Immigration: Carter's Anti-Labor Plan

September 25, 2007

Few of President Carter's policy decisions have so clearly demonstrated the influence of domestic and transnational corporations and the administration's anti-labor bias as his recent proposals dealing with undocumented immigrants. On August 4, Carter announced and sent to Congress the long- delayed, highly controversial four-point package containing these main components: * a revised Rodino bill with civil penalties for employers who "knowingly hire illegal aliens"; * more military-type equipment and Border Patrol personnel to stop further immigration; * limited amnesty for undocumented immigrants already in the country; * multilateral aid aimed at creating jobs in Mexico and other immigrant-source countries. The plan drew immediate and sharp criticism from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, immigrants' rights organizations, civil libertarians, the United Farm Workers, CASA and many other Mexican, Chicano and progressive groups across the country. So far, over 40 organizations have banded together to form the National Coalition to Stop Carter's Immigration Program (NSCIP) which will include community organizing, legal opposition and congressional lobbying to defeat the program when it comes before Congress in October and November. Bert Corona, a longtime activist for immigrants' rights and active in the broad-based opposition movement, called the Carter plan, "a dangerous set of legislative proposals. These proposals ... not only will curtail the rights and aspirations of millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans currently living in the United States - they threaten the rights of all freedom-loving Americans as well." MASS DISCRIMINATION The crux of Carter's immigration plan and the focus of opposition to it is the $1,000 civil fine it proposes for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, coupled with possible injunctive action against repeat offenders. This part of the proposal is essentially a concession to the hierarchy of the AFL-CIO, who base their labor strategy on federal legislation rather than organizing immigrant workers themselves. Civil and criminal penalties were bitterly fought in the past by the National Association of Manufacturers, which was successful in eliminating criminal sanctions. But as NAM spokesperson David Englander has said, "it is politically untenable for business to 50 NACLA Report 50 NACLA Reportupdate * update . update * update oppose them [civil fines] at this time." While most critics of employer penalties agree that Ioopholes in the proposal and poor enforcement will mean that few bosses will pay fines, they also agree that the sanctions will give employers greater power over their undocumented workers, which can only lead to increased exploitation. Already the NCSCIP has documented hundreds of cases in which immigrant workers were illegally required by California employers to post a large "bond" in order to gain employment. Peter Shea, legal spokesperson for the Coalition, explained that these penalties will also create a "mass discriminatory effect" and will provide "an easy rationale for any employer to discriminate against Hispanic workers." This position was echoed by the 800 delegates to the August national convention of the United Farm Workers, who unanimously agreed to fight any legislation that could "promote wholesale discrimination in employment against all workers who have dark skins and speak languages other than English." (Los Angeles Times, August 28) M.I.T. immigration researcher Wayne Cornelius summarized this aspect of the plan as "a giant step backward in civil rights for what is expected to be the nation's largest minority group in 1980." MILITARIZING THE BORDERS The second "hard-line" aspect and cornerstone of the immigration program calls for stepped-up surveillance of the 2,000 mile border with Mexico and increased deportations. With a massive budget increase of $100 million, an increase of 2,000 Border Patrolmen, new helicopters, electronic "human- sniffer" sensors, computers and widespread distribution of a new computerized identification card for aliens, the new "liberal" head of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Lionel "Lone" Castillo, predicts that "within a couple of years we can cut illegal entry to 10 percent of the current level." According to information recently received by NACLA, the INS is also investigating the feasibility of a mass repatriation of Mexican workers back to Mexico. Critics, however, maintain that while the militarization of the border will cause more detentions and violations of human rights, and bring further deaths of border-crossers at the hands of "La Migra," it has little possibility of stopping the flow of poverty-stricken persons - short of building a 100 ft. iron fence. (American businessmen who do a profitable trade from border crossers strongly oppose solutions of this type.) AMNESTY FOR SOME In accord with business' interest in cheap labor, the Carter immigration plan offers amnesty for undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. since 1970, and temporary residence for those here since Dec. 31, 1976. The amnesty is also seen as a sweetener to Latino groups to compensate