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Immigration Reform and the New Technology

From the Editors  |  Issue: July | August 2013
Immigration Reform and the New Technology photo

CHICAGO — Union woman marches with son for immigrant and workers’ rights on May Day.
Photo: Adrian Garcia


With the American Dream becoming a nightmare even for the native-born, what can immigrants expect?

Today’s immigration debates are occurring in an environment of enforced austerity at home, where even previously comfortable U.S- born workers are being sacrificed to corporate profits. At the same time, the globalization of capitalism is displacing millions from their homelands and forcing them to emigrate to this country or other countries.

For a long time it seemed as though the United States was the land of opportunity. The United States seemed a beacon of hope and plenty to many who looked at it from abroad. It appeared that the U.S. worker shared in the bounty and was part of a social contract between employers and workers. Many immigrants longed for this.

But this is rapidly changing.

The United States now has one of the highest income disparities of industrialized countries. We live in a time of unprecedented abundance and polarization of wealth, where the top one percent own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. The social safety net is in tatters. Unions are weak.

Labor-replacing technology has caused this, because of who owns it — the one percent not the 99 percent. (In the hands of the 99 percent, the new technology would be a benefit, not a curse.) It is in this context that we should look at the current immigration reform.

Immigrants seeking legalization are being played as pawns in an enormous game of chess, in which immigration is only one part of the game plan. How else should we view the meeting of President Obama with Mexican President Peña Nieto on May 1? They did not deal with immigration reform — which one would have expected, given the day chosen. Instead, they dealt with how to open the national oil company, Pemex, to U.S. corporations, while weakening Mexico’s unions.

The extension of the guest-worker program from agriculture to industry is part of the politics of immigration reform, since jobs not yet taken over by robots are done by a temporary workforce.

The success of E-Verify in displacing immigrant workers who organized unions in factories, thus also losing their benefits and better wages, and then hiring them back through temporary agencies at lower wages and with no benefits, showed the viability of extending Guest Worker programs from agriculture to industry in the current immigration proposals.

Sections of capitalism such as Silicon Valley electronics, lobby for skilled immigrants for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), while the possibility of legalization and eventual citizenship is dangled to the vast majority of immigrants who are unskilled and poorly paid.

Meanwhile, schools and educational opportunities for American school children are cut back. In many states, immigrant children are a large proportion of the students. Yet the “brain drain” of other countries’ highly skilled workers into the United States is an integral part of immigration reform.

If the American Dream is becoming a nightmare even for U.S.-born citizens, what can immigrants expect out of immigration reform? On the positive side, polls have shown that the large majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today.

But even if legalized, immigrants will be excluded from receiving health care under Obama’s Affordable Care Act for up to 14 years.  This occurs despite numerous studies showing that immigrants have always paid more into social security than they ever collected in benefits. This year’s proposed farm bill would exclude half a million eligible people from getting food stamps — not counting the undocumented or those in the process of legalization, who are not even eligible. Seventy-five percent of those affected are children.

We are headed towards perilous times. Until U.S.-born and immigrant workers see themselves as members of a unified, single class — with a right to full and equal access to the bounty that the modern world provides — there will be much suffering.

But once we awaken to that class consciousness — native-born and immigrant alike — we will be poised to achieve the good life for us all.


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