Public Comment

Commentary: Immigration: What’s Behind the Furor?

By Marc Sapir
Tuesday June 26, 2007

The supporters of closed borders and deportations are not a fringe minority. Millions—including a majority of “liberal” elected officials like our California senators—favor the policy of walling off the United States at the Southern border. I visited the border last month. I talked with a few of the people deported from the Sonora desert of Arizona. I saw the bottoms of their feet torn to shreds after walking day and night in the desert sun and sand, and heard of beatings and humiliation at the hands of the private militarized Wackenhut company under contract with Homeland Security. Eight people were known to have died in the desert during four days I was there. One of the men we talked with was a San Francisco chef who had had to return home to the Yucatan for family affairs. Another was a peasant woman from Morelos the soles of whose feet I had to cut off because they were just dead separated skin. She cannot survive in Mexico because U.S. imports have financially ruined Mexico’s peasant agricultural base. Is this the kind of investment that letter writer Robert Gable believes will help get the Mexican economy back on its feet—the dumping of subsidized surplus US corn and other commodities on the Mexican market under NAFTA?  

Too many in our country either support—or are indifferent to—the immigration raids, deportations and the proposed legislation that, even with amnesty for some group of workers, would create a new control apparatus (an even larger bureaucracy) for potentially segregating and monitoring a huge segment of the U.S. population. Labeling people “illegal” or “legal” and subjecting them to daily controls because they cross a border into land that the United States seized from Mexico legitimizes discrimination—allows them to be spat out as some “alien” scourge. Support for such policy is a human stain. Despite our technological prowess and scientific progress, we seem incapable of overcoming a provincial narrow-mindedness that is not rational.  

There is little historical doubt that modern nations were formed by the needs of the capitalist market. Borders were drawn by force and to protect various spheres of economic influence for the masters of capital, not for human rights. This is why we see the failure of nation states and world wars in periods of great capitalist crisis. The value of nation states to capital was magnified by the advent of capitalist democracy wherein the general population “learned” that “what is good for General Motors, is good for America.” Thus, as citizens of a powerful “representative democracy” we today accept that we have no public right to health care, housing, jobs or higher education. We accept government that overthrows governments and initiates wars at will, sends jobs overseas and ignores our human needs; we act as if it were “our” government, even though it overtly ignores the plight of its citizens as it did after the Katrina catastrophe or the 9/11 clean-up, when the EPA fraudulently said that that environment posed no danger, knowing otherwise. Sometimes we say “but Democrats are different,” to excuse our passivity.  

The public that supports militarized borders—or opposes amnesty or accepts raids that break up families and leave children homeless and parentless—believes it has a greater stake in “capitalism’s America” than in the fate of humanity or our nation. These are people who feel protected by a government that tortures simply because they may not yet know anyone who has been tortured or violated by that government. We are content to look the other ways on immigration raids so that the mirage of our own security can remain intact. The saddest fact is that those who benefit from dividing us against our brothers and sisters also work to convince those they have consistently oppressed, such as the African American community, that it is the Latinos and other “aliens” come to take their jobs who are responsible for their continuing plight. Elites today even suggest that slavery and racial discrimination (or the Vietnam war for that matter) were oddities and errors of the past, not plans effecting great benefit to their progenitors. They market the absurd idea of one nation, indivisible—currently excepting the undocumented, “illegals who violate the law, take your jobs, overpopulate your cities, and eat up your tax dollars.” These are simply ignorant opinions but they are sold on the free market as fact at a very cheap price, with a promise of homeland security, as if unemployment and lowering wages are not a documented recurring capitalist scourge worldwide.  

Promoting the “Homeland” was a Nazi idea. Nazis elevated the idea of national chauvinism (the ideological basis for war which already existed), to new propaganda heights. Sinclair Lewis wrote that fascism would come to the United States not in the form of storm troopers, but wrapped in the flag and carrying the bible. Lewis was somewhat prescient, yet today fascism arrives heralded first by law—Patriot Act, the appointment of anti-democratic ideologues to the Supreme Court, the massive spying and removal of habeas corpus, the legalized merging of the functions of foreign intelligence with assassination, torture, detention and the disruption of domestic dissent, the disregard of Constitutional law and precedents, corporate money and power behind almost every major government move, and overt self-censorship by media. Nevertheless, pressure builds to reverse these losses and none of these attacks have been sufficient to move the public to support domestic terror in the way the Ku Klux Klan (a paramilitary group) did after reconstruction. The attack on the “other,” particularly those who cross the border, advances that end. This hysteria forms the ideological basis for a new fascist movement, even as that movement is rejected by good liberals, like Robert Gable, who just oppose “illegals.” But the singling out assures that many Americans will not resist the targeting of those who are powerless and poor. And our passivity will be our downfall. We live under a government whose two parties—controlled by big money—consistently operate in behalf of finance capital, not public interest. Neither calling ourselves free and democratic nor blaming the undocumented can change that. At this point immigration reform is a threat to our liberty because its main function is as an ideological tool to divide people and gain support for domestic militarization of the United States. We ought resist with all our energies.  


Marc Sapir is executive director of Retro Poll.