on neighboring countries, and the probability of increased violent conflict, no matter what party is in power. Our job is to build our movement to be as large, militant and multiracial as possible, which means striving to unite workers, students, and professionals. To do this we must raise supporting immigrants again and again in our workplaces, unions, schools, associations, and neighborhoods. We must also tie our analysis to conditions in the system as a whole – the falling place of the US in the world, the likelihood of war, and the inability of a capitalist economy to prevent climate change. We do not need borders, with which competing capitalists divide themselves and claim our loyalty. Workers of the world unite—we are one.