At this stage of the game, US immigration reform seems to be coming down to these couple of options:
- This option is a massive beefing up of the US-Mexican border, including a sort of militarization of the border through the National Guard. This option is the xenophobes preferred option and is based on totally blocking immigrants and migrant labor from entering the US. This option maybe ought to be referred to as the racist option in that this position most simplistically holds Mexican labor responsibly for all the ills and depredations of the native American working class. Appealing to those who really aren't very good at complex thought, this position holds that wages, benefits and working conditions would improve for native American workers if only those dark skinned folks from Mexico would stop stealing "our" jobs. This position is one often held by those who are really angry and need someone to blame for their current economic condition.
- This second option is the one favored by the Bush Administration and those who run the capitalist show. As such, this option ought to be called the thinking capitalists' option, in that it is based on an understanding of the key role played by migrant labor in agricultural and low-wage production. As such, this wing of the immigration argument calls for beefing up the borders through registering and regulating migrant labor, but also endeavors to hold out a carrot to migrant labor in the form of the possibility of some sort of case by case citizenship for long term migrant workers. Crucially however, the guts of this second option comes down to formally legislating and regulating a second class tier of workers with far fewer rights and protections.
The migrant and immigrant labor argument in the US has three main players. First are the xenophobes. This wing recently raised its ugly head in Congress when it rejected any kind of Bracero, or second class worker option, and called instead for a wall across the US-Mexican border.
Second are the thinking capitalists, as represented by the Bush Administration. This wing of the argument really sees nothing structurally wrong with the current exploitation of illegal immigration. On the other hand, this capitalist wing needs the widespread political backing of the xenophobe wing, and thus, must appear to be dealing with this issue.
Finally, the most recent player is the new immigrant rights movement and the voice it has projected out of the blue over the past six weeks. In spite of massive actions and demonstrations, this new movement does not have a clearly thought out set of positions, and instead seems to be interested in working out the best possible option number 2 kind of deal.
What has not taken root here in the US is a position that calls for the legalization of migrant labor with all the economic and legal rights accorded to native workers. To my mind however, this position is the one us on the socialist left ought to be advocating.
Structurally, the one thing that cannot be accepted by the thinking capitalist side of things is the notion of migrant and immigrant labor having rights. Full rights would mean that immigrant labor could organize and take action in behalf of wage and working condition improvements with little fear of round ups and deportations; the usual method used to control immigrant and migrant labor. As such, legalization would make immigrant labor much less exploitable, and therefore far less attractive.
Secondly, full rights for immigrant labor would and should make immigrant labor eligible for those social benefits accorded to workers with citizen status. And why not? These workers make massive contributions to the American economy and in anybody's sense of fairness, ought to be entitled to at least the fraction of their labor that other American workers are entitled. This eligibility is however something that the capitalist right is not willing to pay for or willing to shove down the throats in the form of tax increases to be paid by those often on the xenophobic end of things. Again, the attractiveness of immigrant labor is that it is rightless!
Finally, the issue of the cross border exploitation of workers is neither accidental nor a purely US phenomena. The European Union's Bolkestein Directive, which allows low wage Eastern European workers to be hired in higher wage Western European nations at Eastern European wages is part of the same capitalist strategy of lowering wage costs through importing cheap labor. Folks who might be interested in immigrant and migrant labor at the global level ought to take a look at this link to Spectrezine Magazine in Europe (http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/Hefferman.htm).
And, of course again, there's the NAFTA, CAFTA, GRAFTA treaties, which nicely mirror the advantage of cheap immigrant and migrant labor. The mirror difference is simply this: the free-trade agreements take the exploitative economy to workers rather than moving the worker to the exploitative economy.
All for now ...