Obama’s Immigration Reform Bill returns this Spring. Let’s Get Ready to Fight!
Obama’s so called “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill” S. 744 returns this Spring, and all working class and immigrant organizations and individuals must start to prepare to fight for a truly just legislation! Though the bill was facing some trouble this past fall 2013, especially due to the government shutdown, it will be making its return in legislative debate this Spring. The legislative theatre of the Democratic Party (DP) and Republican Party (RP) will continue, while the standard of living of immigrants continues to deteriorate: 1) thousands are deported every day, 2) most have difficulty in working safely and providing for their families, & 3) undocumented immigrants live in fear & face continued attacks on them.
S.744 is Another Trojan Horse Trap
S.744 is a bill that co-opted a good chunk of the immigration movement, based on the promise of providing a “path to citizenship” for 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The majority of the immigrant movement agreed to stop calling for legalization for all, even though the “path to citizenship” contained in the bill is restrictive and clearly squeezed within reactionary policies, like a national “secure communities”/e-verify system and the militarization of the border. Not only was the bill put on hold because the government experienced a shutdown, but it is also being used by Obama and the DP, along with the RP, to push their budgetary and debt plans to continue making workers and oppressed folks in the US fund the the ruling class’ economic recovery. Like other reform bills in the past (i.e the Dream Act, health-care reform, environmental reform and others), we can expect the rightward spirit of the bill to continue, since it will have to be negotiated with both parties to have any chance to be approved in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, Obama and his DP will likely continue to use it as a bargaining chip so he can come out looking as the one stuck in the middle of the debate, and thus come out with a good image that he’s fighting for the rights of immigrants. There is also a strong possibility that the DP and RP will try to approve the bill by doing it in piecemeal – that is, pass each of the core’s bills features (i.e. the enforcement measures, E-verify and the path citizenship of 13 years) one at a time and sneaking it along with other budgetary and austerity bills. This way, they will have a good chance and strategy to pass the original bill little by little without the House of Representatives creating hurdles for it’s passage.
The Immigrant Rights Movement is at a Crossroads
The immigration movement has been at a crossroads. While the ruling class, represented by the Obama administration and both the DP and RP, is continuing their offensive and scapegoating of immigrants, the immigrants rights movement as a whole has not been able to mount the mass mobilizations, strikes and actions needed to counter the deep and powerful attacks against them. Quite the contrary! Most immigrant rights organizations have been organizing actions to support Obama´s Immigration Reform Bill. Todays’ situation doesn’t compare favorably to how the immigrant rights movement was in 2006. Back then, when millions of immigrants and their allies rose up- in a what amounted to a general strike- against the Sensenbrenner Bill, the movement was able to momentarily fight back against a militarized and emergency-state like solution that the most reactionary of the bourgeoisie was seeking. Unlike back then, the large majority national immigrant rights movement today supports the immigration reform bill, and a lot of this has to do with the immigrant rights movement leadership , which in general is still subservient to the DP, traitorous union leaderships and their nonprofit apparatuses. We need to call on these immigrant rights organizations, especially the ones that say they represent immigrants, to join the fight for truly just and humane immigrant rights legislation!
Undocumented youth and immigrant workers rising up!
Nonetheless, there are positive signs of resistance from a minority sector composed of undocumented youth and certain sectors of immigrant workers, especially in agriculture and services. This minority sector of immigrants is putting forward the demands of an immediate halt to deportations, against the militarization of the southern border, and papers for all immigrants now. Whether consciously or not, this sector of the immigrant rights movement are putting forward demands that go beyond the limitations of S. 744. Thanks to the brave sit-ins at DP offices, deportation bus blockades of undocumented youth, and the immigrant workers fighting back in farm-work (Washington) and (though dispersed) in service sectors (e.g. fast food, janitors, etc. ), the media is being forced to recognize that not everybody supports Obama´s Bill and an important sector of the immigrant rights movement is fighting back against the most reactionary aspects of S.744. It is also starting to bring up the fight to improve the working and living conditions (like the farm workers), and to stop the policies that create the conditions of why immigrants are forced to move here from their native countries (i.e. NAFTA). In the last 2 years, they have been mounting sit-ins in DP offices, in the border wall (e.g. “the undocumented 30” action), blockading deportation buses and other actions that are reminiscent of the civil rights movements of the 50s-60s. These actions and networks are the embryos of what should be built to be a national movement that fights for organizational power and leadership. It must seek to link up with other workers and other communities and allies – like the Civil rights movement did – in order to reach our demands and goals. Furthermore, while this sector of the movement grows and gains more influence, it is in its best interest that it seeks to consciously build a national movement independent of the DP and their allies.
