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Eyewitness report on a border crossing

Daily experience of farm workers along the U.S.-Mexico border highlights need for revolution

For an outside observer, the scene of several hundred workers lining up across a quarter mile and waiting an hour to cross the U.S. border strikes one as unreasonable. In addition, that this was witnessed at 1:45 a.m. and considered a common occurrence strikes one as unjust. For many immigrants, along with U.S. resident farm workers, the long and nightly Calexico-Mexicali border crossing is a routine part of their workday.

workers line up to cross the border at Calexico
Workers line up to cross the border
PSL photo: Frank Lara

Off the clock, workers cross the border to catch seats on buses arriving at 3 a.m. in order to sleep a couple of hours before they leave for the fields. Between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., hundreds of workers slowly make their way through the empty streets of downtown Calexico to the vacant parking lots where the buses, which leave at 5 a.m. for 12-hour workdays, await. But even before the farm workers face brutal working conditions, they face a humiliating inspection by border patrol officers, who must give them permission to do so.

Witnessing the interaction between “la migra” and “los trabajadores” exposes the irrational and inhumane priorities of the capitalist system.

Prioritizing profit, not workers' needs

In the past 10 years, the Imperial Valley has succumbed to numerous crises that have left it in a difficult economic state. The post-9/11 militarization of the border has left the Valley under occupation, and the collapse of the housing bubble has left it jobless. Outside of minimum-wage retail and agriculture-related jobs, the only growing industry that seemed to offer “middle-class” wages was the “security” sector.  

With the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, numerous agencies, including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, were brought under a single department to fight against “terrorism.”

Highly bureaucratic and corrupt, the DHS “has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work. … Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.” (Washington Post, July 19, 2010)

In 2010, the Obama administration granted $56.3 billion to the DHS for fiscal year 2011, a 2 percent increase from the year before. For the Valley, this trend of prioritizing the “security” apparatus has led to a massive influx in investment, further neglecting the depression-era plight of the region’s residents. Profit drives the investment in the security industry, as it does any investment in the capitalist system. Capitalist investors profit from upgraded SUV’s, military-grade weaponry and sophisticated surveillance equipment, lucrative data analysis contracts, facility maintenance and building contracts—the list goes on and on.

Investments in the security sector, while highly profitable for a few corrupt capitalists, attack workers on two fronts. One, the oppression and monitoring of the citizens of the border is stepped up; two, as more resources are sucked up by the security apparatus, it leaves fewer resources for meeting the needs of people such as health care, education and other social services.

The scene at the Calexico-Mexicali border summarizes the irrational and inhumane priorities of the capitalist government and the system as a whole. While immigrant workers are demonized and blamed for the corruption of the capitalists, they are expected to bear long hours, brutal working conditions and low living standards. In the case of farm workers, whether immigrants or U.S. residents, the wages are insufficient to meet the basic needs of food, housing, transportation, health care and child care—which is why there has been a large migration of farm workers moving across the border to Mexico in order to be able to pay for basic necessities. But their misery means more profits for the security sector, because there is more activity along the border.  

Thus, in a capitalist economy, the government prioritizes profit (met by “la migra”) over the needs of people (met by “los trabajadores”).

Capitalist reform or socialist revolution: la solución para el pueblo

For immigrant rights activists and the Latino community in general, 2010 was a critical year.  The state Department of Education reported that for the first time in California history Latinos make up 50.4 percent of public school students. Nationwide, we witnessed the passage of the racist Arizona Law SB 1070, the growing racism towards immigrants, the rising influence of Latinos in the media and political elections, and the massive youth movements for public education and the Dream act. These developments offer glimpses of struggles to come.  

As socialists and revolutionaries, the Party for Socialism and Liberation has supported and organized critical actions in the struggles against national oppression, exploitation and racism.   But as a revolutionary working-class party, we also understand that the true liberation of all oppressed communities and workers will only come with the overthrow of the capitalist system. While the Latino community represents an oppressed sector of U.S. society consisting of numerous nationalities, as workers we have positioned ourselves in key sectors of industry capable of bringing about our own and all workers' liberation.

Success in immigration reform, more Latino representatives in government, or growing markets that cater to Latinos, while noted successes for the Latino community, cannot fundamentally change the priorities of the capitalist economy, where the labor of a border patrol agent is viewed as more productive than the labor of a farm worker. It cannot explain why a “migra” gets paid well  for having produced nothing of value to society and a “trabajador” cannot feed his family for having met the nutritional needs of that same society.

The irrational and inhumane priorities of capitalism witnessed that night at the Calexico-Mexicali border can only be overturned by a socialist revolution. In 2011 and beyond, we workers must fight to get rid of the system, not simply reform it.

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