Amnesty Now

The most emancipatory vision that the Left can offer today is one of equitable citizenship for all.

In the aftermath of Occupy, the Left in the United States is adrift. Without a wider structuring project, most of us have either receded from activism or delved entirely into local struggles. On the national horizon, major goals seem nonexistent: many of the bigger demands thought possible by the Left at the beginning of the Obama administration have now been shunted to the side, and the expansive social transformation evoked by many in Occupy, while still in the embers, is not manifested in large daily protests.

One of the most consistently newsworthy developments in this lull, however, have been the Dream Activists: young undocumented immigrants seeking to enforce the United Nations-declared universal human right to a nationality. And certainly, the mass deportations of the past decade — 1.5 million and counting under Obama — have been one of the greatest, and largely unnoticed, moral affronts of our time.

The Occupy movement was often maligned for its lack of racial diversity. In some sections, this was acknowledged as a legitimate topic for discussion, and when it occurred, several reasons were posited, with two coming up most: the mass criminalization of black and brown men, and the climate of fear that describes the lives of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. Yet a critical mass within Occupy never emerged to make this the central focal point of the movement.

This is unfortunate because one of the most emancipatory and transformative visions that the Left can offer today is a vision of equitable citizenship for all.

In a President that has claimed expansive executive authority, there is the opportunity to demand, without any sense of future gratitude, that there is no other option other than full and total amnesty, now. As the political class debates some form of violently inadequate immigration “reform” — current proposals include an eight-year twisting and craggy path to citizenship, increased militarization of the border, no real end to deportations, and the creation of an odious “guest worker” program — our response must be a categorical rejection of the state to attempt to write its power on the bodies of the dispossessed.

Like all “issues,” this one is fundamentally interconnected: there is not a single more effective policy change right now that could begin the reversal of a quarter century of wage stagnation for the vast majority of the population. Because having at least ten million of this country’s population entirely outside of the domain of legality has a significant downward pressure on wages.

If one does not have a single recourse against the boss, and the boss has a right to not only take away your livelihood but also your community and family, then it is highly unlikely that you will make demands on him. Dismantling this climate of fear by moving towards a system of mass citizenship and open borders would empower workers to demand what is owed them by their bosses, producing significant upward pressure on wages.

In a quick survey of leading immigration reform groups one sees a demand for Obama to end deportations through executive action, but the broader political impact of a campaign to end deportations is limited. It’s hard to shake the feeling that a campaign for full citizenship rights for all would be more effective than a campaign against the human rights violations created by deportations. Call it Sojourner Truth versus Harriet Beecher Stowe. And the potential for the activist left’s growth through such a demand, that is, for full citizenship rights for all,  is considerable. Making it so people are able to come out of the shadows without fear of retribution is integral to the construction of an activist left that includes people of diverse countries of origin.

No matter what, the current state of affairs is untenable, it must change, and there is only one solution: end this racist migration policy, end it now, and end it once and for all. At last, and forever. 

Not one more deportation, not one more parentless child, not one more worker to terrified to demand her or his right to organize. How do we do it? The Dream Activists have provided a welcome example.