By Elvira Arellano
While I was in the United States, Familia Latina Unida had the opportunity to meet with the infamous Congressman Sensenbrenner. The Wisconsin Senator had introduced – and passed in the House of Representatives – the most repressive law against the undocumented. The movement had responded with the largest marches in the history of the United States. Later in the spring of that year, the movement forced the passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate, only to have the Republican controlled House of Representatives refuse to even consider it.
Twenty-five of our families, facing separation because of our current immigration laws, traveled to thissuper wealthy congressman’s office in the forests of Wisconsin. What we learned was the Repubican’s “dirty little secret”: they did not want to get rid of the system of undocumented labor, they just wanted to control it.
Sensenbrenner explained to us the need for low-paid undocumented labor in the United States. It kept wages low and allowed U.S. agricultural and textile industries, for instance, to compete with international competition in China and other places where the cost of labor was much lower. It provided a release for the economic crisis in countries like Mexico so that U.S. trade policies, like NAFTA, which caused massive unemployment, would not be challenged by those countries.
The problem, according to Sensenbrenner, was that the numbers had grown too high. Sensenbrenner explained that his repressive legislation would reduce the numbers – through deportations and through tightening up on employers – but keep the system of undocumented labor in place.
We came away from that meeting determined to pass comprehensive immigration reform and end the system of undocumented labor. We were the workers who were exploited because we have no rights – especially women who were not only exploited but often abused. We were the families facing separation and living with separation from our loved ones. Some of us had families with U.S. citizen children, husbands or wives and were threatened with being arrested and taken away from them at any moment. Others were “trapped” in the U.S., unable to see loved ones in Mexico for years in order to provide economic support for them.
The Sensenbrenner approach has actually been put into practice. Bush carried it out – and so has Obama – even without his legislation. The deportations have increased. The border has been tightened. Jobs are harder to get. Life has become much harder for the undocumented and their families and crossing the border has become much more dangerous.
The Republicans – and many of the Democrats – don’t want to get rid of the system of undocumented labor. They just want to reduce the numbers. They still want to exploit us. They still want to keep wages low for all workers. They still want to make profits from Mexico and Latin America with trade policies that put millions of people out of work in those countries – and drive us to the north to survive.
They just want to keep the numbers under control and they want to keep the number of Latino citizens from growing so that the “red states don’t turn brown.” That is why now they want to repeal the 14th amendment and take away the citizenship of Latino children born in the United States to undocumented parents.
We were tired of being used as a pawn in their economic game. We were tired of living without rights. We were tired of seeing our families destroyed. We were tired of seeing our loved ones die crossing the desert. We joined with legal workers fighting to keep a living wage and people of faith and conscience to demand comprehensive immigration reform.
The U.S. cannot end this terrible system unless it legalizes the millions of undocumented now in the United States. They will not return voluntarily because there is no work in their home countries and they have children and families where they live. Legalization is the only way to end the system of undocumented labor.
After two long and painful years, Senator Melendez has finally fought through the politics to introduce, soon, a new bill for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. Senate. As long as President Obama continues to carry out the”enforcement only” Sensenbrenner plan to “control without ending the system of undocumented labor” the republicans will block this bill. President Obama must be made to see that he must either pass that bill in November or place a moratorium on deportations to force Republicans to support it.
The Latino community suffers most from this terrible system. It is destroying our families, exploiting and killing our people and holding back our political empowerment. We must “vote for respect” in November so that the democrats know we exist. Then we must “rally for reform” and “march for the moratorium” on November 15th!