Tag Archives: immigration

Britain’s Brexit: the left must fight for migrant rights

The result of the Brexit vote stunned the British political elite and sent shockwaves around the world; it was welcomed by separatist and rightwing populist movements in Europe and by Donald Trump as he visited his golf courses in Scotland. By just over a million votes in a high turnout referendum, the public voted to leave the European Union. The vote was uneven: Scotland voted by a large majority to remain, as did London.

It was a victory for the far right of the Tory party, which campaigned incessantly on restricting immigration. But there are other deep-seated reasons for the Brexit vote. Foremost among them is the resentment of the white working class, especially in the North, over deindustrialization, degradation of benefits like housing, health and education, which is blamed on immigrants as the most visible sign of what is in fact a neoliberal reconstruction of society.

Gary Younge argues: “Britain is no more sovereign today than it was yesterday. We have left the EU but we remain within the neoliberal system. … The chutzpah with which the Tory right – the very people who had pioneered austerity, damaging jobs, services and communities – blamed immigrants for the lack of resources was breathtaking.”

Owen Jones commented: “It may not have been the working-class revolt against the political establishment that many of us favoured, but it is undeniable that this result was achieved off the back of furious, alienated working-class votes. … Many of the communities that voted most decisively for leave were the same communities that have suffered the greatest battering under successive governments.”

What started as a maneuver by prime minister David Cameron to control the rightwing of his party resonated with the country in an unprecedented way. Younger voters and those living in metropolitan centres like London, Manchester and Liverpool voted for Remain, while in the deindustrialized north and midlands there were large majorities for Leave. The country is now intensively polarized and resentful of the other side.

The New York Times reported on the generational divide: “Leslie Driscoll, 55, sells hot cross buns in an English bakery in London. Having different cultures and communities is ‘fantastic,’ she said, ‘but what I don’t like is the fact that, through having that, we’ve now left ourselves open. I feel like a second-class citizen in my own country’.” Her daughter Louise grew up in the same area “but in a more prosperous, multicultural Britain than earlier generations had. In school, she was one of only two white students. Her friends are Eritrean, Nigerian and South African. Louise said she understood the pressures that immigration placed on schools and hospitals. But leaving the European Union worried her, she said, because it risked wrecking the economy and making it hard for young people to secure employment. It took her eight months to find work as a barista, she said.”

John Harris commented in the Guardian: “for millions of people, the word ‘immigration’ is reducible to yet another seismic change no one thought to ask them about, or even explain. What people seem to want is much the same as ever: security, stability, some sense of a viable future, and a reasonable degree of esteem. To be more specific, public housing is not a relic of the 20th century, but something that should surely sit at the core of our politics.”

Not that the vote will change that; if anything it will make things worse. Brexit voters were making a plea for a return to a self-contained economy with defined borders that would allow for a national compromise on jobs and benefits – in other words, Britain as it was before Thatcher, or rather an idealized country of the past.

Fintan O’Toole comments in The Irish Times: “The sense of grievance is undeniably powerful. It’s also highly contrary: it is rooted in the shrinking of British social democracy, but the outcome of Brexit will be an even firmer embrace of the unfettered neoliberalism that is causing that shrinkage. … The great cultural appeal of nationalism – we need independence or our culture will die – doesn’t wash. And besides, take immigrants out of English culture and what do you have left?”

Some on the left consider the result a progressive move that could lead to the weakening of neoliberalism. Joseph Choonara of the British Socialist Workers Party told Democracy Now that he hoped the vote “begins to precipitate the breakup of this huge bosses’ club. So that’s the basis on which we campaigned for exit of the U.K. from the EU. It was on the basis of an internationalist, anti-racist and progressive vote against neoliberalism. … The point is that there is going to be popular opposition to these kind of institutions. Does it receive a right focus or a left focus?” Alex Scrivener of Global Justice Now disagreed: “We’ve woken up today to a Britain in which it is a much, much scarier place to be a migrant. … Austria came within a whisker of electing a far-right president. We are living in very terrifying times. The National Front may be—is leading the polls at the moment for the French presidential election. You know, I think we’re on a level of political crisis here we haven’t seen since the 1930s. And I think that the sort of glee on some parts of the left about the EU breaking up, I think people are going to regret that, if that leads to a retreat into nationalism, which is already happening.”

In a similar debate on The Real News Network, John Hilary of War on Want said that the referendum gave a voice to voters’ desire for change: “so many millions of people voted saying, we do not trust our government and political elites anymore; we want a different type of politics which does not just serve the interests of the few … this is genuinely a return to a situation where we have direct democracy again, not a situation of the European Commission being able to hide all the time behind the democratic deficit that exists at the heart of the E.U.” Economics professor John Weeks responded: “Immigration was the issue people that voted on: we’ve got too many foreigners over here in Britain. That’s what the Out won on, and that is what they are going to pursue. And if I were the person that takes over after David Cameron, I would immediately call an election with the confidence that I could win it. And the reason that the Tories could win it is because the Labour Party is split. Most of Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs would love to see him defeated and will not work for a Labour Party to win. And when that happens, we could be in a very difficult situation indeed.”

The left needs to face up to the reality of the Brexit vote – the toxic nature of the Leave campaign created a nationalist backlash against immigrants who will need to be defended. The left has a huge responsibility and opportunity now, as Alex Scrivener of Global Justice said, “to fight for migrant rights, fight for those people who are going to lose hardest from this historic and tragic moment in our history.”

