Open Borders and the Complexity of Structural Racism

by Jack Suria Linares/YDS USA

When potential presidential candidate Bernie Sanders opposed the idea of open borders, many (the media, the liberal establishment, and even activists) took his position as an attack on immigration reform. A similar attack happened after the events at Netroots Nation where Black Lives Matter organizers successfully held a protest highlighting the countless murders of Black women at the hands of police. Rather than looking at the intersections of structural racism and wealth inequality, the overlaying message from the media, the liberal establishment and many activists pits economic justice against racial justice when discussing electoral politics and Bernie Sanders.

Although I personally believe that Sanders will push this country in the correct direction, I aim to unravel the complexity of politics from any single issue position. I aim to bring closer topics overwhelmingly in need of coalition building while clarifying his justifications. One thing is clear, however, Hillary Rodham Clinton will never get the approval of the radical voices of color set on eliminating structural racism. I believe that radicals have largely ignored Clinton because they, whether strategically or unconsciously, know she will not aid our communities. Liberals and radicals must dispel the notion that she advocates an agenda set on helping communities of color. Radicals in particular must eradicate the idea that structural racism remains separate from capitalism.

Both of the attacks on Bernie Sanders’ political stances continue to racialize electoral politics as if the Black and Latino population cares solely on ending racism. Everyone, especially liberals and radicals, should remain wary of anyone declaring racism and immigration as the biggest problems facing communities of color, because as Frantz Fanon stated in The Wretched of the Earth, “Independence does not bring a change of direction…. We continue to ship raw materials, we continue to grow produce for Europe and pass for specialists of unfinished products….. For the [colonial] bourgeoisie, nationalization signifies very precisely the transfer into indigenous hands of privileges inherited from the colonial period.” In other words, and to put into U.S. context, the ability to reform the criminal injustice system will not eliminate the limitations imposed on communities of color like essentially no access to health care or quality education. Only the transfer of power to a select few people of color occurs when we fight Racism separately from Capitalism.

Centering culture and race in electoral politics will not resolve racism nor can it truly bring forth a progressive agenda.  Those who do emphasize race and culture, like politician Luis Gutiérrez, have more desire in aligning with the political establishment than actually liberating communities of color. It is no coincidence that the congressional black caucus voted to preserve police militarization. Reforms focused only on structural racism do not shift power toward workers and people of color. On the contrary, it creates an allusion of progress while the control remains in the hands of corporations that now control government. Having people of color in positions of power means nothing when looking at the impact communities of color receive at the hands of police, the exploitation of corporations, and the lack of defense from government. Good for them to have access to those positions, but how does racism impact the majority of people of color?  What is the point of solving structural racism from a social perspective, if at the end of the day communities of color still remain economically, culturally, and politically at the hands of elites? Structural racism can only end when we take it down simultaneously with capitalism. We cannot bring one down without considering the other. To avoid that conversation is to avoid helping out the majority of people of color.

If we are to end structural racism and capitalism, why would progressives oppose open borders?

In the minds of progressive activists an open border signifies an end to a militarized border/police force and detention centers/prisons full of mostly brown and black bodies. People would have the ability to move around in order to better fulfill their desires to live well as human beings. Thus, open borders shift the conversation to critique the very idea of the “nation.” A “nation” is an idea legitimized and reinforced by borders. We would then ask: Why should we take geopolitical allegiance solely on the location of birth? Don’t working-class people and people of color have more in common with the impoverished and oppressed abroad than with the one percent (whether white or of color)? This conversation differs from the concept of a state which would allocate funds for education, health care, etc. An open border indicates a step toward a more progressive world. It indicates a step toward transnationalism.

In the minds of the elite, however, open borders mean the ability to create free trade policies that benefits corporations.  Workers throughout the world have little say in how they provide their labor, nor on how much profits and benefits they could receive. Control remains entirely on the side of corporations. These corporations, transnational corporations, have no allegiance to any nation. These businesses prefer profit over nationality. Thus, open borders provide the foundation for a superexploitation of the workers throughout the world, including those of the United States. Open Borders mean a step backward toward a more unjust and hierarchical world. It indicates that corporations from the Global North take the idea of transnationalism to further profit and exploit, while maintaining power in the hands of the few.

We must advocate to demilitarize the border and oppose the continuation of transnational corporations exploiting workers across the globe. But immigration reforms currently discussed always includes the further militarizing the border and providing corporations the ability to exploit workers across borders. Open Borders in electoral politics continues to mean that elites maintain power and profit while exploiting workers in other countries. For this reason, Bernie Sanders opposed an immigration reform in the past while supporting action to provide citizenship for undocumented people. Bernie Sanders understood how corporations exploit workers born in the United States and workers throughout the world. His allegiance remains with workers, but he maintains that it also hurts workers forcibly removed from a country by a free market that does not provide adequate tools to support the livelihood of people. In this sense, Bernie Sanders and progressives must oppose open borders if workers are to regain solidarity both nationally and internationally yet know that open borders can exist only when workers have political power in their hands to prevent the exploitation from transnational corporations.

Hillary Clinton does not possess the Black and Latino vote simply because media states so. Most people of color are not as radical as those of us involved in Black Lives Matter, immigration reform, or the labor movement.  It is true that communities of color want to know that they won’t get shot for simply being of color. But at the end of the day, we also want free quality higher education, want quality health care, and want a shot at controlling the fates of our own communities. These issues will alleviate poverty and racism, albeit not a direct eradication. But neither will racism wither away by solely focusing on culture and race to look at electoral politics. We want to be liberated and this can only happen when we recognize how Structural Racism impacts Capitalism and vice-versa. True liberation does not occur in single issue terms, but as a holistic analysis.

Jack Suria Linares is a student at the CUNY Murphy Institute School of Professional Studies and recent graduate of Hamilton College. He is working towards his Master’s Degree in Labor Studies. He is also an activist with Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Young Democratic Socialists (YDS).

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