BY SETH GALINSKY
As the administration of Barack Obama continues its attacks on undocumented workers, thousands of people from around the country are preparing to demonstrate in Washington, D.C., March 21 to demand legalization of immigrants and an end to deportations.
In a March 5 press release, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, one of the coalitions backing the march, points out that “the Obama Administration’s shift in emphasis from ‘worker raids’ to ‘paper/desk raids’ has provided a veneer of civility to immigration enforcement.”
“Deportations have increased by more than 60 percent since the Obama Administration took office,” the coalition adds. In 2009 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported the highest number of immigrant workers in U.S. history.
While reducing the number of high-profile factory raids, in 2009 ICE tripled the number of immigration audits, which often lead to the firing of workers who can’t present proof of legal residency in the United States.
By claiming they are focusing on deporting criminals, U.S. officials seek to scapegoat immigrants and foster divisions among immigrant workers. In a three-day operation at the end of February, ICE agents arrested 284 immigrants in Texas. ICE said more than half have “violent criminal histories.”
Washington is expanding the “Secure Communities” program, which aims by 2012 to check the fingerprints of every person held in federal, state, and local jails against a Department of Homeland Security database.
ICE has continued the rapid expansion of E-verify, which allows bosses to check the immigration and work status of current and potential employees through the Internet, making it more difficult for workers without papers to obtain jobs.
The U.S. government has also deepened militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. There are now more than 20,000 armed agents stationed there.
The purpose of these measures, promoted by both the Democratic and Republican parties, is not to stop the flow of immigrant labor, which U.S. employers need to bolster their profits and compete against businesses from other countries, but to control it. Their anti-immigrant policies are used to divide working people and drive down the value of their labor power.
The March 21 demonstration provides an opportunity for working people, union activists, and students to oppose these anti-immigrant and anti-worker measures.
Among groups sponsoring the demonstration are several immigration reform coalitions, the AFL-CIO union federation, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers union, UNITE HERE, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Council of Churches.
Eugenio Villasante, a spokesperson for SEIU Local 32BJ, told the Militant the union members are “very motivated” to join the march. “Many of our members are immigrants and everyone knows someone who has been deported,” he said. “It’s a wrong policy.”
Laborers locals 10, 78, and 79, which organize construction workers in the New York City region, will be participating in the march. The Workplace Project, an immigrant rights group that works with day laborers on Long Island, is organizing a bus to Washington along with a contingent that will walk to the demonstration from Hempstead, New York, starting March 12.
In Salinas, California, the United Farm Workers will also hold an immigration rights action March 21.
Luis Gutiérrez, U.S. congressman from Illinois, will be the featured speaker at a Houston rally March 13 that is part of promoting the March 21 actions.
Gutiérrez has introduced a “comprehensive immigration reform” in the House of Representatives that is similar to proposals that Obama has raised. The bill is presented by some Democratic Party politicians and union officials as a “road to citizenship” and a way to “fix the broken immigration system.”
The bill does not guarantee legalizing undocumented workers or an end to deportations. It calls for stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws and the creation of a “Southern Border Security Task Force.” It would create a nationwide “employment verification system” to aid bosses in weeding out undocumented workers.
Under the section “Earned legalization program for the undocumented,” the bill proposes granting a six-year “conditional nonimmigrant status” to undocumented immigrants.
Any immigrant applying for legal status has to undergo “complete criminal and security background checks” and pay a $500 fine. Immigrants who qualify must wait for six years after the law takes effect to receive a green card showing they are permanent residents.