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The Economics of Immigration Reform

by SHAMUS COOKE

How convenient for Goldman Sachs. Just as most working people were demanding that the Goldman bosses and other Wall Street criminals either be massively fined, jailed or worse, the nation’s attention is suddenly forced to react to the racist immigration law in Arizona. And although the two incidents are not directly related, they represent a trend that is likely to increase in the months and years ahead.

Because of the economic crisis, massive unemployment, corporate bailouts, home foreclosures, and criminal activity of Wall Street, the majority of people in the U.S. have never been as passionately anti-corporation. But the corporate owned media plus the wealthy, elite-controlled Congress reacted quickly to these intolerable circumstances and fought back.

They took the fight over public opinion to the airwaves, and massively pushed the blame for the dismal state of the U.S. economy onto those unable to defend themselves — immigrants.

One can either focus their political rage on the billionaires who dominate the economy and Congress —Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, etc. — or those millions of undocumented immigrants, many who get paid lower than minimum wage and are living in society’s shadows.

The corporate media would rather you focus on immigrants. Thus, Fox News and virtually all other media outlets spew nightly venom at a vulnerable public, looking to get revenge on immigrants who “ruined America.” There is an obvious connection to this type of racist propaganda and the increase in hate crimes against Latinos that has exploded over the years.

Latinos are blamed for everything from lower wages, violent and non-violent crimes, to just about everything else. There is no exaggeration to say that Hitler played a similar blame-game for Germany’s economic and social woes with Jews and other minorities.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles was quoted in The New York Times when he correctly pointed out: “Every time we have an economic downturn, there is a new attack on immigrants…” (May 1, 2010).

The right-wing exploits this claim when they accuse immigrants of lowering the wages of “native” U.S. workers, but the full truth of why a tidal wave of immigrants entered the U.S. is never told.

In reality, the same Wall Street corporations that in part caused the current recession and benefited from it via bailouts are also responsible for the destruction of the Mexican economy and the consequent migration wave.

Bill Clinton’s 1994 “Mexican bailout” was supposedly used to save the Mexican economy from disaster. In reality, much of the money went to Wall Street investors who helped inflate the Mexican economy but didn’t get out in time when the bubble burst (similar to the recent housing bubble in the U.S.).

Bill Clinton used U.S. taxpayer money to bailout Wall Street via the Mexican government, but Mexico still had to pay back the money that went to Wall Street. The Mexican loan came with devastating strings attached: state industries were to be privatized; the Mexican currency was devalued; state workers were fired by the hundreds of thousands; and social services were slashed. The ruinous results sent hordes of desperate Mexicans north to escape poverty and starvation.

When this massive fraud was being orchestrated, Republican Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato continued his opposition to Clinton by actually telling the truth about the bailout: “The rescue plan has failed. And we are just perpetuating a myth if we think we are helping anyone except rich investors, who the United States has saved while everyone else in Mexico starves.” (The New York Times, April 2, 1995).

Who benefits?

U.S. Corporations. The Mexican economy was cracked open to rich U.S. investors who take advantage of slave wages south of the border, while also benefiting from the Mexican migration to the U.S. that corporations use to drive down wages in the U.S. (corporations in the U.S. massively advertised in Mexico to bring more workers across the border).

If Latino immigrants in the U.S. are not afforded basic civil rights — including the right to form unions without being deported — they become easily exploitable by corporations; wages for all workers in the U.S. consequently drop. This sad state of affairs will continue if the Democrats’ anti-immigration bill is passed.

But the Democrats are given a right-wing shield for their new policy by the extremely racist Arizona law. The conservative Washington Post analyzed the Democrats plan in an article accurately entitled: “Senate Democrats’ Plan Highlights Nation’s Shift to the Right on Immigration.” However, it is the Democratic Congress that is shifting right, not the “nation” (minus the Fox News far right).

The article reports that the Democrats’ plan “includes a slew of new immigration enforcement measures aimed at U.S. borders and workplaces. It would further expand the 20,000-member Border Patrol; triple fines against U.S. employers that hire illegal immigrants; and, most controversially, require all American workers — citizens and non-citizens alike — to get new Social Security cards linked to their fingerprints to ease work eligibility checks.” (May 1, 2010).

And:

“Critics of the [Democrats’] law… said its enforcement will open a window on the huge social, economic and government costs of removing 11 million people, as well as the constitutional challenges of doing so without racial profiling or expanding police powers. Most Americans do not want that, they say, but firm and fair policies that uphold the law, bolster U.S. workers and the economy, and respect the nation’s immigrant heritage.”

Obama and the Democrats have again betrayed another key constituency. Their shift to the right is the outcome of a crumbling economy that cannot be corrected without directly confronting the gigantic wealth and power of U.S. corporations. These corporations control the Democratic Party, who can only respond by the same immigrant scapegoating that the Republicans advocate.

To shield themselves from popular anger, the U.S. corporate elite is promoting the most right-wing ideas to millions of people, so that social passions can be channeled towards society’s victims: immigrants, minorities, homosexuals, women who choose to get an abortion, etc. Workers organized in unions are also being targeted.

If the fragile U.S. economy crashes again, these dangerous ideas will find more receptive ears. At the height of the Great Depression, when working-class Americans started to fight back against corporate interests, the US government intervened to shift the countries focus: thousands of Latino immigrants and citizens were rounded up on trains and shipped to Mexico.

To combat immigrant scapegoating, immigrants, all workers and progressive people must demand and fight that corporations and the rich shareholders pay for the economic crisis through progressive income and corporate taxes, while also demanding that ICE workplace raids, detentions and deportations be stopped immediately!

SHAMUS COOKE is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

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