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The New Global Capitalism and the War on Immigrants
09-13-2013, 09:12 PM,
The New Global Capitalism and the War on Immigrants
The New Global Capitalism and the War on Immigrants

Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00 By William I Robinson, Truthout | News Analysis

A police officer takes a member of the immigration reform group We Belong Together into custody after a sit-in on Independence and New Jersey Avenues on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 12, 2013. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)

When the US congress reconvenes this fall, it is expected to resume deliberations on immigration reform legislation. The House will continue to debate S.744, the bill that was passed by the Senate in June and that pundits have referred to as the "most monumental overhaul" of US immigration laws in a generation.
But immigrant rights organizations are deeply divided. Some groups have given critical support to the proposed legislation as the "best bill possible" under current conditions for the estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to normalize their status. Many others, however, have rejected what they see as a punitive Faustian bargain. They condemn the bill as an attempt to deny rights, codify repression, legitimate the criminalization of immigrants, further the militarized control of their communities and reproduce a system of de facto labor peonage.

To understand the immigration reform debate, we need to go beyond the headlines and see the big picture of the role that immigrants play in the new global capitalism system. There is more here than meets the eye. The battle over reform legislation reflects the changing patterns of domination over the "wretched of the earth," a world increasingly under the dictatorship of corporate and military power, and the challenges and pitfalls that popular movements face in their struggles for social justice.

Global Capitalism and Immigrant Labor

The larger story behind immigration reform is capitalist globalization and the worldwide reorganization of the system for supplying labor to the global economy. Over the past few decades, there has been an upsurge in transnational migration as every country and region has become integrated, often violently, into global capitalism through foreign invasions and occupations, free-trade agreements, neoliberal social and economic policies, and financial crises. Hundreds of millions have been displaced from the countryside in the Global South and turned into internal and transnational migrants, providing a vast new pool of exploitable labor for the global economy as national labor markets have increasingly merged into a global labor market.

The creation of immigrant labor pools is a worldwide phenomenon in which growth poles in the global economy attract immigrant labor from their peripheries. Thus, to name a few of the major 21st century transnational labor flows, Turkish and Eastern European workers supply labor to Western Europe, Central Africans to South Africa, Nicaraguans to Costa Rica, Sri Lankas and other South Asians to the Middle East oil producing countries, Asians to Australia, Thais to Japan, Indonesians to Malaysia, and so on.

These transnational immigrant labor flows are a mechanism that has replaced colonialism in the mobilization around the world of labor pools, often drawn from ethnically and racially oppressed groups. States assume a gatekeeper function to regulate the flow of labor for the capitalist economy. For example, US immigration enforcement agencies, as do their counterparts around the world, undertake "revolving-door" practices - opening and shutting the flow of immigration in accordance with needs of capital accumulation during distinct periods. Immigrants are sucked up when their labor is needed and then spit out when they become superfluous or potentially destabilizing to the system.

During the 1980s, 8 million Latin American emigrants arrived in the United States as globalization induced a wave of outmigration. This was nearly equal to the total figure of European immigrants who arrived on US shores during the first decades of the 20th century and made Latin America the principal origin of migration into the United States. Some 36 million immigrant workers were in the United States in 2010, at least 20 million of them from Latin America, some 11 million of which are undocumented.

The US economy has become increasingly dependent on immigrant labor. Although immigrant labor sustains US and Canadian agriculture, by the 1990s the majority of Latino/a immigrants were absorbed by industry, construction and services as part of a general "Latinization" of the economy. Latino immigrants have massively swelled the lower rungs of the US workforce. They provide almost all of the farm labor and much of the labor for hotels, restaurants, construction, janitorial and house cleaning, child care, domestic service, gardening and landscaping, hairdressing, delivery, meat and poultry packing, food processing, light manufacturing, retail and so on.

This dependence of the United States and the global economy on immigrant labor, presents a contradictory situation. From the viewpoint of the dominant groups, the dilemma is how to super-exploit an immigrant labor force, such as Latinos in the United States, yet how to simultaneously assure it is super controllable and super-controlled. The state must play a balancing act by finding a formula for a stable supply of cheap labor to employers, and at the same time, a viable system of state control over immigrants. The push in the United States and elsewhere has been toward heightened criminalization of immigrant communities, the militarized control of these communities, and the establishment of an immigrant detention and deportation complex.