Examples of Resistance
The Many localized immigrant rights groups putting forward demands and a program that truly defends immigrants and workers are popping up more and more. These are seen outside the lobbying center of Washington D.C. and some Immigrant communities and groups are starting to distance themselves from the lobbying campaigns and groups that are appendages to the DP and RP. Through their actions and messaging, they are starting to say no more to the class collaboration! These groups include:
- Campaign to Unionize Grocery Market Mi Pueblo: UFCW Local 5 fought a three-year battle to organize workers at the Mi Pueblo supermarket chain, and during that campaign the company fired hundreds of workers because they were undocumented. Mi Pueblo publicly announced it was using the E-Verify database to identify them, a move the union said was intended to frighten and intimidate employees so they wouldn’t organize.  Members of the union local (unlike the international union) & supporters of the campaign denounced Mi Pueblo and are fighting E-Verify.
- October 5th (2013): March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect – Though this national day of action was called and led by union leadership and nonprofits supporting Obama’s reform bill, many communities did organize actions that often were critical of what Congress was proposing, especially of the administration’s deportation wave.
- Bus Blockade in Tucson, Arizona – On October 8, 2013, in Tucson, Arizona, the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a long-established immigrant rights organization in Tucson, and other community workers and worker centers tried to block the attempt to take away the riders. They declared that years of continued police and ICE collaboration, exacerbated by hateful laws such as SB 1070, have turned that region into a battleground, and the community would not be silent.
- Undocumented youth blockades and sit-ins – There has been an increase of actions that use deportation bus blockades, sit-ins at local and statewide DP and RP offices. These have gained more momentum in the past 2 years, especially after the failure of the federal Dream act. A lot of these actions have been organized by the “Not 1 More Deportation Network”, that has been using social media and the internet quite well. It was started by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a nationwide day laborer organization. 
- Actions in California – The Immigrant Youth Coalition, an Undocumented youth organization in California and their local allies (like ASPIRE in California) have been joining in the nationwide actions of deportation bus blockades and DP office sit-ins. This turn started to happen after a statewide version of the Dream Act passed in 2010.
The Strategy We Need
Instead of supporting Obama´s Immigration Reform, it is necessary to build a national movement to defeat the reactionary policies contained in the law and the restrictions imposed to the “path to citizenship”. This movement can only be built independently from the ruling parties, uniting all the immigrant organizations that have been fighting against the attacks on immigrants in the last years. To that end, we must push for the demands that were raised in 2006 and that continue to be important today. The United Front for Justice & Dignity’s (UFDJ) list of demands are good start. These include: • Documents and permanent residency rights for all: the right to work, higher education, drivers’ licenses and public benefits for all. • An immediate end to raids and deportations. • No to the militarization of the border and our communities. • No to new “Bracero”/Guest Worker programs (modern indentured servitude). • A path to citizenship without undue delays and restrictions such as a return to country of origin – no to “getting in the back of the line!” • Workers must have the unconditional legal right to organize. • No to E-Verify, Secure Communities [S-COMM], and other forms of Police-Migra collaboration. • No to the military service ‘option’ (backdoor draft) for Dreamers YES to a just and humane immigration reform that eliminates the terror and anxiety in our communities, respects and protects the human rights of undocumented workers, and eliminates the injustices our families face. *Juan Garcia is a education clerical worker and a long-time activists for public education and immigrant rights. Henry Melo is an immigrant food service worker.