Sunday, July 11, 2010

Immigrant Rights vs. Obama's Talk On Reform

Immigrant rights vs. Obama’s talk on reform

By Teresa Gutierrez
Published Jul 9, 2010 11:22 PM

President Barack Obama gave a major address on immigration on July 1, after much anticipation by the immigrant rights movement.

If immigrants and supporters expected anything positive to come out of the speech, they were greatly disappointed. In fact, what President Obama endorsed as proposed policy is everything the movement has been fighting against, not only since 2006, but historically.

Obama continued to frame the immigration question within the context of security issues, as opposed to labor or civil rights. He chastised workers for being in this country “illegally” and said they “make a mockery of all those who are going through the process of immigrating legally.” He also said the “11 million” who are in the U.S. without documents “should be held accountable.”

Obama made a slight attempt to distance himself from the recent passage of SB 1070 in Arizona by calling it “ill conceived.” But he also said it was “understandable” given the “level of frustration” in the country.

The president proclaimed that the southern U.S. border is “more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years.” In fact, there are “more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history.”

He emphasized greater penalties for employers who hire workers without documents, saying this would reduce the “incentive” for people to come here, and stressed putting in place the E-Verify system for all workers applying for jobs. E-Verify is ominous not only for immigrants but for all workers, as it strengthens the Homeland Security system of surveillance.

Obama stated his support for the DREAM Act, legislation that attempts to address legalization for the millions of youth who came here at a very young age and have grown up in this country without documents. The DREAM Act has been a bone of contention in the immigrant rights movement, as it unfortunately tracks youth into the military if they cannot get into higher education or find a job.

Nonetheless, a huge wing of the movement has supported the heroic students who have waged a valiant struggle for the DREAM Act, including hunger strikes endangering their health. The youth leading the struggle are for the most part undocumented and are valiantly coming out, declaring they are “undocumented and unafraid.”

The movement for immigrant rights, especially the students and youth fighting for the DREAM Act, should fight any attempts by the government and the media to divide the movement. The call by Obama to support the DREAM Act while ignoring other demands of the movement could easily become a divisive point if the movement does not unite around all its demands.

Obama admonished the Republicans in Congress for not attempting to compromise on bi-partisan, comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, the Republicans and the far-right in this country who vociferously demonize immigrants and whip up a xenophobic and racist climate against immigrant workers are not the only problem.

Neither the White House nor Congress, no matter which side of the aisle politicians are on, is willing to do right by immigrant workers. Why? Because Washington does the bidding of the corporations, the Pentagon, the bosses and Wall Street.

There is a deep economic crisis in this country. Joblessness and housing foreclosures will only increase. The ruling class needs scapegoats. And one of those scapegoats is immigrant labor.

Immigrants were welcomed in this country when the capitalist economy was strong, but they are now demonized and rounded up when the economy is weak.

If Obama had the political will, he could issue an executive order immediately legalizing everyone in this country. The unions as well as all U.S. workers should push for this, as it would immediately lift the standard of living for all. As has often been said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

But if Obama’s work on health care or the financial crisis is any barometer, only the movement can assure that its demands are met.

There is a wing of the immigrant rights movement that refuses to compromise on demands for immediate legalization, an end to the militarization of the border, a repeal of NAFTA-like laws, and jobs, education and housing for all. These demands can become a reality if the movement continues to build on its momentum. On to May Day 2011!
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