The Situation Faced by the Undocumented Community in the USA Today (Summer 2010)


The United States is in the midst of a deep economic recession and the immigrant community is under attack by various nativist groups like the Tea Party that simplemindedly blame immigrants for the nation's economic woes.  At the same time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stepped up community and business raids and deportations. 

There is an apparent contradiction at work here.  While cheap labor from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean is absolutely essential for economic recovery in the USA, these strident nativist groups are demanding more measures like Arizona SB 1070 in order to expedite the mass deportation of undocumented workers.

Putting these current events into historical perspective exposes the forces at work behind the contradiction and reveals why it is essential to develop an effective strategy for defending undocumented immigrants across the nation.



Massive assaults on the community of undocumented immigrants have happened before. 

World War I and the Great Depression

During 1918, the peak year of World War I, the U.S. government was dispatching more than 150,000 Americans a month to serve in Europe, creating a tremendous manpower shortage that was met by actively recruiting workers from Mexico.  When the economic boom sparked by the war ended and the Great Depression set in, Mexican workers were scapegoated and deported en masse.  Between 250,000 and 350,000 Mexican workers and their families, many of which included American born children (and therefore American citizens) were expelled over the next decade.  The Mexican population in the U.S. dropped an estimated 40 percent during this ten-year period.  The state of Indiana lost three-fourths of its Mexican population and another twelve states—Colorado, Illinois, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—all lost over half.

The impact of the mass deportations on Mexican immigrants was devastating.  Deportees routinely lost their personal property, automobiles, homes, businesses, and other investments in the United States.  In many cases, they were not even allowed time to pick up paychecks or close out savings accounts before they were apprehended.  The reactionary assault on the undocumented immigrants divided families and decimated communities.  Children of migrants were torn from their schools, neighborhoods, and friends and shipped off with their parents or other relatives, and sometimes on their own.  Arrested undocumented immigrants and their families were routinely transported to the nearest border town and force-marched across the international bridge by armed Border Patrol Agents or National Guard troops and warned never to return.

Mexico, which had been in deep financial depression since 1911, was unprepared to receive the flood of deportees, most of whom were destitute when they arrived.  The social and economic consequences of already high unemployment in Mexico became ruinous under the crushing pressure of the mass deportations from the U.S.  Neither jobs nor basic social services were available to the repatriated citizens. 


WWII and Operation Wetback

During World War II the same pattern was repeated.  The Bracero Program implemented during World War II supplied Mexican workers to replace the American farm workers who were being drafted.  The program was extended after the war because many veterans were not interested in returning to farm jobs.  The Bracero program lasted into the 1960s until the widespread mechanization of U.S. agriculture reduced the demand for cheap farm labor.

Similar to the post-World War I era, a severe economic downturn began in the United States during the 1950s, and a deportation campaign dubbed Operation Wetback was launched against the immigrant community from mid-summer 1954 through the fall of that year.

For the first time in U.S. history, the Border Patrol was militarized.  Field officers were outfitted in military-style uniforms and applied military weapons (including armored vehicles) and tactics against immigrant communities across the American Southwest and Midwest.   It is impossible to know the full impact of Operation Wetback on the Mexican community in the United States.  The San Antonio District office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service which covers all of Texas except El Paso and the Trans-Pecos area reported that it apprehended over 80,000 undocumented immigrants and estimated that another 500,000 to 700,000 in east and central Texas fled in fear.

However, both during and after Operation Wetback the U.S. government continued to import Mexican workers under the Bracero Program.  The demand for Mexican labor remained so high that an average of 430,000 additional Mexican workers per year were admitted under contract during the second half of the 1950s.

Reviewing history clearly establishes the pattern of US exploitation of Mexican labor.  The scope and scale of the unfolding U.S. labor strategy has necessitated international preparations. Two key prerequisites for the realization of the plan are, first, a plentiful supply of workers who will toil for substandard wages under adverse working and social conditions and be willing to migrate, and, second, the establishment of international law that sanctions free trade in human labor across national boundaries. The pauperization of the Mexican and Central American working classes (thanks to the "free trade" agreements NAFTA and CAFTA-DR) and initiatives in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to create global guest worker guidelines have set the stage for initiating a strategy of transient servitude in the United States.

