Barack Obama, the lesser evil for undocumented migrant workers... or not

By Sergio Reyes (6/8/2008)

To express an opinion about which of the two presidential candidates in the U.S. will be better for the more than 12 million undocumented migrant workers and their families first we have place the question within the right context. The context is a presidential contest in a country whose democracy is determined by a two-party system destined to preserve, promote and expand capitalism. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are therefore two variations on the same theme. Likewise, the electoral contests are determined not by popular will but rather by economic interests.

Another interesting context is the precedent of collaboration between republicans and democrats on legislation about what to do with undocumented migrant workers. Let's remember that senators Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and McCain (R-Arizona) co-sponsored a law in 2005 that included a guest-worker program (new braceros) with a strong emphasis in closing down the borders through militarization, high technology surveillance and walls. Let's also take into consideration that the Massachusetts senator represents the most liberal sector of the Democratic Party. The republican opposition and many within the Democratic Party itself labeled this proposed act as an "amnesty for illegal immigrants" and defeated it. Curiously, this act contained most of the elements that President Bush was proposing in reference to migrant workers.

Within an immigrant rights movement that is heavily determined by Democratic Party interests today we hear voices that promote the concept that Barack Obama is their hope as the better of the two contenders to resolve the problem of undocumented migrant workers. Therefore let's analyze what Obama himself has to say about his position on this matter.

* Obama believes that our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a complete solution that secures our border, enforces our laws and reaffirms our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

* Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, not violate the law, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.

* Barack Obama believes we must fix the dysfunctional bureaucracy to balance the needs of American workers and the U.S. economy. He also realizes the need to increase the number of people we allow into the country legally to a level that keeps families together and meets the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.

* Obama will continue to work for a comprehensive bill that fixes our broken immigration system.

* Obama wants to preserve the integrity of our borders. He supports additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry. Obama believes we need additional Customs and Border Protection agents equipped with better technology and real-time intelligence.

* Obama believes that to remove incentives to enter the country illegally, we need to crack down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants. Barack Obama has championed a proposal with Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Max Baucus (D-MT) to create a new employment eligibility verification system so employers can verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S.

* About 69,300 foreign-born men and women serve in the U.S. armed forces, roughly 5 percent of the total active-duty force. Of those, 43 percent – 29,800 – are not U.S. citizens. The Pentagon says more than 100 immigrant soldiers have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama believes that legal immigrants who have fought for us overseas should have expedited procedures towards citizenship.

Up to here we have presented the material distributed by Senator Obama's campaign. The reader can interpret this material according to his or her own perception. However, what it is clear for the writer of this article is the fact that Senator Obama's position is not too different to that of other democratic or republican politicians, including the republican candidate himself. The truth is that in his position paper not much is said about what he will do about his matter.

Elvira Arellano has recently written, "But at this moment the only option we have is Barack Obama and his movement of hope because the alternative is the movement of hatred embraced by John McCain The latter means death through warfare, "free trade", the persecution and (state) terrorism agains 12 million undocumented immigrants." Curiously though we have seen here that Obama's position on "immigration" is not fundamentally different from McCain's. Even more, how could we then explain the collaboration Kennedy-McCain on immigration?

The truth is that none of the two candidates is any hope for undocumented migrant workers. Furthermore, this problem created by contemporary capitalism is not only a U.S. problem, it covers the entire capitalist world and as such it must be confronted internationally. This approach requires the active participation of all workers of the world, whether they are organized in unions or not.

In the United States, in the context of the electoral circus, it is necessary to continue to carry out large peoples mobilizations demanding immediate amnesty. If Obama is more progressive than McCain then it has to propose something significantly better than what the republican senator proposes. I doubt it he will do. Therefore, we must continue working with the labor unions, both within the U.S. and from the countries that originate undocumented migrant workers. We must confront the contradiction presented by free trade agreements that facilitate the free flow of merchandise from country to country while the same treaty members criminalize the human beings that move from country to country in search of work.

It is also critically important to understand that beyond the search for a solution to this section of the international labor force, it is necessary that we move at the same time toward a comprehensive (let's use this little word in vogue) solution for all the exploited human beings of the world and move toward societies that are collective and for human solidarity. In any case, with Obama or without Obama our struggle continues.