A tear in the essential fabric of the nation


The story of Maria Elena Durazo is the perfect example of what I mean by migrant workers’ potential for organising and for reinvigorating the labour movement. Nationally and globally.

The daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers, she was the head of the hotel workers’ union in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and since then she has become “one of the most prominent labour leaders advocating an overhaul of the country’s immigration policies,” according to an NYT article published last week.

Ms Durazo presides over what is perceived as “the most successful group of unions in the country” and what is most striking is that the trade union membership is growing in California, while it is declining at the national level. Not surprisingly, much of that growth can be attributed to Latino immigrants.

And yet, the US government is making it harder and harder for migrants to stay in the country legally. Actually, it seems that the government is “turning migrants into criminals by prosecuting many who could just be deported”.

This is how Human Rights Watch describes the situation in its report on migration in the US, published last week, in the middle of the debate about the controversial immigration reform.

Many of the migrants deported “aren’t threats to public safety, but people trying to be with their families,” says Grace Meng, an American researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

In a very inspired speech in 2010, Barack Obama said that the possibility of deporting 11 million undocumented people was simply unrealistic, and such an action would create a “tear in the essential fabric of this nation, because immigrants who are here illegally today form part of that fabric.”

However, more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported in 2012, the most of any year in the nation’s history.

In the United States, like in any other receiving country, the repressive approach towards migration tends to prevail and the border policies all inevitably recall military policies, conceived as though in a real conflict, facing with a real enemy.

Watch this HRW video with stories of deported migrants. Many were separated from their US families and ended up in federal prisons, some for months or years.

Isn’t this what Obama meant by creating “a tear in the essential fabric of this nation”?