For a complete history of Mexican workers in the U.S. see: Stolen Birthright: The U.S. Conquest and Exploitation of the Mexican People at

In Spanish: Robo de derecho de primogenitura: La conquista estadounidense y la explotación de los mexicanos

The timeline of the present crisis underlines the urgency of organizing the defense of the undocumented community this time around.


Timeline of the Present Crisis

2001.  The economic recession triggered by the 9/11 attack on the USA set the cycle of repressing the undocumented immigrant community in motion again.  This time there are more people and communities at risk, and the immigrants have more to lose.  The war on terror instituted after 9-11 facilitated the militarization of immigration enforcement and is providing an effective smokescreen for paramilitary operations against the undocumented community.

2002.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established to consolidate all of the agencies dedicated to domestic security, including militarized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and expanded Detention and Removal Operations (DR0).  The first 287 (g) agreement which utilizes designated local law enforcement officers as immigration agents, was signed in 2002.  Almost 300 law enforcement agencies across the nation have now signed on to 287 (g).

2003.  DHS announced Operation Endgame, the DRO strategic plan to "remove all removable aliens from the USA by the year 2012".  The original Operation Endgame policy statement, although it has been removed from the DHS website, is still in force and is available as a PDF on the Internet.

2005.  DHS established the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) to secure the borders of the United States.  The SBI is focused on the U.S.-Mexico border where it is installing an advanced tactical infrastructure including the use of Unmanned Aerial System (drones) and building the border fence.

2006.  Six comprehensive immigration reform bills were introduced in the 109th U.S. Congress.  Only one of these bills did not include a provision for a guest worker program.  Because of political pressure from labor and civic organizations, Congress failed to act on immigration reform.

The massive NAFTA corridor project was proposed and construction began in Texas on IH 35 and IH 69, the two principle corridors from Mexico to Canada.    The NAFTA corridors were slated to become the main conduits of a U.S. guest worker program, transporting an unending stream of transient labor between the heart of Mexico and the heartland of America.  Both San Antonio and Kansas City have been designated as inland Ports of Entry, a unique status that will allow them to be utilized as guest worker processing centers.

2006 also saw the expansion of DRO centers in the USA.  In January, the DHS awarded a $385 million contingency contract to KBR, the engineering and construction subsidiary of the Halliburton Company, to establish temporary DRO facilities to supplement the existing ones in case of an “immigration emergency.”  Although the term "immigration emergency" was not defined, the full mobilization of Operation Endgame would produce just such an event.

2007-2008.   Throughout the years of 2007-2008, ICE escalated raids and sweeps at factories, day labor sites, clinics, schools, apartments, homes, and on the streets.  ICE deported 280,000 unauthorized migrants in fiscal year 2007 alone.  ICE also targeted employers.  The agency reported 4,077 administrative arrests and 863 criminal arrests in 2007.  Ninety-two of those arrested for criminal violations were company supervisors and 771 were other employees. 

2009.  Neither of the two major comprehensive immigration reform proposals forwarded by Representative Luis Guiterrez (D-Ill) and Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) take satisfactory stands on the decriminalization of the undocumented community and are evasive on the issue of a national guest worker program.  Both proposals, though they appear to have lost momentum, are still on the table in 2010.

2010.  In April, Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070 which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations.  The new law, scheduled to go into effect this summer would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.  In effect, SB 1070 builds on 287 (g) by drafting all local law enforcement officers to serve in Operation Endgame.  There can be little doubt that SB 1070 was a maneuver to put a national guest worker program back on the political agenda in Washington.

Future Prospects

The future for economic immigrants trapped in a guest worker program is bleak.  The World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the standard guideline for global guest worker programs, categorizes international service industries into four “modes” depending on the location of the provider and the consumer at the time the service is rendered. Mode 4 applies specifically to the “temporary movement of natural persons [workers as opposed to corporate entities] across borders to provide services.” The key stipulation of Mode 4 is that migrant workers must either be employed by a foreign firm with commercial presence where the service is provided or be under contract for the provision of a service -- in other words, they must be under contract before they are allowed to immigrate.

