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At first, I wasn’t sure whether Gov. Schwarzenegger was caught winging it when he praised border vigilantes as good citizens patching up bad government. But as he repeated the account in Sunday’s interview with Chris Wallace, I began to suspect that all these signs are beginning to take the appearance of a coherent political strategy.
Between all the lines of nonsense posted by xenophobic dupes of the neo-con regime, there are two suggestions that crop up in internet discussion which hint at broad policy objectives: send the national guard to the border and get a work permit system going.
Since the national guard suggestion is often accompanied by anti-terrorist rhetoric, the logical model feels like neo-cons coming home to roost. Militarize the borderland in the name of national security (with infrastructure projects outsourced to buddy contractors?). And capture the cheap labor coming North in a regime of temp workers who will be thoroughly fingerprinted and photographed. Just as prisoners are often the ones made to build prisons, I have visions of Mexican workers building their own Northern wall.
Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but this whipped up border crisis when viewed in light of “spontaneous” suggestions coming from “concerned citizens” is beginning to look like a PR pincer, easing us all in the direction of a militarized and “secure” (get the word right Arnold!) interface between USA and global South. Not only do we have Bracero on steroids for Mexicans, but we also get new reasons to draft Yankees into military defense.
A November review of immigration politics written by David Bacon connects dots of a steady political drive toward the “guest worker” idea. It is the policy most favored by corporate players, and they have worked for five years at getting the program ready for Congress to approve.
Paradoxically, says Bacon, the experience of immigrants suggests that a Bracero program of guest permits would actually disempower migrants by making them more exploitable than even today’s undocumented workers. Yet critics who argue that illegal immigration serves corporate interests don’t go on to say that legalizing this immigration through a system of guest permits would be even better for the corporate interests involved.
Under a work-permit program, immigrants would be attached to designated corporate sponsors and not be allowed to place their labor into competition with other employers. A troublesome worker under Bracero supervision is not only fired, but deported. And with corporate power unified over work permits, the rogue companies who try to freelance with undocumented workers will be more likely to face eager immigration raids.
Yet the logic of the anti-terrorism rhetoric that we find growing up around the border issue in the aftermath of the Minuteman Project finds its satisfaction in a completely permitted and identified workforce. “At least we will know who they are and where they are going,” is the typical line.
Note how the anti-terror justification for vigilante action is more recently highlighted in key quotes concerning Minuteman plans to patrol the Canadian border. Up North, the scattershot racism of the anti-Mexican rhetoric will not interfere so much with the needed anti-terrorist justification. Minutemen standing at the Northern border of the USA can catch nationalities with which the Canadians play a little too freely. Here we have the pinpoint racism of the War on Terrorism Regime.
In a word, if we just look at the public logics that are playing out, it appears that national opinion in the USA is being corralled toward a work permit scheme with accompanying militarization of the border:
WALLACE: But there are thousands of miles.
SCHWARZENEGGER: So what? That’s what you do when you have a huge country. If you have thousands of miles and thousands of cities in America and they all have to be patrolled.
We have the money to do it. It’s not a lack of money. When we can afford the war in Iraq, we can afford to control our own borders.”
If there is still time to hit a switch on this juggernaut, the first thing to do is speak of the paradoxical intensification of corporate power over labor that will result from a work permit program. Yes, corporations benefit from illegal immigration, but why do they still prefer Braceros?
After that, Bacon’s November analysis points to developments in international law that should address the rights of an increasingly mobile workforce around the world. If the relationship between labor and employers is to be centered for rational strategy, then human rights of Mexican labor in the USA must be a vanguard struggle.
Therefore Bacon’s address to developing nations in the following paragraph should be taken to heart by progressive activists in the USA:
Developing countries do, however, have an alternative framework for protecting the rights and status of this migrant population. The UN’s International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families proposes an alternative framework for dealing with migration. It supports the right of family reunification, establishes equality of treatment with citizens of the host country, and prohibits collective deportation. Both sending and receiving countries are responsible for protecting migrants, and retain the right to determine who is admitted to their territories, and who has the right to work. The Convention recognizes the global scale and permanence of migration, and starts by protecting the rights of migrants themselves.
In the end, the lesson is old as dirt. If we do not insist on treating migrating workers as free companions who deserve human rights, then soon enough the corporations will have made Braceros of us all. Deportee or draftee? Never say you didn’t have a choice.
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org