Workers Vanguard No. 1140
21 September 2018
U.S. Denies Passports to Citizens
Mexican Americans Under Attack
In an ominous racist attack, U.S.-born Latino citizens living near the Mexican border are being denied passports or having their passports taken away. Although the State Department contests the figures, the Washington Post estimates that the government is challenging the citizenship of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people. Some have been locked up in detention centers and slated for deportation. Others, who traveled abroad on valid passports, have been stranded in Mexico, unable to return home. The government is rendering native-born citizens stateless, depriving them of basic legal rights in any country. We demand: give them their passports now!
The chauvinist pretext for going after Latino citizens, notably in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, is the accusation that they were really born on the Mexican side of the border and their U.S. birth certificates were falsified by midwives. Forced to “prove” the validity of their government-issued birth certificates, those targeted are required to dig for evidence that’s nearly impossible to find—baptismal certificates, prenatal care records and parents’ rent receipts from decades ago. Regardless of which side of the border you were born on, we say: everyone in this country should have full citizenship rights!
Trump rode into office fanning the flames of nativist reaction and has escalated the anti-immigrant drive, from rants about a border wall to attacks on asylum-seekers, to family-separation detentions. He and his administration have brazenly gone after Muslims as well as dark-skinned Spanish speakers, whipping up a witchhunt against anyone who seems “foreign.” Trump’s “white America” chauvinism is an appeal to racist reactionaries and outright fascists, who have become emboldened in their attacks against minorities, black people and leftists.
The State Department dragnet against Latino passport holders dates back to the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Alleging that midwives provided false birth certificates to some babies supposedly born in Mexico between 1950 and 1990, Washington routinely denied passports to people of Mexican descent who were born in their homes or at community health centers near the border. Use of midwives is common in these largely rural and impoverished areas: hospitals are few and far between, and many women cannot afford medical care or fear deportation. Quality medical care, including prenatal and postnatal, should be provided to all free at the point of service, regardless of their legal status.
In response to a class-action law suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2009 the Obama administration struck a deal, claiming they would develop “new protocols” that would supposedly no longer discriminate against people from border states who were born outside of a hospital. With Trump now reviving the old program, immigration lawyers report that such cases are skyrocketing.
Though carried out with less voltage and brazen bigotry, the anti-Latino and anti-immigrant campaigns under Trump’s Democratic predecessor were the scaffolding for the policies we see today. Obama devised countless legal means to delay or deny passports to U.S. citizens, like those who have been blacklisted as “sex offenders” or tax evaders. Meanwhile, Obama’s Operation Janus program took citizenship away from naturalized immigrants who had allegedly filed fraudulent papers. Obama offered platitudes about the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants,” all the while deporting record numbers of them.
The racist yahoos and Tea Party types who constitute Trump’s base make it easy for the Democrats to posture as defenders of minorities, black people and immigrants. In early September, a group of Democratic Congressmen introduced a bill to stop Trump’s “passport discrimination.” But make no mistake—while the Democratic Party may seek to attract Latino voters, it is a capitalist party that upholds the same profit-driven system of exploitation and imperialism, including the ongoing economic subjugation of Mexico.
The borderlands north of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo are part of a huge swath of territory stolen from Mexico in the mid 19th century, predating the rise of U.S. imperialism. As white slaveholders sought to expand slavery into Mexican territory, the U.S. conspired to annex Texas in 1845 and then invaded Mexico. By the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, about half of Mexican land was in the hands of the U.S. The Texas borderlands remained hotly disputed for decades afterwards, and Mexican Americans in the area were subjected to bloody terror and racist repression. Today, many residents have family on both sides of the border and regularly cross for work, school or shopping. Until 2009, they were able to do so without passports. Since then, passports are required to cross the border, and immigration checkpoints set up miles inside the U.S. single out Latinos, as well as American Indians, for harassment, interrogation and detention.
The racist White House presents Latinos—the biggest minority group in the U.S., and one that is growing rapidly—as a threat to this country’s Anglo majority. But this attack is not just against Latinos: the government’s revoking of citizenship calls into question the rights of all citizens. Citizenship is itself the right to have rights—the right to due process, to travel, to vote. Who’s next in the crosshairs? As always in racist, capitalist America, a country founded on black chattel slavery, the shredding of legal rights will come at the expense of black people, and ultimately the labor movement.
The rights of citizenship in the U.S. are the cumulative product not only of the War of Independence against Britain, but also of the bloody battles of the Civil War and the explosive class and social struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Southern slaveowners had to be crushed before the Fourteenth Amendment extended the rights of citizenship, which originally applied only to white male property owners, to black people and “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” (Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924.) Following the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, a combination of legal and extralegal terror denied black people their birthright, imposed Jim Crow segregation and relegated them to second-class citizenship. For decades, state governments would challenge birth certificates over the question of race in order to enforce “anti-miscegenation” laws and the anti-black “one drop rule.”
Although many today would take it for granted that American citizenship is a birthright of anyone born here, that modern conception is actually a recent and reversible victory. A century after the Fourteenth Amendment—in the context of the mass civil rights movement and the tumultuous protests against the Vietnam War—the 1967 Afroyim v. Rusk Supreme Court ruling determined that the government cannot deprive anyone of their citizenship involuntarily. Citizenship is an important gain that must be defended. However, like any right in this racist system, it is no bulwark against capitalist injustice; for blacks, oppressed minorities and the poor, rights like equal protection under the law and due process are honored in the breach.
Whipping up racial and ethnic hatred is a way for the capitalist class—represented by Democrats and Republicans alike—to keep the working class divided and weaken its ability to struggle. The American rulers have a long history of racist exclusion laws and mass deportations of both the foreign- and native-born. In the last century, thousands of Americans were stripped of their citizenship due to their race, nationality, political beliefs, or involvement in militant class struggle. During the 1919-20 Palmer raids, launched in fearful reaction to the Russian Revolution, 10,000 suspected Communists, syndicalists and immigrants were rounded up, and more than 1,000 deported. In the 1930s, during a period of upheavals among agricultural and industrial workers, some one million people of Mexican descent were expelled from the country in racist “repatriation” programs, more than half of them U.S. citizens. During World War II, Japanese Americans were interned in concentration camps and faced losing their citizenship.
Conjuring up an “enemy within” has long served America’s rulers in ratcheting up their machinery of state repression against the working class, black people, immigrants and any perceived opponent of capitalist class rule. Since the 9/11 attacks, the bipartisan “war on terror” has not only gone after Muslims and others but has also trampled on citizenship rights. Take the case of the U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, who initially was to be imprisoned indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” without being charged or having a hearing. Or Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, both U.S. citizens, murdered in Obama’s “targeted killings” crusade in Yemen.
Any attacks by the ruling class against the most vulnerable are a vehicle to roll back rights more broadly and to drive down wages and working conditions across the board. It is only class struggle uniting blacks, whites, Latinos and immigrants that can begin to turn back these attacks and break down the divisions fomented by the ruling class. This struggle must centrally combat black oppression, which is fundamental to American capitalism. The Spartacist League/U.S. is dedicated to building a revolutionary workers party that would champion black freedom and immigrant rights, as part of the fight to sweep away racist U.S. imperialism through socialist revolution. Such a party will be in its majority composed of and led by blacks, Latinos and other minorities, who have the least to lose and the most to win in the fight for workers rule.