Class solidarity needed: State governors crack down on immigrant workers

By Ruth Vela
Alex Gould

New Mexico’s Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson on Aug. 12 declared a state of emergency in the counties bordering Mexico. On Aug. 14, Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona, declared a similar emergency in her state. The California legislature is debating a similar declaration.

All three actions are aimed at immigrant workers entering the U.S. at the Mexican border.

Richardson, a silver-spoon son of the Citibank empire, who likes to show off his Spanish when courting the “Latino vote”, is a likely candidate for president in 2008. Napoletano is a former state prosecutor who supports the death penalty.

Such emergency declarations are usually associated with disasters like floods and earthquakes, but these two are designed to get $3.25 million in federal funds to increase the militarized policing of the U.S.-Mexico border.

There are already 11,000 federal border patrol agents employed by the Depart ment of Homeland Security on the Mexican border. The armed border agents are supplied with helicopters and other military equipment such as night-vision aids and remote video sensors.

Reuters reported on Aug. 18 that Richar dson had also arrogantly asked the Mexican government to bulldoze the Mexican border town of Las Chepas, because it is a departure point for many immigrants.

The Border Patrol agents are joined by a growing military presence. U.S. Army troops and Marines are on the ground and in the air menacing the migrant workers who cross the border daily.

The current military deployment on the border began in 1981 as part of Reagan’s “war on drugs” and was expanded by Clinton to become a war on migrant workers. All told, police and troops of at least 15 federal, state, and local agencies are involved in this conflict at the border.

The border deployment targets migrant workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries who are fleeing poverty and civil wars to try to find work in the United States. This million-dollar racist hunting expedition often proves fatal for the migrants who cross the deserts of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

325 killed on the border

The U.S. border patrol reported that 325 immigrants died along the Mexico border in 2004, primarily from heat stroke, dehydration, and hypothermia. The actual number of deaths is believed to be much higher. Since Operation Gatekeeper took effect in 1981, at least 3,200 migrants have died on the border. Migrants are also shot at with impunity by ranchers and are now threatened by racist paramilitary gangs of “Minute men” and their imitators.

These deaths are entirely preventable and are caused by the official criminalization and harassment of Mexican@ and other Latin@ workers. They put the lie to the governors’ insinuations that migrants are criminals and dangerous.

If these states of emergency were truly being declared in the interest of public safety, Richardson and Napolitano would use the funds to deploy medics, translators, and guides to help the migrants cross safely and not more sheriffs’ deputies.

Instead, the actions of Richardson, Napolitano, and California Governor Arn old Schwarzenegger are giving the green light to ultra-right racist and fascist elements like the “Minutemen,” who plan to set up shop in California once again in mid-September. This time they are boasting that their contingent will span the length of the fence which runs from the Pacific Ocean to the base of the Otay mountains.

Fortunately, a counter-movement is in full swing in San Diego, led by the Gente Unida coalition of which Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST) is a member. Gente Unida is urging supporters to come out to Calexico, Calif., on Sept. 17 or protest in their own communities in support of migrant workers and against the racist vigilantes.

Attacking migrants and encouraging racism for political advantage will not reduce unemployment or bring back industries that have relocated to U.S. neocolonies in Latin America for lower wages. It won’t stop the cutbacks in Medicaid and Social Security, lower gas prices or rents, or make higher education and job training affordable. But it does produce a layer of super-exploited workers in the United States.

If these workers lack the legal protections citizens have and if they don’t have the solidarity of their fellow workers here, bosses can pay them less, force them to work longer hours and deny them union rights.

The workers and farmhands of the U.S. Southwest are threatened not by a migrant crisis, but by a capitalist crisis.

Unity across racial and national lines is needed to overcome this crisis and its symptoms—poverty, war and disease. The racist demagoguery of Richardson and Napolitano is aimed at preventing this unity.


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