New Axis of Inequality Worldwide

As borders have come down for capital and goods, they have been reinforced for human beings. While global capitalism creates immigrant workers, these workers do not enjoy citizenship rights in their host countries. Stripped either de facto or de jure of the political, civic and labor rights afforded to citizens, immigrant workers are forced into the underground, made vulnerable to employers, whether large private or state employers or affluent families, and subject to hostile cultural and ideological environments.

The super-exploitation of an immigrant workforce would not be possible if that workforce had the same rights as citizens, if it did not face the insecurities and vulnerabilities of being undocumented or "illegal." Granting full citizenship rights to the tens of millions of immigrants in the United States would undermine the division of the United States - and by extension, the global - working class into immigrants and citizens. That division is a central component of the new class relations of global capitalism, predicated on a "flexible" mass of workers who can be hired and fired at will, are de-unionized, and face precarious work conditions, job instability, a rollback of benefits and downward pressure on wages.

Immigrant workers are not only flexible, but are disposable through deportation, and therefore, controllable. The condition of deportable must be created and then reproduced - periodically refreshed with new waves of "illegal" immigrants - since that condition assures the ability to super-exploit with impunity and to dispose of without consequence, should this labor become unruly or unnecessary.

Driving immigrant labor underground and absolving the state and employers of any commitment to the social reproduction of this labor allows for its maximum exploitation, together with its disposal, when necessary. The punitive features of immigration policy in the United States in recent decades have been combined with reforms to federal welfare law that denied immigrants - documented or not - access to such social wages as unemployment insurance, food stamps and certain welfare benefits. In this way, the immigrant labor force becomes responsible for its own maintenance and reproduction and also - through remittances - for family members abroad. This makes immigrant labor low cost and flexible for capital and also costless for the state compared to native-born labor. Immigrant workers become the archetype of these new global class relations; the quintessential workforce of global capitalism.

Hence, sustaining a reserve army of immigrant labor involves reproducing the division of workers into immigrants and citizens, which requires contradictory practices on the part of states. The state must lift national borders for capital but must reinforce these same national boundaries in its immigrant policies, and in its ideological activities, it must generate a nationalist hysteria by propagating such images as "out-of-control borders" and "invasions of illegal immigrants."
In sum, the division of the global working class into citizen and immigrant is a major new axis of inequality worldwide. Borders and nationality are used by transnational capital, the powerful and the privileged, to sustain new methods of control and domination over the global working class.

The Immigrant Military-Prison-Industrial-Detention Complex
There is a broad social and political base, therefore, for the maintenance of a flexible, super-controlled and super-exploited Latino immigrant workforce. The system cannot function without it. But immigrant labor is extremely profitable for the corporate economy in double sense. First, it is labor that is highly vulnerable, forced to exist semi-underground, and deportable, and therefore super-exploitable. Second, the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and the militarization of their control not only reproduce these conditions of vulnerability, but also in themselves, generate vast new opportunities for profit-making.

The immigrant military-prison-industrial-detention complex is one of the fastest growing sectors of the US economy. There has been a boom in new private prison construction to house immigrants detained during deportation proceedings. In 2007, nearly one million undocumented immigrants were apprehended and 311,000 deported. The Obama administration presents itself as a friend of Latinos (and immigrants more generally), yet Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in the past half a century - some 400,000 per year since he took office in 2009.

The private immigrant detention complex is a boom industry. Undocumented immigrants constitute the fastest growing sector of the US prison population and are detained in private detention centers and deported by private companies contracted out by the United States. As of 2010, there were 270 immigration detention centers that caged on any given day over 30,000 immigrants. Since detainment facilities and deportation logistics are subcontracted to private companies, capital has a vested interest in the criminalization of immigrants and in the militarization of control over immigrants - and more broadly, therefore, a vested interest in contributing to the neofascist, anti-immigrant movement.
It is no surprise that William Andrews, the CEO of the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, the largest private US contractor for immigrant detention centers, declared in 2008 that "the demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts . . . or through decriminalization [of immigrants]." A month after the anti-immigrant bill in Arizona, SB1070, became law, Wayne Callabres, the president of Geo Group, another private prison contractor, held a conference call with investors and explained his company's aspirations. "Opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what's happening," he said, referring to the Arizona law. "Those people coming across the border being caught are going to have to be detained and that, to me at least, suggests there's going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do."
Unite The Many, defeat the few.

Revolution is for the love of your people, culture, knowledge, wisdom, spirit, and peace. Not Greed!
Soul Rebel Native Son

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