The idea that breaking up the EU means that opposition to neoliberalism will gain an advantage by only confronting a nationally delimited capitalist class is a fantasy. The UK was only ever an independent nation because it was sustained by a huge empire, and Thatcher carried out the last act of an independent nation-state when she opened up the country to international capital after the defeat of the miners’ year-long strike. Since then it’s been under the thrall of one neoliberal government after another.

Colonel Despard will be publishing a three-part reappraisal of the 1984-85 miners’ strike and its international implications, the lessons of which have still not been absorbed by the left. Watch for the first instalment next week.


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Filed under Brexit, Britain, British elections, Cameron, David Cameron, deindustrialization, immigration, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, Thatcher, Uncategorized

Perverting the Constitution: Homeland Security and the Creation of Tomorrow’s Undocumented Citizens

Recent press stories about the illegal arrest and detention of US citizens by immigration authorities reveal how federal agencies dealing with undocumented immigrants have created a parallel justice system that entraps citizens and non-citizens alike.

The lack of accountability for the Department of Homeland Security over the issue sets a dangerous and anti-democratic precedent: the shadow judicial system that it has developed ignores constitutional safeguards and could be used in future against Americans fighting for economic justice, jobs, and civil rights.

The New York Times reports: “American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation. … Detentions of citizens are part of the widening impact on Americans, as well as on immigrants, of President Obama’s enforcement strategies, which have led to more than 1.1 million deportations since the beginning of his term, the highest numbers in six decades.”

Immigration agents have no legal authority to detain US citizens, but nevertheless some have been held for months by local police without being able to contact federal authorities to establish their status. One Minneapolis man, Anthony A. Clarke, was arrested and detained for 43 days while federal agents tried to deport him. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “documents in his immigration file show that immigration agents were aware of his status the day he was taken into custody.”

Clarke was freed only after government attorneys concluded that he was indeed a US citizen. The Star-Tribune commented: “Clarke’s case is the apparent fallout of an aggressive [federal] campaign to deport illegal immigrants who also have criminal records that show up during cross-checks of federal databases. …  agents operate in a secretive judicial environment where detention hearings are held out of public view.” Essentially, arrested individuals are placed in detainee limbo with no requirement to allow them to communicate with federal authorities.

The New York Times story cites the case of an American college student, Romy Campos, who spent four days in jail on an immigration detainer. “A public defender assigned to her in state court said there was nothing he could do to lift a federal detainer. ‘Can’t they see in my file or something that I’m a citizen?’ Ms. Campos said she asked him. ‘He said: “I’m sorry, but this is state court. I can’t do anything about it”.’ … Ms. Campos, a citizen of both the United States and Spain, later learned that she had a Department of Homeland Security record because she had once entered the United States on her Spanish passport.”

The Star-Tribune report draws attention to a recent study at Northwestern University that found as many as 20,000 citizens may have been wrongly held or deported since 2003. “Collectively, they raise disturbing questions about the tactics of immigration agents and the adequacy of checks and balances in a parallel court system overseeing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency,” it says.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Homeland Security officials claim they are focusing resources on “convicted criminals, repeat immigration law violators, fugitives, and recent entrants,” and Obama repeated earlier this year that the target of immigration policy was “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.”

Although Homeland Security guidelines issued in June give prosecutors discretion over deportations of individuals who don’t pose a threat to public safety, immigration officials appear to be ignoring them in practice. The Monitor notes: “’The overwhelming conclusion is that most ICE offices have not changed their practices since the issuance of these new directives,’ states a November study of 252 immigration cases by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. That’s due, in large part, to the culture of ICE, experts say. The ICE union has attacked the prosecutorial discretion policy, saying it undermines the focus on law and order.”

The reported “law and order” culture of the agency is increasingly at odds with the needs of society and expresses a politicized anti-immigrant narrative. Tea Party Republicans call for draconian measures against undocumented immigrants in order to keep society divided on racial and ethnic lines and to head off opposition to the plutocratic elite. The issue is made murkier still when, as the Monitor points out, Homeland Security deportation statistics conflate people “looking to scrape together an income” with violent criminals.

Gary Younge in the Guardian comments: “When it comes to the push against immigration in the US, two things should be made clear. First of all, it is not in truth a push against immigrants per se but against poor foreigners. The US has no problem with wealthy outsiders. …  Secondly, while the real target might be poor people in general, they are aimed at Latinos in particular. In a written ruling earlier this week, blocking part of Alabama’s law designed to evict undocumented people from their mobile homes, federal judge Myron Thompson, found substantial evidence that ‘the term illegal immigrant was just a racially discriminatory code for Hispanics’.”

As if to confirm the judge’s ruling, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio defied the Justice Department’s probe of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office which found “that Arpaio ‘promoted a culture of bias’ within the MCSO where detention officers called Latino inmates ‘wetbacks’ and ‘Mexican bitches,’ Arpaio took to Fox News on Friday afternoon to criticize Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez for opening up DOJ’s Thursday press conference with the words ‘buenos dias’.”

Although Obama’s administration rejects the most extreme of the xenophobia in southern states, it accommodates the Republican narrative in practice by allowing the Homeland Security apparatus to continue its role as an interior ministry with massive funding and little oversight. Since the department cannot accommodate the huge numbers who have been detained, it buys space from over 312 county and city prisons nationwide to hold them. This has become a multi-billion dollar business for local facilities and private prison corporations, and in turn encourages the financing of politicians like Arpaio who support increased detentions.

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Filed under Homeland Security, immigration, Obama, political analysis, US policy, We are the 99 percent