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Both Sides of the River

May 1, 2006 seems a long time ago. In one of the most hopeful manifestations of this century so far, on that day millions of US residents stayed home from work and school, and took to the streets to rally in favor of legalizing all undocumented workers and democratizing Washington’s immigration policy. Since, that day, over two million undocumented US workers have been deported; thousands more languish in detention centers where they are denied access to relatives and subject to brutality at the hands of guards and other detainees, and millions of others live in constant fear of La Migra.

In Washington the politicians either attack immigrants as the source of what is wrong with the United States or provide them with pretty promises while changing nothing. Politicians practicing the former take their cues from racist organizations and media bigmouths, while the latter type act as if they can compromise with colleagues who only recently demanded all immigrants be rounded up.

Those politicians promising changes toss morsels to immigrants like demanding they serve in the military before they get their golden ticket to the American Dream. At the same time, they tell US citizens that they support an increase in border security, potentially turning the nation’s southern border into this century’s Berlin Wall. Indeed, just since the beginning of this century, over 800 deaths of immigrants crossing the southern border of the United States have been recorded. Some of these deaths were accidental and some were intentional, the victims of vigilantes and immigration police. Of course, an argument could be made that none were accidental, since nobody would have died if those who died were not denied legal entry into the United States.

The reforms being presented by Congress commonly known as Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) are not genuine steps toward a just solution to what the mainstream media terms the “immigration problem.” The human rights of immigrants are not the defining element of the legislation, as they should be. Families would still suffer separations, ICE raids would continue in all their militaristic ferocity, and immigrants would continue to live in a nation whose economy has driven them to leave their homes elsewhere in search of work while refusing to provide them a home in that nation.

So, whatever happened to that movement that took to the streets in 2006? Where has the call to legalize all undocumented workers gone? A brief and honest answer is that it still exists, albeit in a greatly reduced manner. One of its current manifestations can be found in the Legalization for All Network (L4A). This group is made up of immigrant rights workers (and organizers from the antiwar movement) from around the United States who know first-hand how terrible the undocumented are treated. They also strongly oppose the CIR Bill currently languishing in Congress because it changes very little.

In fact, that bill amps up militarization at the border, and intensifies workplace, neighborhood and school repression, nor does it stop the deportations. In other words, it is not a bill to help immigrants, but a bill that enforces racism and encourages industry to continue its misuse of undocumented workers.

I recently got in touch with Marisol Marquez, who works with the Tampa, Florida immigrant rights group, Raices en Tampa. We exchanged a couple emails, wherein Marisol provided me with some background on L4A and told me a little about their plans.

“Most of our call to action (because there are so many supporters and components that make this up are general calls to action. There are local groups who take on pushing for Deferred Action For All (which would allow undocumented persons without a criminal record to stay in the country and obtain work authorization-Ron) like MIRaC in Minneapolis and the groups that Immigrant and Chicano Rights activist Carlos Montes is a part of (in Los Angeles). Right now, we are pushing people to sign our petition for Deferred Action for All. Every time someone signs, the White House is sent an email. There are upcoming actions we are planning; including one for May Day.”

Immigrants around the world are worse off today than they were in 2006. This is due in large part to the 2007-2008 collapse of many sectors of the capitalist economy. Immigrant workers play an important role in that economy, but are all too readily blamed for its failures even though most of those failures are related to the people at the other end of the economic spectrum–those known as the one percent. Unfortunately, whenever capitalism has experienced a crash or other type of downturn, those who suffer the worst are usually those least able to afford it. The recent capitalist crisis was no different. Along with native-born marginalized workers in countries around the world, immigrants without papers also felt the harshest consequences. Indeed, in many cases, thanks to their undocumented status and their scapegoating by the very same forces refusing to grant legal status in the host countries, undocumented immigrants are treated even worse than the aforementioned native born.

It is time for this to end. For residents of the United States, joining and supporting the L4A network is one such way to begin this process.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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