Political Theater and the Immigration Crisis: A Two-Party Problem

By Danny Haiphong on July 4, 2018

President Donald Trump has come under fire of late for reviving an outdated policy of the Bush II era. The Trump Administration has spent the last few months enforcing a “zero tolerance” border policy predicated upon the separation of migrant children from their families. Thousands of migrant children have been detained at the border in makeshift shelters and detention centers, which are fancy words for prisons. Wall to wall opposition to the practice has emerged from the Democratic Party, a section of the Republican Party, and the corporate media. Tears have been shed and terms like fascism have been once again hurled at Trump by his opponents. What it all amounts to is political theater, which has sown utter confusion into the discourse surrounding the immigration crisis.

The immigration crisis is by and large a two-party problem. In the abstract, opposition to the US immigration policy of family separation is not only an imperative but also a measure of one’s basic humanity. Trump has already signed an Executive Order halting such separations in an obvious response to the public relations nightmare that the policy has spurred. The problem is that the two-party corporate duopoly is genuinely disinterested in the roots of the immigration crisis. Democratic Party politicians and corporate media pundits have seized the opportunity to defame Trump on the family separation issue without any consideration of what an alternative might look like. To them, the question isn’t whether US immigration policy is an illegitimate weapon of the police-state but rather about which type of politician gets to wield that weapon. And Trump is obviously unfit to wield this or any other weapon of this so-exceptional nation.

Anyone who considers themselves a “progressive,” “radical,” or “revolutionary” should beware of identifying with the anti-Trump elements of the ruling class. Doing so will only help make a more respectable sounding but no less devastating “Deporter in Chief” more electable. We should all heed the words of Ralph Nader, who tweeted a response to Michelle Obama and Laura Bush’s condemnation of Trump’s policy of family separation. Nadar remarked that it would have been “nice if Laura Bush and Michelle Obama had expressed similar heartfelt concern for the tens of thousands of children killed or seriously maimed by the wars of their husbands in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” Of course, Nader should know that the Democratic Party and their Republican allies don’t play nice. They play for profit, they play for war, and they play to win.

The issue of immigration represents a stage for a certain kind of political theater, one meant to attract well-meaning liberals and erase radical opposition movements and figures. Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Rachel Maddow, and Kamala Harris are just a few of the actresses performing on the immigration theater set. Every one of these “stars” of the ruling class has played their part to facilitate the immigration crisis. As Attorney General of the state of California, Kamala Harris has a proven track record of protecting cops, prison guards, and banksfor their repressive and exploitative policies toward Black Americans. Furthermore, Harris has never hesitated to punish working class Black mothers through her support of harsh anti-truancy laws that have separated countless Black families. If we care about the separation of children from their families, then Kamala Harris’ assault on Black families makes her completely unqualified to genuinely advocate for immigrant children.

Laura Bush and Michelle Obama’s opposition to Trump’s migration policy only adds insult to injury. Laura Bush’s husband created the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and Michelle Obama’s husband deported even more undocumented migrants than his predecessor. While Obama’s Administration supposedly ceased the separation of migrant children from their families, it did not hesitate to detain them in privately-owned prison camps like those Trump has utilized. Stories of children locked in cages has inevitably generated popular anger, but one must ask why these cages didn’t muster the same outrage under prior Administrations. The answer is that it did produce outrage, just not from those that the ruling class cares about. It was the deplorable conditions that undocumented migrants faced under the Obama Administration that led grassroots organizers to label him the “Deporter in Chief” in the first place.

The political theater over immigration policy possesses a familiar pattern. Democrats express outrage over Trump’s immigration policies and actresses such as Rachel Maddow shed crocodile tears for poor migrant children being abused by the arch-racist billionaire. Neither the Democrats nor their corporate media allies offer any alternative to Trump’s crackdown at the border. To do so would publicize what many undocumented people and those close to them already know. That is, both political parties in the United States possess a vested interest in exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain and are wholly antagonistic to the notion of rolling back the deportation and police-state machinery directed toward undocumented immigrants.

The so-called immigration crisis is really a product of a bipartisan consensus in the US imperial apparatus that has been in the making for several decades. Democratic and Republican Administrations have been playing tag-team in the war against undocumented immigrants since 1996 when Bill Clinton passed a bill that made hundreds of thousands of people more deportable overnight. Deportations increased from around 70,000 per year prior to 1996 to 400,000 per year by Obama’s second-term . Policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA have laid the economic conditions for mass migration from Latin America to the United States while imperialist attacks on democratically-elected governments, such as the Obama-Clinton sponsored coup in Honduras in 2009 , have laid the political conditions necessary for the massive militarization of US immigration policy.

It is because of ruling class parasites like Rachel Maddow, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Kamala Harris that the discourse surrounding the immigration issue in the United States often feels hallow and empty. These corporate pariahs care only about their careers and the corporate patronage it takes to maintain them. They are fully bought servants of the US ruling class. They said nothing when millions were being deported and imprisoned under a Black Democrat. These rich women of war, whether Republican or Democrat, are fully comfortable with destabilizing nations in Central and South America and militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border so long as such actions are not being led by the public relations nightmare of Donald J. Trump.

The political theater put on by the women of the US ruling class around the question of immigration exposes the contours of a two-party problem. Democrats, Republicans, and their allies in the corporate media have erased the existence of Black Americans and the racist state behemoth from popular consciousness all together even while claiming to oppose Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy. No oppressed people or group in the US knows what it is like to be separated from their families, locked in cages, and murdered by the state more than Black Americans. Yet there are no national protests over the police murder of Antwon Rose or for the one in three Black men in the US who can expect to go to prison in their lifetime . That the US is a large steel cage designed to imprison, kill, and impoverish Black people is not a crisis for most Americans, but an acceptable consequence of living in a country built upon slave labor and stolen land.

We must ask ourselves, what is the difference between nearly a million Black Americans locked away in prison cells and killed each year by the police and the thousand of immigrant youth and families currently being incarcerated on the border? What is the difference between the thousands of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that are killed by US bombs, drones, mercenaries, and troops each year? The difference is that the prospect of citizenship for undocumented immigrants is up for debate among the corporate ruling class, which profits handsomely from migrant labor. There is no profit to be made from discussing the oppression of Black people in America or the endless wars that the US wages abroad. To discuss these matters would call into question the concept of citizenship and further damage the legitimacy of the ruling system.

There should be no question that the defense of undocumented people from state terror and deportation is a critical objective for any organization or movement that calls itself radical or revolutionary. However, such a defense must not be mounted on the backs of oppressed people, especially Black people or people ravaged by US imperial war abroad. We should be wary of following the lead of corporate Democrats who want to use the immigration issue for political gain rather than substantive change. These forces want to bury the decrepit state of the imperialist system from consciousness at all costs. We need to reject the political theater put on by the ruling class as a two-party problem, one that can only begin to be solved by the independent organization of the oppressed and the working class.


Source: Black Agenda Report