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Analysis Commentary Economic Justice Immigration Social Justice

Commentary: The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” written by Suyapa Portillo Villeda and Miguel Tinker Salas, and recently published in Jacobin. Read the full piece here.

Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala as part of a series of foreign policy meetings regarding Central American migration. But despite the Biden administration’s promises to close the chapter on Trump-era policies by welcoming immigrants and building a more just immigration system, Harris quickly indicated that tight border restrictions are here to stay. Speaking to migrants in Central America, Harris’s message was explicit: “Do not come. Do not come.”

While Harris’s trip was ostensibly meant to begin discussions with foreign leaders around addressing the “root causes” of Central American migration, the overarching message she conveyed was that the United States will turn you back at the border if you try to come. (It’s worth noting that this is legally dubious; all migrants have a right to seek asylum at the US border under existing immigration law.) And even when discussing the “root causes” of migration, Harris continued to disappoint, focusing primarily on issues of corruption and lack of economic opportunity. As many immediately pointed out, Harris failed to recognize that the United States itself has long been one of the key actors animating these “root causes” in the first place.

In a recent Voices for New Democracy forum, scholar Miguel Tinker Salas discussed the United States’ historic record of involvement in Central America and how it continues to animate migration patterns today. He also recently published a new piece with the scholar Suyapa Portillo Villeda in Jacobin magazine elaborating on these issues in the context of the controversy Harris has provoked.

Does anyone believe that promoting “economic development” by expanding the presence of foreign companies in Central America will slow immigration? Does anyone believe that callously declaring “Do not come” will improve the lot of would-be migrants?

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/06/kamala-harris-central-america-guatemala-visit-us-imperialism

Throughout the last century, they argue, the United States has been deeply involved in shaping a neocolonial reality in Central America, as the American economy relies heavily on cheap Central American labor. With this history in mind, Harris’s gestures towards expanding economic opportunity ring hollow – another justification for American-led development and economic policy more likely to favor multinational corporations than potential migrant populations. Ultimately, if we want to get serious about root causes, we must begin with US empire.

Read the full piece, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” via Jacobin.

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Analysis Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Voices for New Democracy Immigration Forum

This weekend, Voices for New Democracy hosted the second forum in our new series of panels focused on pressing issues for today’s left: the future of the labor movement, immigration, economic democracy, and more.

Our latest forum centered on immigration, with presentations from our four panelists on key trends in the immigration landscape: the domestic political context for growing demands for immigration reform, the intersection of our racist criminal legal system with the deportation machine, the international context of neoliberalism in the Global South driving migration in the first place, and the need to link immigrant struggles with other social justice movements to effectively combat the white supremacist movement that threatens both.

Watch the full presentation and learn more about panelists below.

José Z. Calderón:

José Guillermo Zapata Calderón is an Emeritus Professor in Sociology and Chicano Studies at Pitzer College and President of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the Pomona Valley and San Gabriel Valley.

As an immigrant and the son of immigrant farm workers, he has had a long history of connecting his academic work with immigrant rights organizing, student-based service learning, participatory action research, critical pedagogy, and community-based coalition building.  

After graduating from the University of Colorado, he devoted fourteen years to community organizing efforts, particularly in Northern Colorado. While working on his PhD at UCLA, between 1984 and 1991, he helped organize multi-racial coalitions to defeat an English Only movement in the city of Monterey Park and to elect various local leaders to political offices. More recently, he has connected his academic work with community organizing in California’s Inland Empire region.

Miguel Tinker Salas:

Miguel Tinker Salas is an authority on political and social issues confronting Latin America. He is the author of Venezuela, What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2015); The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela (Duke University Press, 2009) Spanish edition Una herencia que perdura, petróleo, cultura y sociedad en Venezuela, GALAC 2014); co-editor with Steve Ellner of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy, (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007); co editor with Jan Rus of Mexico 2006-2012: neoliberalism, movimientos sociales y politica electoral, (Miguel Angel Porrua and Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2006) and author of Under the Shadow of the Eagles, The Border and the Transformation of Sonora During the Porfiriato, University of California Press 1997; Spanish edition, A la sombra de las águilas, Sonora y la transformación de la frontera durante el Porfiriato, Fondo de Cultura Económica 2010).