The future for guest workers in the USA can be seen in the appalling working and living conditions suffered by braceros in the past, or witnessed today in the lives of the men and women from developing countries like Pakistan and the Philippines who work abroad.  They live lives of endless drudgery, separated from family and friends, deprived of their culture, and denied basic civil rights and civil liberties.  Guest workers labor in foreign lands for minimum wages under contract to employers who can terminate them at any time and send them back to the poverty from which they came.

In other words, they have no future at all.  They truly are “modern slaves”.

The attack on the ground: Taking apart “Endgame” and the overall strategy being employed

“Endgame” has been in full swing since June of 2003.  Yet to fully appreciate its role in the strategic attack being waged on the undocumented community, it must be put in the context of the overall plan and objectives being implemented.  Unless we do this, the question of “what to do” and devising a functional, realistic strategy, will be an elusive task as the plan being set upon us seems airtight.  Hence the name “Endgame”.

The goal: “Guest workers”

In refining the art of exploiting immigrant labor, corporate America has embarked on an ambitious campaign to lay the groundwork for a new class of immigrant worker.  Namely, one devoid of any social costs normally associated with the integration of a new, foreign workforce into the present one.  We are talking here of the “guest worker”.

Why “Guest workers”?

Social planners make provisions for the residents of a given area, its industrial or business areas, its workforce, living space, education, and social amenities such as libraries, parks and so on.  The presence of undocumented workers has contributed to both the overall economy and the tax bases needed for local governments to operate by virtue of the fact that they consume goods and services in the local market places, pay their share of taxes from their purchases as well as their payroll checks.  These go towards such social costs related to their presence in any part of the country they reside.

“Guest workers” eliminate the need for such social costs.  They will be brought as individual workers, separated from their families who will depend on their earnings to survive in the form of remittances through wire transfer companies, thus providing a steady stream of profit for these services.  In addition their social costs will be kept to a minimum, especially if provisions are provided by their employers such as housing, transportation and meals and are included in their contracts (which of course will be deducted from their wages).

By limiting their stays to a handful of years, the industry will have the steady labor it needs with enough time to insure that they are trained and fully qualified to perform the task for which they were brought in.   In this fashion skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled “guest workers” can be employed and rotated with new ones brought in to replace ones whose contracts expire.  This will almost totally eliminate both the social costs as mentioned already and the possibility that this new class of workers will stay long enough to develop roots, gain a sense of ownership and more importantly develop a sense of resistance to their state of “modern slavery”.

Make no mistake, “guest workers” will be “modern slaves”, unable to have the right to belong to unions, seek redress from abuse and dangerous working conditions and build alliances with their native born counterparts who if anything, will be at odds with them for effectively lowering their wages and living standards in the open labor marketplace.

2012, the goal for the total elimination of the present undocumented workforce

While “Endgame” is currently in motion and on track with its timetable, new “guest workers” have already been recruited in large numbers under existing temporary worker provisions.  “Endgame” will not wait for the total displacement of the “old” undocumented workforce.  In fact, its job is to facilitate the process while creating the infrastructure needed to enforce the terms under which the “new” immigrant workforce will operate.  “Endgame” is both the tool for the removal of the old and the enforcement for the new.  By the time the old workforce has been sent packing, the infrastructure for monitoring and controlling the new workforce will be in place.  This will consist of having the laws, policies, and regulations in place as well as the ability to enforce (force) compliance on the part of the new “guest workers” with the terms of their stay.  This will include the ability to locate, apprehend, detain, deport or incarcerate any immigrant worker who hopes to escape his/her bondage by trying to “drop out” of the system and disappear into society.  Laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 are an important aspect of this control mechanism, making it a difficult and risky proposition for any immigrant to evade detection.

How are they to pulling this off?

The strategic plan being directed at the undocumented community is attacking on four fronts.

