Recently, members at our New York City-based workers center, who include undocumented Indigenous Mexican restaurant workers and Puerto Rican grandmothers who are residents of public housing, have been asking about all the attention and aid being given to new migrants. “What about us who’ve been here?” they ask.
Every day they see media images of a “surging” wave of migrants coming into New York City. Both Democrats and Republicans are responding to the influx with racist and inflammatory statements pitting citizens against immigrants. NYC Mayor Eric Adams said the current wave “will destroy New York City. … Every service in this City is going to be impacted.” Of the 112,800 people living in the city’s shelters, 59,900 are migrants. Citing the strain on the city’s finances, Mayor Adams exhorted President Joe Biden to give NYC $500 million to cover the costs.
The anti-immigrant Guardian Angels, a self-proclaimed civilian “crime-fighting” group, attended an anti-migrant rally in Staten Island on September 14. The group protested the city’s use of a former school in Staten Island to house new migrants. A few signs echoed Mayor Adams’s foreboding warning to New Yorkers. Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa told the crowd, “This is our battle for our neighborhoods, for our children, for our grandparents. For your equity.”
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) echoed rallygoers by blasting Adams. “New Yorkers are struggling to get by. The cost of living has skyrocketed, inflation is crushing them, it’s making it difficult to pay their bills,” she said. “Instead of helping our citizens, the mayor is asking for $500 million for illegal immigrants instead of calling on our president to secure the border and stop the madness.”
Meanwhile, in order to appease critics, including those from within his own party, President Biden announced he will continue building the border wall started by former President Donald Trump. Seemingly counterintuitively, the federal government also extended Temporary Protected Status to almost half a million Venezuelan migrants who had entered the United States as of July 31, allowing them to obtain work permits and defer deportation.
The domestic policy of giving papers to a few immigrants while criminalizing many more is nothing new. It has sowed divisions and turned members of the working class against one another. Tied to an imperialist U.S. foreign policy that has pilfered the wealth and subverted the independence of other countries, U.S. finance capital continues to enrich itself while the working poor, both abroad and at home, suffer.
In 2022, 42 percent of U.S. asylum requests came from Cuba and Venezuela alone — countries that are the targets of U.S. sanctions. During the Obama administration, the U.S. government began enforcing sanctions against Venezuela to destroy its socialist regime at the time and benefit from its rich oil reserves. Venezuela is only one of many countries that U.S. policy has destroyed, driving people to flee to the U.S.
Democrats and “progressives” in this country welcome those fleeing with open arms, promoting their super-exploitation and pitting them against citizens, thus exacerbating the exploitation, unemployment and under-employment of many citizen workers. Business owners, who have been lamenting the “shortage” of workers, are overjoyed.
But there is no shortage of workers. The problem is that there is a shortage of good jobs. To bolster our wars abroad, this country must exploit its own workers. That’s why thousands of immigrants who work in the service industry make as little as $3.33 an hour. Home care workers, both undocumented and citizen, are robbed of 11 hours of pay for every 24-hour shift. An estimated $50 billion is stolen from workers in the U.S. every year. Who is stealing from workers? Employers, insurance companies, developers. Who enables this thievery? Both Republicans and Democrats.
Even as production has risen, workers’ conditions have worsened in the last 50 years, particularly after the federal government’s enactment in 1986 of the Immigration Reform and Control Act’s “employer sanctions” provision. This provision criminalized undocumented workers and denied them equal rights to organize. It emboldened greedy employers to hire undocumented workers and pay them subminimum wages. It has also allowed employers to depress pay and working conditions for citizen workers under the threat of replacement with immigrant workers if they complain. Employer sanctions have created an underclass and divided the working class.
A divided working class means that all working people lose out — Venezuelan migrants, homeless veterans, white construction workers, Black and Brown unemployed youth, and even Staten Island families. Clearly, the real war should not be between workers. The real war being waged in this country is against the working class. Our lives, our communities and our planet are being ravaged. Finance capital is reaping all the wealth from exploiting us here at home, and robbing other countries’ resources and wealth.
We should come together to organize wherever we are and fight for demands that address the immediate problems that we face, including displacement, wage theft, lack of health care and 24-hour workdays; as well as continue to engage in strikes or other actions to push for improvements in working conditions.
We should also unite across the country to demand that our federal government stop its imperialist attacks on other countries; end its racist and anti-worker immigration policies in this country and ensure the equal right for all workers to organize, regardless of immigration status; and repeal the employer sanctions provision of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
When members at our workers center ask, “what about us?” we talk about how the best way to address their needs and concerns is to organize together with the new migrants because, as working people, we have common interests. Even as the government tries to make us think new migrants are the culprits, it is making policies and laws to help business interests’ ability to exploit us all for their profits. They do that by criminalizing the undocumented to allow their super-exploitation while pitting us against one another to drive pay and conditions down for all workers. In reality, it’s this system that exploits us here and exploits our countries of origin.
Only with a strong, united working class can we lift up the working and living conditions for all.
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