What Trump Can and Cannot Do Regarding Immigration

By David Bacon
Dollars and Sense | January/February 2017

People make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
—Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” 1852

While the government officials developing and enforcing U.S. immigration policy will change on January 20, the economic system in which they make that policy will not. As fear sweeps through immigrant communities in the United States, understanding that system helps us anticipate what a Trump administration can and can’t do in regard to immigrants, and what immigrants themselves can do about it.

Over the terms of the last three presidents, the most visible and threatening aspect of immigration policy has been the drastic increase in enforcement. President Bill Clinton presented anti-immigrant bills as compromises, and presided over the first big increase in border enforcement. George W. Bush used soft rhetoric, but sent immigration agents in military-style uniforms, carrying AK-47s, into workplaces to arrest workers, while threatening to fire millions for not having papers. Under President Barack Obama, a new requirement mandated filling 34,000 beds in detention centers every night. The detention system mushroomed, and over 2 million people were deported.

Enforcement, however, doesn’t exist for its own sake. It plays a role in a larger system that serves capitalist economic interests by supplying a labor force employers require. High levels of enforcement also ensure the profits of companies that manage detention and enforcement, who lobby for deportations as hard as Boeing lobbies for the military budget.

Immigrant labor is more vital to many industries than it’s ever been before. Immigrants have always made up most of the country’s farm workers in the West and Southwest. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 57% of the country’s entire agricultural workforce is undocumented. But the list of other industries dependent on immigrant labor is long—meatpacking, some construction trades, building services, healthcare, restaurant and retail service, and more. Continue reading

Bosch Engineering to Guest Workers: ‘Hand Over Tax Refunds or Go Back to India’

by Mike Elk

bosch_building_615_461In 2005, Suraj Kamath began working for Bosch Engineering in India as an automotive engineer. In March of 2009, Bosch moved him to its test facility in Santa Barbara, CA. under an L-1 visa, which allows American companies to transfer employees based in foreign countries to the United States as “guest workers.” And in December 2012, Kamath says he received a letter from Bosch informing him that he needed to pay the company $45,102 in federal and state tax refunds that he had received over the previous three years.

When Kamath refused to hand over his refunds, to which he was legally entitled, he was met with another unwelcome surprise. According to a complaint he filed in federal court on Wednesday, Bosch threatened to send him back to India if he didn’t pay the thousands of dollars that it claimed he owed.

“I worked diligently for Bosch for years,” Kamath continued in his statement. “When I objected to Bosch’s demand to pay back all tax refunds I had received, Bosch threatened to fire me, send me back to India and make my life miserable. The way Bosch treats its employees is wrong and that’s why I am standing up to Bosch for myself and my fellow colleagues at Bosch.” Continue reading

What Real Immigration Reform Would Look Like

Clue:  It’s Not a New Guest Worker Program

By David Bacon


Oralia Maceda asks her question at the Fresno meeting.

Oralia Maceda, an immigrant mother from Oaxaca, asked the obvious last weekend in Fresno.  At a meeting, talking about the Senate immigration reform bill, she wanted to know why Senators would spend almost $50 billion on more border walls, yet show no interest in why people leave home to cross them.

This Congressional blindness will get worse as immigration reform moves to the House.  It condemns U.S. immigration policy to a kind of punitive venality, making rational political decisions virtually impossible.  Yet alternatives are often proposed by migrant communities themselves, and reflect a better understanding of global economics and human rights.