  1. First and foremost by convincing the majority Anglo and broader citizenry that the undocumented community is a criminal element that has circumvented our laws and constitutes a flagrant, willful violation of our national sovereignty by their very presence.
  2. By striking at the source of income that the undocumented community relies on for its very existence, denying it access to its economic lifeblood.
  3. By creating a state of panic with the very real threat of detection, arrest and deportation and the subsequent consequences that would ensue (separation of the family, loss of homes, property, savings, investments and/or businesses, etc.).  In short a lifetime of work down the drain and the real possibility of never seeing their children again.
  4. By the establishment of SB 1070, for the first time ever, the legal involvement of the general population in the actual persecution, detection and apprehension of undocumented residents by soliciting their aid as “whistle-blowers” by declaration of law thus increasing the risk to the undocumented resident of having their lives turned upside down in a moment’s notice.

“Endgame” then must be seen from the perspective that it is the enforcement mechanism that is putting in place the necessary technical and legal infrastructure to follow through with its stated mission of “Removing all removable aliens”.  “Endgame” could not continue with its mission without the four points off attack outlined above.

In order for “Endgame” to work, the social, legal and moral components must be in place.  In this context “Endgame” must be seen as the physical aspect of this plan which together with acceptance and complicity on the part of the U.S. citizenry, lawmakers and willing local law enforcement officials (Arpaio is an extreme example) ensure that it is indeed the “Endgame” for the existence of the undocumented community as we know it today.


It is important for our movement to understand and not take our collective eyes for a moment off the grand prize that the transnational corporations lust after, namely the coveted “guest worker” program.  This defines all their actions, political lobbying and legal maneuvering.   At each turn their various sections jockey for position to gain the most favorable returns on their investments possible and much is at stake in this social and political game involving millions of lives and the futures of many countries.  The plan is for the U.S. government to be the biggest human smuggler in world history.  It will hand pick, transport, document and provide labor to every major section of industry both industrial and service and charge a premium in the process.  If these workers step out of line, “iron glove” enforcement will be just around the corner.  A new national, centralized police force and brand new detention and transportation facilities will await those that dare.

Corporations and employers at large will line up to pick up their precious cargos of “modern slaves” to fuel their growth in an attempt to pull our country out of its current economic downward spiral.  The possibility of racial and / or nationalist polarization is very real as these immigrant workers will not be seen as allies in the eyes of the domestic workforce, but rather competitors to be perceived as a threat to their own survival.  A perfect “divide and conquer” tool will have been created.

This very real scenario must be taken dead seriously by those of us engaged in this struggle as we are about to enter what could be the most dangerous period in the history of our country as we are on the brink of a new stage of social order unseen since the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s.

This means that our movement must move quickly and with determination to head these developments off with a bold plan of our own.  The plan must address concretely the four main areas of attack that have been described above and provide a means to ward off some of these blows and outright neutralize others.

The dialog that it will take to make this a reality can only come about through a united movement that understands clearly what is at stake and the methods that are being employed against our communities.

This analysis of the current situation is an expanded version of the oral presentation given at the historic conference held in Arizona on May 29th, 2010.   It is upon this analysis that we must base our response.  Uniting around this analysis will set the stage for a rich debate over what to do.  “What to do” is the burning question of the day, asked not only by those of us engaged in this important work, but at the deep grassroots by the very people who are today living in terror, many willing to risk it all to find a solution, a way forward towards a life without the dread of discovery and eviction from their lives that are no longer tied to their former homeland.  This is their country and their chosen place.  It is their right to remain here on the basis of respect, equality and hope.

Finally, we must acknowledge that neutralizing “Endgame” and the strategic attack on the undocumented community is but one aspect of the political struggle at hand.  The other is the building of the political and organizational movement that will be needed to decriminalize the undocumented so that they are seen for what they are, namely workers, who far from their homes have chose to live and work alongside us and whose basic interests are the same as ours.

The bonds that tie us together must be strengthened so that we can stop mistrusting each other and turn our attention to the state of affairs in the country at large.  The problem of undocumented immigration is the result of a long chain of events rooted in the plunder of nations, their geological wealth, their markets to be captured, and their most precious resource, their workforce.

Let us turn all “divide and conquer" schemes into actions that unify and insure the survival of us all. 

Tony Herrera
Unidos en Arizona
Richard D. Vogel

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