Editorial Note: Migration and the Global Class Struggle

This is a moment of overlapping and reinforcing crises: the unraveling of neoliberal globalization; the rise of nationalist and authoritarian forces in both the developing world and the capitalist core; the onset of ever-increasing climate instability. This confluence of developments has set in motion a massive, worldwide migration of historic proportions. According to the United Nations’ World Migration Report of 2018, “Current estimates are that there are 244 million international migrants globally (or 3.3% of the world’s population)….Global displacement is at a record high, with the number of internally displaced at over 40 million and the number of refugees more than 22 million.”  Migrants tend to move to relatively more stable and prosperous countries in their region or in the developed world in order to find safety and employment at higher wages. In Europe and the United States, the issue of immigration has been used by right-wing populists and nationalists to win political power by posing as defenders of the people against foreign invaders who threaten to take jobs, change the culture, and bring terrorism. 

Donald Trump has put the supposed threat of immigration the center of his political agenda. As a candidate and as president he has promised to stop the Chinese from stealing U.S. industry, stop Mexicans and other Latino immigrants from taking jobs, and stop Muslims from bringing terrorist violence. He has launched a frontal assault on U.S. immigration laws and practices, particularly on the right of asylum, going so far as to create concentration camps for migrants and cages for children. He has told the “the Squad,” all women of color and three of four of them native born, to “go back” to where they came from. Trump’s words and actions are calculated to win support from his political base and have hardened racist attitudes among a good many white Americans. Many Democratic Party politicians have been unwilling to speak out loudly or to stand up in defense of immigrants.

At the same time, a new pro-immigrant movement has developed, which despite fear and danger has been led in part by immigrants themselves and supported by native-born activists and ordinary Americans. Across the country people joined the recent Light for Liberty protests in some 700 cities and towns, while many other local actions have taken place. In some communities, friends and neighbors, both immigrants and non-immigrants, have come out to protect immigrants from ICE raids. Organizations like Cosecha, Never Again, Rise and Resist, and various other groups are organizing non-violent direct action protests that have led to arrest of participants. 

In this context, immigration was a major issue at the 2019 Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) national convention. Delegates overwhelmingly passed resolutions supporting the demand for open borders, for a campaign against the migrant concentration camps, and for dedicating organizational resources to orienting toward Latino immigrant communities in the U.S.

Migration and immigration clearly present major political questions to the society as a whole, the international socialist movement, and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This issue is devoted to taking a look at the political economy and history related to these questions and proposing potential courses of action. How does our understanding of capitalism and imperialism help understand migration and immigration? How does our socialist internationalism provide us guidance in addressing these issues? What should socialists do to resist nationalist and anti-immigrant policies today? What are the policies and politics that can successfully address migration and immigration in the long run? 

William Robinson makes a strong case for putting the struggles of migrant workers near the top of our political agenda. He argues that the slogan “immigrant rights are workers rights” is not mere rhetoric, and that the defense of migrants and refugees – the vast majority of whom are poor workers – is pivotal to the struggle of the entire global working class regardless of national origin.

In her article on declining birth rates and immigration policy, Jenny Brown illuminates the often-overlooked connections between anti-choice, anti-woman, and anti-immigration politics. She makes the case that U.S.-born women workers have effectively gone on a “birth strike,” and that’s freaking out an establishment fighting with itself over immigration policy and reproductive freedom.

Dan La Botz makes a wide-ranging and spirited argument in favor of open borders, the abolition of agencies like ICE, and a fundamentally internationalist labor movement. In his view, support for open borders not simply the only morally defensible position. It also opens up an alternate strategy to building workers’ power. It is easy to forget that at one time, open borders was the effective federal U.S. immigration policy. In her piece, Stephanie Schwartz reminds us of this and the positive role it played in the history of the Jewish people. A century ago, the U.S.’s open border policy was a lifeline to persecuted Eastern European Jews. Open borders have saved lives before and can again.

Workers around the world should enjoy the right to move and work wherever they want – and they should be able to enjoy the right to stay home as well. Jose Benjamin Montaño calls for establishing a “right to the world” for all workers —a right to migrate, a right to stay home, a right to well-being and self-determination— which requires demanding change in policies and practices that cause harm abroad.

U.S. political, military, and economic intervention in Latin America has long been a major driver of migration from around the hemisphere and into the United States. Paul Manville surveys this long and often sordid history and finds that to the extent that there is an immigration crisis in this country it is largely one of our government’s own making. His piece is complemented quite well by Ronn Pineo’s detailed look at the factors driving migration out of the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and Daniel Lichtenstein-Boris’s moving collection of personal stories of Honduran migrants. He brings us stories of students and farmers, priests and protesters – stories of a modern exodus and a struggle for freedom.

Latin American immigrants and refugees are not the only target of right-wing ire. Anti-immigrant forces have long been obsessed with Muslim immigration and its supposedly destructive influence on U.S. society and culture, particularly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Nooshin Samimi takes up these questions and asks what a focus on transnational solidarity, and solidarity with the Palestinian cause in particular, might offer left politics in the U.S. today.

The impact of migration on developing countries is often overlooked by those of us living in the capitalist core countries. John Parsons offers us a fascinating look at the role that migration has played in the development of Turkey’s economy in recent decades, and makes a sometimes counter-intuitive argument concerning its effects. He makes a strong case that Turkey helps us understand the importance of ideology, belief systems, and values in understanding the role of migration in global political economy today.