Kasandra Dalton reports on the situation in the United States as Arizona passes a law allowing the arbitrary arrest of immigrants
Last week the state legislature in Arizona and the Republican governor Jan Brewer signed the anti-immigrant law SB 1070. This is essentially a racist law to criminalise immigration and creates the legal power for police to arrest people upon mere suspicion of illegal immigration status.
There has been significant political fallout from this quasi-fascist decisión on the part of the Arizona Republicans. Even Barack Obama, Mexican president Felipe Calderón, the Bishop of Los Angeles and Shakira have protested and made their views public.
But to me, from a Marxist perspective there seem to be two main points: make some comments on the sociological aspects of Hispanic immigration in the United States, and then to try and look into some of the characteristics of the political and economic situation in the USA which provide the basis for this racist and discriminatory law.
The sociology of the situation is central. This is because the very identity of the United States – always contradictory and in tensión – appears to be heading towards an ever more irresolvable contradiction. The coasts, east and west, have become multicultural, with the monolingual, white, pro-capitalist Christian population in the minority compared to a proliferation of people from different backgrounds from all over the world and very different value systems. This section of the population largely votes Democrat, but this appears not to be out of political conviction as much as a default choice given the other visible alternatives on offer.
On the other side of the spectrum is the middle and south of the country, where there is a greater concentration of the aforementioned conservative population. This section of society believes itself to be the direct embodiment of the “national spirit”, with a more conservative Christianity of Anglo-Saxon stock and a belief in utilitarianism and capitalist enterprise, and overwhelmingly votes Republican. Indeed, the racist anti-immigrant legislation passed by the Arizona senate is a product of this consciousness.
Translating this schema onto the class structure of American society is not straightforward and cannot be done simply. This is because among both sections of society there is a working class, a petty-bourgeoisie and the boss class proper. An important element in the recent right-wing radicalisation (the ‘Tea Parties’) has been sections of the petty bourgeoisie harshly affected by the crisis and ensuing unemployment and declining living standards.
So we can understand various factors behind the Arizona legislation. One of them has direct relation to the ideological fetishes of the grassroots of the Republican Party, xenophobic and looking to stigmatise ‘the other’.
Moreover we must consider the profound problems of the Arizona economy, particularly in terms of the service sector, and its direct consequence, the lack of jobs and thus the belief that the immigrant is a potential competitor for work. This is exacerbated by the inconsistent attitude of Barack Obama to migration reform that would really guarantee legal stability for the millions of undocumented migrants.
The law has already been challenged by various NGOs and the Democrats in the Senate have announced plans to annul the state legislation, based on the argument that states have no legal authority to promulgate immigration law.
1st May demonstrations
After the passing of the law, there were various demonstrations including that of the 1st May, International Workers’ Day. Significant contingents of legal and undocumented immigrants marched and held large rallies in different parts of the country, from Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Milwaukee to smaller demonstrations in many other places, as shown in the map below.
This creates the impression that within the territory of the United States the immigrant section of the working class is creating its own tradition, based on the events occurring here which have historically been buried by imperialist ideology.
However, these mobilisations have still not had a major impact and there still lacks any political organisation able to pull them together and lead them from a purely sectional struggle towards a political and economic one.
However, far from saying that the matter is finished, this must pose revolutionary questions in two senses. Firstly, the possibility of mass mobilisations like we saw a few years ago [a reference to the 1st May 2006 immigrant strike, where a million mostly Latino migrants took to the streets]. Second, the need to continue analysing and acting on the everever deeper contradictions of capitalism and imperialism in the United States.