Sunday, December 30, 2007

No One Is Illegal

Even the libertarian Ron Paulista, Justin Raimondo, is disturbed by Ron Paul openly pandering to the racist vote. The usual spiel about immigrants having diminished in quality is inter-mingled with a licit appeal to commonplace Islamophobia. But Paul is only behaving as he might: he is a pro-gun, anti-abortion, Christian conservative who opposes stem cell research and he's one of the few who takes the John Birch Society seriously. The only source of slight amazement is the internet buzz around the kooky little reactionary, almost entirely borne out of his opposition to the war. The trouble is, as I noted, practically every other serious presidential candidate is talking about working for the clampdown. And in Iowa, the centre of attention for the time being, the arrival of Hispanic immigrants is seen as increasing crime and - so says the reporter - diluting the "Nordic" heritage of local towns. Of course, few would put the Aryanism as bluntly as that. Among the excuses one hears for this position is that "it's not racism, we simply want people to respect the law". Why, they wonder aloud, would any country accept people who break the law? Would you accept a burglar as a guest in your house?

But the laws are unjust, and a country ain't a fucking house. Immigration controls are unjust because they constitute a limitation on the right to work; because they penalise the poorest workers in the world; because they intensify the advantage that (increasingly mobile) capital already has over the labour it exploits; because they rely on the construction of tyrannical powers for the state (the only remaining state with truly effective border controls being North Korea); and because they rely on racist discursive practises with characteristically deadly effects. Immigration controls are not always good for specific sectors of capital - sometimes they face labour shortages because of specific caps on seasonal workers - but as a rule they maintain a flow of labour while keeping it under some level of control, keeping it domesticated and timid with the threat of imminent exposure and expulsion.

Mexican workers have catalysed economic growth in the US economy since 1848, and have been the targets of Jim Crow-style segregation for as long, particularly in California. After all, the annexation of Texas was in part an attempt by the southern states to expand the the scope of slavery and thus buttress their own power. Texan secession from Mexico had followed the ethnic cleansing of the area's Indian population, and the place was governed according to the principles of white supremacy. Despite the racist hysteria against them, Mexican workers have often been sufficiently useful to capitalists in the south-west to stymy long-term pogroms against them, even while Chinese workers were being subjected to terrorist purges across the West, and Asian workers in general falling foul of stern anti-immigration laws (esp. from 1924 to 1965). Yet, even their acceptance by US agricultural interests involved scientific claims for their docility, lack of intelligence and willingness to accept hard work. And when the shit hit the fan in the Great Depression, Mexicans were to feel the forceful brunt of a nativist reaction, when Congress approved driving Mexican workers out of the country, particularly out of Texas, with more than half a million people expelled. This kind of repression didn't have to be long-term: by enshrining the right to expel labour en masse, by organising repression along racial lines, such laws enabled employers enormous leverage over the labour market and worker mobility. And when you can simply cast a huge portion of the workforce out of the human race, declare them unfit for the considerations afforded everyone else, one has less work to do with welfare and employment programmes. Historically, such laws have been used to monitor the most militant, union-focused workers, and weed them out. Similarly, after the 2006 immigrant uprising in the US, the laws were used to intimidate and round up thousands of the most precariously placed workers in the country.

The drama in Ron Paul's latest advertisement revolves around people scrambling across borders, eluding the law and the militias, possibly bringing jihad to American towns and cities. This depiction of immigration with the thrill of border chases, brown-eyed elopers, cursing smugglers, vigilant lawmen and vigilante citizens, is the usual American schtick. However, the bulk of migrants classified as "illegals" are people who arrived in the country by lawful means and happen to have overstayed or are awaiting renewed visas. Incidentally, this is also true in Fortress Europe: many of those presently serving coffees or painting interiors across London are "illegal" by virtue of having outstayed permits. Their rights are therefore precarious and, though they frequently pay taxes, their access to social protection and welfare is severely curtailed. Let us not dwell on those who, though they are perfectly legal in seeking asylum in this country, are separated from their families and locked up in prisons that politicians call 'detention centres'. The conversion of labour segregation and repression into a form of entertainment, however, serves to awaken the fantasy of invasion. Well, what of 'invasion'? In the US, about 12.5% of the population (37.5m people) is foreign born. About half of these are classified as white, and that isn't the half that is getting the heat. A third of the total were born in Mexico, and in turn half of those arrived before 1990. The bulk of those who arrived recently are there for short-term employment contracts, and that is particularly true of those classified as "illegals". Far from "taking our jobs", one of the effects of "illegals" is to increase overall employment and sustain flagging businesses that provide work and services to nonimmigrants. The econometric evidence overwhelmingly sustains this argument (and, incidentally, it is equally true of Eastern European migration to the UK). So, the free movement of labour is not only a right that workers should claim - and one that could increasingly be fulfilled well given the reducing costs of transport - it is a positive boost to the strength of the working class. The criminalisation and segregation of workers is, by contrast, in no part of our interest.