Rufino Dominguez, who now works for the Oaxacan state government, describes what Maceda knows from experience: “NAFTA forced the price of corn so low it’s not economically possible to plant a crop anymore.  We come to the U.S. to work because there’s no alternative.”  The reason for the fall in prices, according to Timothy Wise of the Global Development and Environment Institute, is that corn imports to Mexico from the U.S. rose from 2,014,000 to 10,330,000 tons from 1992 to 2008.  Continue reading

AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce lay out initial principles for guest worker program

by Laura Clawson

immigrantworkerjusticenow(Feb 21) Characterizing themselves as being “in the middle—not the end” of negotiations over how immigration reform should handle the question of guest workers, the presidents of the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce released a joint statement laying out the broad strokes of three reforms:

First, American workers should have a first crack at available jobs. To that end, business and labor are committed to improving the way that information about job openings in lesser-skilled occupations reaches the maximum number of workers, particularly those in disadvantaged communities.Second, there are instances—even during tough economic times—when employers are not able to fill job openings with American workers. Those instances will surely increase as the economy improves, and when they occur, it is important that our laws permit businesses to hire foreign workers without having to go through a cumbersome and inefficient process. Our challenge is to create a mechanism that responds to the needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers. Among other things, this requires a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status, provides labor mobility in a way that still gives American workers a first shot at available jobs, and that automatically adjusts as the American economy expands and contracts.

Continue reading

Senate Democrats Block Funding for Guest Worker Protection Rule

by Mike Elk

Mike Elk

On June 14, five Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee joined 14 Republicans to help pass an amendment sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) that would block funding for the enforcement of a new H-2B guest workers protection rule issued by the Obama administration. Approximately 115,000 guest workersare working in the United States on H-2B guest worker visas. The program allows companies to bring in workers into the United States to work when they claim that they cannot find American workers to do the job.

However, workers’ rights advocates claim the program is often abused by companies to hire workers in industries like construction. Currently, 14.2% of construction workers are unemployed. A recent Department of Labor internal audit found that nearly half of all companies using H-2B guest workers are not in compliance with federal laws about their usage.

Labor advocates claim that the H-2B visas programs are often used to pay workers lower wages. One study by the Economic Policy Institute found that workers on H-2B visa in the seafood industry make on average $10,000 a year less than American workers in the seafood industry.
Continue reading

Exploited Student Workers Fight Back at Hershey

Editorial Note: We are reposting this article with permission of the author from the Working in These Times blog.

Talking Union has been covering stories about the struggles of immigrant workers over several years. In 2008 we extensively documented the uprising of pipe-fitting “guest workers” from India at the shipyards of Signal Industries in Mississippi and Texas. We applaud the initiative and courage of the students from many countries in fighting back against their exploitation by a whole daisy chain of sub’contracted employers and bureaucratic minions that culminates in the global confectionery giant Hershey. Hershey has been steadily whittling away at its union organized workforce in and around Hershey, while exploring every channel to locate cheap and exploitable workers. Despite their linguistic and cultural differences the student workers, with help from the Guestworkers Project and Pennsylvania unions, overcame every barrier to their self-organization. They deserve all our support, in particular when the employers, backed by government authorities as they always are, retaliate against uppity guest workers by threats and actual expulsion from the USA.

by Mike Elk

State Department lacks expertise and manpower to oversee J-1 visa program

In Palmyra, Pa., about 400 guest workers from a variety of countries staged a
on Wednesday to protest their working conditions and pay at a
warehouse run by a Hershey subcontractor. Guest workers presented a petition to
management and then marched out. Three labor leaders—Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
President Rick Bloomingdale, SEIU President Healthcare Pennsylvania Neal Bisno
and SEIU Local 668 President Kathy Jellison—were arrested after staging a
sit-in at the warehouse’s entrance.

The guest workers were students who signed up to work in the United States on a
four month cultural exchange visa. Students pay fees and travel ranging from
$3,000-$6,000 to work on a temporary contract and then travel freely in the
United States.
Continue reading

Gandhi Joins with Martin Luther King: Jobs with Justice National Conference

Here is one ongoing story of struggle by workers against exploitative corporate globalization. It is part of the rich tapestry presented at the Jobs with Justice National Conference in Providence, which assembled several hundred activists from forty local coalitions that campaign for workers’ rights. These delegates, diverse in age, race and culture, shared their organizing experiences and successes, of perseverance in the face of adversity and corporate and political villany. This struggle by Indian workers against their exploitation by the U.S. government’s H2B “guest worker” program is continuing. Continue reading