A Chicano Historical Analysis: Immigration or Labor?
President Barack Obama, along with the “Gang of 8,” 4 Democrats, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and 4 Republican; Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tea Party favor Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently called for bi-partisan, “comprehensive immigration reform.”
The call brought back vivid memories of labor, political and civil rights organizer, Humberto “Bert” Corona.
Corona, while unknown to many in the US, struggled to improve the conditions of persons of Mexican ancestry and undocumented immigrants in the US from the 1930’s until his death in 2001. He is recognized by many in the Chicano community as being both the father of the Chicano and Immigration movements.
Corona, of all persons I’ve known, struggled to raise the issue of the undocumented worker to the forefront of US public policy discussion. Without him there would be no immigration movements today in our communities.
I can still vividly recall having a discussion one night (1972) about the then unknown immigration issue with Corona in National City, CA. Corona in 1972 had been involved politically for over 30 years (to my 4 years), and that night spoke words that would turn out to be prophetic about the burgeoning modern day immigration issue. I remember Corona sitting in our small office of Casa Justicia stating, “Herman we have got to start addressing the immigration issue because it is going to be an issue that is going to be with us, an issue that is going to affect our people until the year 2000!”
At that time the Immigration issue was virtually non-existent to our communities in the U.S., and to the great majority of Chicano activists. As Corona had predicted correctly the immigration issue grew both nationally and internationally from an Ant Hill to a Mount Everest of an issue.
After the 2012 presidential election the “comprehensive immigration reform” issue was raised by both President Obama, whose administration has deported and separated more Mexicans families than any recent Republican administration, and (unbelievably) the Republican Party who, before the election, were calling for undocumented Mexicans to self deport.
As in 1986 (the last immigrant reform under President Ronald Reagan) there is no one (again) from our community defining what the historical issues are concerning the Obama immigration proposals, or represent the social, economic and political interests of our people. As in 1986 hired His/Her Panics politicians and funded social service agencies’ heads are mainly present, and are parroting the defined solutions laid out by their Democratic and Republican Party bosses.
Even worse is the fact that the so-called immigration solutions President Obama and the “Gang of 8” have proposed for Mexican undocumented workers are the same; old law enforcement, guns, barbed wire, bait and switch, false amnesty, never enforced employer sanctions, Bracero program and calls to increase the “Gestapo” Border Patrol, to supposedly secure the U.S./Mexico border.
For our people the question/issue is how do we defend our rights and interests? The answer is… historical analysis and definition. In other words as the old political saying states; “A people cannot get a solution if those people don’t know what the problem is, and a people cannot know what the problem is, without understanding history.”
In my opinion, the proposed immigration proposals and solutions have to be understood and addressed from our peoples’ historical perspective and experiences.
Immigration or a Labor Issue?
This is the foremost question that America’s 53 million Chicanos/Latinos must raise and demand answers from both President Obama and the U.S. Congress.
Are the proposed immigration solutions being directed at all immigrants, or specifically at the Mexican undocumented workers?
Workers who for over 100 years have grown and picked America’s food in agri-business, clean hotels/motels, cook and wait in restaurants, sweat in garment factories, do gardening, cook and clean rich people’s houses, baby sit children, and take care of America’s sick and elderly, etc.?
If that is the case, then the issue is not immigration, but a labor system that has existed since the end of the U.S./Mexico War of 1850 that has been defined to the American public as the; “immigration problem.”
After dealing with the immigration issue for the last 43 years, I personally have no doubts that the issue is labor and not immigration.
Case in point: in those 43 years I have met numerous undocumented persons. Individuals that were stopped detained arrested and deported back into Mexico by the U.S. Border Patrol. I met a lot of those individuals in National City after their 10, 15, or 20 unsuccessful attempts to cross the border.
In those 43 years, I never had one undocumented worker ever ask me, “Where can I get my immigration papers?” What all of them did inquire about was, “where can I get a job, or do you know anyone who will hire me, etc.?” To me that is labor and not immigration.
History will bear out that Obama’s and the “Gang of 8” proposals (if approved) will fail like President Jimmy Carter’s (1977) and President Ronald Reagans (1986) immigration proposals. The reason; a labor issue cannot be fixed with immigration solutions, or vice-versa!
Further definitive proof that the solutions being proposed are labor, and specifically for the undocumented Mexican workers, is the fact that every immigration proposal ever proposed has included a proviso for the importation of foreign labor.
Reason: the U.S. economics’ historical addiction for cheap and exploitable labor. Historically speaking, the U.S. economy has always had foreign importation workers programs.
Beginning with the 18 Afro-Americans slaves forced to immigrate (slavery) in 1619 to Jamestown, Virginia. Followed by other ethnic groups, Chinese, Filipinos, Irish, Okies from the dust bowl, Central Americans under special program (H-2), and Mexicans contracted under bilateral agreements such as the Bracero Program of 1917 & 1942, and always the undocumented workers.
It cannot be denied that all foreign worker importation (especially for Mexican labor) programs were created by politicians to satisfy the U.S. economy’s addiction (especially agri-business) for cheap labor. The abuses of foreign importation worker programs have been fully documented, beginning with slavery (1619 to the 1960’s), to the infamous Mexican WW II Bracero program.
US Labor Executive, Lee G. Williams, who oversaw the day-to-day operation of the Bracero Program, termed the program, “nothing short of slavery” “a way for big corporate farms to get a cheap labor supply from México under government sponsorship,” “purely a money grabbing scheme by the corporate farms and sugar interests” and, “I pray that they don’t reinstate this type of program.”
However, the final indictment of the Bracero Program was the official U.S. Government policy of, “drying out wetbacks.” A policy that allowed the U.S. Border Patrol to return illegal Mexican farm workers arrested on U.S. farms to the Mexico-US border where they were issued “legal” documents and then paroled back to the very farms on which they were found!
Final proof that nothing will change with Obama’s and the “Gang of 8” 2013 proposals is Senator John McCain statement that, “Without a commitment to a legal temporary worker program for our high-tech community and agriculture sector, there is no such thing as comprehensive immigration reform.”
Part 2, To be continued next week!
This analysis will be presented at the March 16, 2013 UC Riverside Immigration Reform Summit