For Your Information:

Background on U.S. Immigration Policy

August 8, 2007

At first glance the immigration policy of the capitalist class seems contradictory. On the one hand, the capitalists actively recruit immigrant labor, making extensive use of both documented and undocumented workers in agriculture, in the hotel and restaurant industry, in garment manufacturing, construction and many other industries. On the other hand, the capitalist government and the mass media never tire of “alerting the nation” about the “tidal wave of illegal immigration;” repressive laws and measures are implemented against the immigrants and millions of undocumented workers are deported every year.

In fact these 2 seemingly contradictory policies - the extensive use of immigrant labor side-by-side with a constant campaign allegedly seeking to limit the use of immigrant labor - are merely different sides of the same coin. Precisely because the undocumented immigrant workers are subjected to a host of repressive laws they remain in a condition of virtual slavery.

When some workers are deported, the capitalists always have plenty of “fresh blood” at hand. Mexican workers provide an excellent case in point. For 100 years the U.S. capitalist class, while maintaining a stranglehold over the Mexican economy, has used Mexican workers as a vast reserve army of cheap labor. The capitalists and the government have created a “revolving door” whereby they simultaneously import and deport large numbers of Mexican workers maintaining a pool of surplus workers who by their illegal status can be paid subminimum wages and used as a weight to drive down the wages of the entire working class.

The super-exploitation of Mexican labor really begins with the Mexican-American War of 1848. After dismembering Mexico and annexing - by force of arms - what today is the Southwest of the U.S. the capitalist class proceeded to disenfranchise the indigenous population. The land of the peasants was arbitrarily stolen and virtually the entire Mexican-American (as well as the Native American) population was reduced to the status of peons or super-exploited workers. A reign of racist terror was initiated and brutal national oppression imposed in order to maintain this super-exploitation.

Subsequently as workers from Mexico were imported into the U.S. to meet the growing needs of the capitalists for cheap labor, these workers were held under the thumb of immigration laws as well as branded with the stamp of national oppression already burned in the flesh of the Mexican-American minority.

By the 1880’s with the development of monopoly capital and its increased penetration of the south-west, the U.S. capitalists opened up labor recruitment centers in Mexico, importing hundreds of thousands of workers, through both legal and illegal means, to work in the cotton and sugar-beet fields as well as on the railroads and in the mines. “Colonias” were set up as ghetto communities, owned by the companies, to house Mexican and Mexican-American itinerant workers.

Deprived of all rights, these workers filled the dirtiest and most back-breaking jobs at less than half the average wage. Attempts by the workers to unionize themselves or strike for improved wages and working conditions were met with racist lynchings and deportations. By the 1920’s and 30’s, the need for immigrant tabor declined and the capitalist class began wholesale deportations of Mexican workers. In 1924 the Border Patrol was set up as the first national police force with the specific task of helping to impose a reign of terror on immigrant workers. During the depression era hundreds of thousands were deported, about half of whom were legal American citizens but of Mexican heritage. The city of Los Angeles, for example, between 1931 and 1933 sent trainloads of Mexican and Mexican-American workers “back” to Mexico every month in order to avoid relief and welfare costs for the unemployed. During the same years the state of Colorado declared martial law and used the national guard to patrol its borders and turn back any migratory Mexican or Mexican-American workers.

During World War II the demand for immigrant labor increased again and the U.S. government initiated the infamous bracero program, which lasted until 1965. The U.S. Department of Agriculture itself recruited, contracted for and transported hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers in order to supply cheap labor for the agri-business and railroad interests, especially in the Southwest. The braceros were forced to live and work in inhuman conditions. After mandatory deductions for food and housing supplied by the companies the braceros generally received no wages whatsoever. In the meantime they were exposed to dangerous pesticides, debilitated and often killed in the fields. For every 1 legal bracero, it is estimated that 4 “illegal” braceros were employed by the big capitalist farmers while the Immigration and Naturalization Service enforced immigration laws only after each year’s harvest - i.e. deporting the Mexican workers after the capitalists had sweated them dry. In many cases illegal braceros were placed under arrest, only to be “paroled” to the big growers for the duration of the harvest season. Lee Williams, in charge of the bracero program from 1959 to 1964, called it “legalized slavery, nothing but a way for big corporate farms to get a cheap labor supply from Mexico under government sponsorship.”