Capitalism And Immigration

There are approximately 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today. This number of people and their status impacts everything from the economy to education, from the provision of social services to the question of citizenship. Our nation is divided over this reality and how we should address it. Border fences. Immigration vigilantes. Arizona’s S.B. 1070. Deportation. A citizenship track. In Washington, D.C., Congress is currently deliberating immigration reform legislation that is sorely needed.

In The New Global Capitalism and the War on Immigration, William I. Robinson, a professor of global and international studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, writes that a major factor that we must consider as we address and make decisions regarding immigration reform is the role that global capitalism plays in world-wide immigration.

“To understand the immigration debate, we need to go beyond the headlines and see the big picture of the role that immigrants play in the new global capitalism system.” (Truthout, September 13, 2023)

Under the heading of Global Capitalism and Immigrant Labor, Robinson writes

“The larger story behind immigration reform is capitalist globalization and the worldwide reorganization of the system for supplying labor to the global economy.”

“These transnational immigrant labor flows are a mechanism that has replaced colonialism in the mobilization around the world of labor pools, often drawn from ethnically and racially oppressed groups.”

“The US economy has become increasingly dependent on immigrant labor.”

Robinson says that the United States dependence on immigrant labor “presents a contradictory situation,” that is, “how to super-exploit an immigrant labor force … yet how to simultaneously assure it is super-controllable and super-controlled.”

Robinson writes about a New Axis of Inequality Worldwide.

“As borders have come down for capital and goods (i.e., free trade agreements, my note), they have been reinforced for human beings. While global capital creates immigrant workers, these workers do not enjoy citizenship rights in their host countries.”

“That division (between immigrants and citizens) is a central component of the new class relations of global capitalism, predicated on a ‘flexible’ mass of workers who can be hired and fired at will, are de-unionized, and face precarious work conditions, job instability, a rollback of benefits and downward pressure on wages.”

“Immigrant workers are not only flexible, but are disposable through deportation, and therefore, controllable.”

“the division of the global working class into citizen and immigrant is a major new axis of inequality worldwide. Borders and nation of control and domination over the global working class.”

” …  the division of the global working class into citizen and immigrant is a major new axis of inequality worldwide. Borders and nationality are used by transnational capital, the powerful and the privileged, to sustain new methods of control and domination over the global working class.”

Writing about The Immigrant Military-Prison-Industrial-Detention Complex, Robinson informs us that …

“There is a broad social and political base, therefore, for the maintenance of a flexible, super-controlled and super-exploited Latino immigrant workforce. The system cannot function without it. But immigrant labor is extremely profitable for the corporate economy in double sense. First, it is labor that is highly vulnerable, forced to exist semi-underground, and deportable, and therefore, super-exploitable. Second, the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and the militarization of their control not only reproduce these conditions of vulnerability, but also in themselves, generate vast new opportunities for profit-making.”

” … capital has a vested interest in the criminalization of immigrants and the militarization of control over immigrants …. “

In the section of the article entitled Containing the Immigrant Rights Movements, Robinson says that …

“The ‘war on terror’ paved the way for an undeclared war on immigrants by fusing ‘national security/anti-terrorism’ with immigration law enforcement, involving designation of borders and immigrant flows as ‘terrorism threats,’ the approval of vast new funding and the passage of a slew of policies and laws to undertake the war.”

“Blatantly racist public discourse that only a few years earlier would have been considered extreme became increasingly mainstream and aired on the mass media.”

“Such racist hostility toward Latinos and other immigrants may be intentionally generated by right-wing politicians, law-enforcement agents and neo-fascist anti-immigrant movements. They may be the effect of the structural and legal-institutional subordination of immigrant workers and their communities, or simply an unintended (although not necessarily unwelcomed)byproduct of the state’s coercive policies.”

Under the heading Obama and Democrats: Demobilzation and Cooptation, the article’s author addresses “the political aspirations of the Latino Establishment and the state’s repression to co-opt and neutralize, as least momentarily, the mass (immigrant rights) movement.”

“The radical grassroots camp was not against lobbying or attempting to penetrate the halls of power, but insisted on prioritizing a permanent mass movement from below that subordinates alliances with liberal to the interests of the disenfranchised majority of immigrant workers and their families. The camp also insisted on the need to link the immigrant rights movement more openly and closely with other popular, labor, and resistance struggles around the world for global justice.”

The last section of William Robinson’s article on global capitalism and immigration is Reform Legislation that Meets Corporate, Military, and Elite Interest. In this section he focuses primarily on Senate Bill 744.

This bill will supposedly provide a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. While citizenship is the goal, the “pathway” has so many conditions that it is estimated that between one-third and two-thirds of the undocumented immigrants will  not be able to meet the criteria for citizenship. The criteria include:

  • an income of 125 % of the federal poverty guideline
  • no lapses of employment for more than 60 days during a decade
  • fines and fees
  • passing a criminal  background check
  • learning English, US civics and history

The bill allows law enforcement agencies to collaborate in the policing of  immigrant communities as well as sets up a “guest worker” program “that amounts to little more than indentured servitude.”

With respect to the “guest worker” program, Robinson says …

” … the use of guest worker programs would expand rapidly if the reform bill passed, with its expanded guest worker provision, and that would result in driving wage level and bargaining power down even further, not only for agricultural workers, but for those in industries and services heavily dependent on immigrant labor.”

In other words, the guest worker program would be good for business but bad for workers.

Robinson concludes this very thought-provoking article by saying that the factors discussed in The New Global Capitalism and the War on Immigration have resulted in the “conservative and repressive immigration reform legislation now in Congress.”

“It is only the revitalization of a mass worker-based immigrant rights movement that can redirect the reform process to one that achieves a modicum of social justice.”

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