for the job discrimination and heightened deportations under the plan. The seven year amnesty, however, is not especially meaningful since current immigration law already allows aliens in the U.S. for seven years to apply for relief from deportation. Carter's plan simply changes the method of adjusting their legal status. The NCSCIP, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), the UFW and numerous other organ- izations strongly oppose the temporary residence program because it would, in effect, institutionalize cheap labor through the second-class status given to those affected. While temporary residents will have to pay taxes on any wages they earn, the Coalition points out, they will not be eligible for unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps, medicaid, social security or workman's compensation. Furthermore, they say, few undocumented immigrants will want to come forward to register, since their status is temporary and in five years could lead to deportation. AID FOR RUNAWAY SHOPS The final ingredient of the anti-labor recipe is multilateral aid, a partial recognition that the cause of immigration from the Caribbean, Nigeria, Korea, Mexico and the other main "sender" countries is poverty, underdevelopment, and in some sense a result of their relationship with the United States. In particular it is a concession to Mexico's President Lopez Portillo, who strongly argued for favored aid and trade treatment from the U.S. during his recent trip to Washington. Mexican government officials are deeply worried about the impact of more deportations on a country already swollen with unemployment. The solution proposed by Carter, however, is not to place controls on the profits U.S. companies extract from third world countries, nor call on the IMF to ease up on its austerity programs, nor pay higher prices for imports from these countries. Rather it offers them aid, in the form of loans from multilateral lending agencies for population control programs and trade in the form of increased opportunities for investment by U.S. labor-intensive industries and agribusiness. Thus, in the name of helping the poorest nations, the Carter program promotes an "open-door" for U.S. runaway shops and U.S. capital in general. While the stated intention of the program is to lessen unemployment at home, in fact it will increase the number of jobless workers by increasing the ongoing process of "capital flight." WHO BENEFITS? In conclusion, the Carter immigration program is another gift to business, as evidenced in the temporary resident/cheap labor plan. The transnational corporations remain untouched. The structures which encourage runaway shops are strengthened. The patterns of displacement of workers and peasants in the third world and unemployment within the U.S. are unchanged. The only thing that the Carter program offers the American public and the dependent nations is confusion. Perhaps it is this confusion that is the greatest danger of the immigration plan - confusion that can divide native-born American workers from immigrant workers, that ' can veil exploitation in the guise of aid. In a political commentary entitled "Carter's Plan Against Human Rights," Evelina Marquez of CASA's newspaper Sin Fronteras writes, the supposed solutions offered by Carter have not satisfied anyone while they have confused many. Presently, Carter's plan faces criticism both from the extreme right of the American people who demand more repression, deportation and the militarization of the border, ... [and from] large sections of the working class and the American public who consider the plan a step towards implementing an Apartheid-type politics [and] demand the only just solution which is favorable to undocumented workers - unconditional amnesty. It is indeed true that the Carter administration has fooled the American public on many issues, but the immigration program is one which has provoked substantial opposition from diverse sectors of society. There are growing efforts to isolate and effectively pressure a change in this policy as well as to draw out the lessons it teaches about the Carter administration, and the nature of the unemployment crisis in the capitalist world. "The reality of the problem," in the words of Dr. Gilberto Cardenas, from the University of Texas, "goes beyond any reasonable solution. In terms of government action, they can't do what they have to do to solve the problems, because it threatens their own stability and existence. One has to look at the problem from an ideological point of view." Sources include: "Mini Informational Packet for Organizational Meeting, California Conference on Immigration and Public Policy," prepared by Antonio Rios and staff, Chicano Studies Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.; "Recent Developments in Mexico and their Economic Implications for the United States," Hearings Before Joint Economic Committee, Subcommittee on Inter-American Relations, U.S. Congress, January 17 and 24, 1977; Joe Sommers, "Damming/Damning the Migrant Stream," unpublished paper, Literature Dept., UCSD, San Diego, CA.; and interviews.

Tags: Immigration, Jimmy Carter, US-Mexico Border, Militarization, transnationals

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.