His expertise includes: contemporary Latin America, society and politics in Venezuela and Mexico, oil, culture and politics in Venezuela, the drug war in Mexico, Mexican border society, Chicanos/as and Latinos/as in the United States, and Latin American immigration.

Miguel Tinker Salas is currently a Professor of Latin American History and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Lee Wang:

Lee leads the development of IDP’s strategic vision, working across program areas to ensure that the organization advances its goals and mission. Previously, she was the founding Director of the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund, a program at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund that fights to free immigrants from detention. She started her legal career at IDP as a Skadden Fellow and has played a key role in building the organization’s ICE Out of Courts campaign. Lee is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale College. In a previous life, she was a muckraking journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Leticia Bustamante:

Leticia Bustamante is a Project Coordinator for the Dream Resource Center focused on the annual Dream Summer program. Leticia graduated from UCLA in 2017 with a major in Political Science and minor in Labor Studies. Leticia is an alumni of the Dream Summer program herself, she formed part of the Labor Cohort for the class of 2016 and interned with the California Nurses Association. As a student at UCLA, she participated in the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy (CAPPP) program in Washington, DC. She interned at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee where she investigated the economic effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Forum on Labor’s Future: Possibilities for Labor Transformation

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, panelist Eric Gill delivered a presentation on his experience in driving labor and union transformation. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

Given the state of the American labor movement, it’s critical that the left renew its commitment to labor transformation. When unions transform, it happens from the bottom-up. And as many unions have seen their power decline and their administrations fail their workers, they will need activists to help renew and transform them.

With this analysis, Eric and his cohort pursued the transformation of the hotel workers’ union in Hawaii. Eric himself joined as a janitor in Waikiki after a discussion about strategic industries in the islands, recognizing the major role that the tourism industry plays in Hawaii’s economy. But the union had long been a reactionary one, and was in desperate need of reform.

Knowing that the union is defined by its membership, Eric and his cohort worked to develop a core of activist left workers within the union as the vehicle for change. And ultimately they were successful, managing to transform union leadership.

This work was not without its challenges. The cohort had to immerse itself within the union, learning which leaders could be allies and which were opposed to their aims. Organizing within the union, they made a point to unite with leaders when they were doing the right work, and were not afraid to expose them when they didn’t. Strike actions were especially fertile ground for driving change, since they move workers’ class consciousness rapidly and move the economic struggle into a political struggle. Nevertheless, the “price of admission” was high, as Eric’s cohort had to contend with participating in both of the administrations they eventually deposed.

Transforming union leadership is not enough, though. Eric and his cohort continued to build out their progressive core by finding worker leaders and starting a committee-building program. The reason is clear: worker leaders are much more effective than anyone else at getting through to people. Their efforts have largely been successful and continue to pay off, as much of the union’s work is now led by the committee leaders they trained.

After their successful takeover, the renewed union began to focus on what was important. They began to turn their attention towards development of worker leaders among immigrant members — the large majority of the membership, which had previously been neglected. These efforts continue to pay off, as the support of immigrant workers has made their continued work possible.

With this transformation, the union has since been able to achieve a number of major victories. During a strike, the union created the slogan “one job should be enough,” which went beyond the very small $1.50 wage increases the union previously devoted attention to. Not only did this strengthen the resolve of the workers, but it also transformed the union’s public relations. As Eric explains, they were no longer seen as the corrupt guys, but rather the guys in the red shirts out there fighting and supporting the other movements in the community. As a result, they were able to build support among tourists, some of whom even donated to the strike fund.

The union also developed new capacity to shape change on a national level. During the 2020 Presidential election, the union deployed 1,700 trained organizers to the field to work doors in swing states like Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. As one of the only unions deploying an effort like this, their work was invaluable and ultimately succeeded in helping flip the states and ensure a Trump defeat.

Eric’s experience demonstrates that we have an extraordinary moment where we can build worker power and start shifting the balance, as public perception of unions and labor is high — but we must not miss our chance. Now is the time to salt the unions with progressive activists who are focused on long-term unity with workers and wider social change in unions. And it’s vital to remember, workers want this. They want the union to be powerful, they want a program that advances their conditions, and they want solidarity.

As Eric concluded, “Solidarity for many years has been a word. Now, we need action.”

Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.