Exploiting Classes Use Riot Police, Tear Gas to Disperse, Terrorize Refugees
FOR MONTHS, the approach of thousands of Central American refugees (the so-called “Migrant Caravan”) has been a specter for politicians on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, with the reality of the situation lost behind grandstanding and pandering. But with the recent clash between refugees and U.S. forces at the Port of San Ysidro, the exploiting classes on both sides of the frontier are joining together to attack the refugees, a large section of whom are women and children seeking peace and the freedom to live without fear of being murdered at any moment.
The eventual skirmish that took place on November 25 began as a peaceful march of nearly 5,000 to the Mexican side of the border. Thousands of mostly women and children began assembling at the Tijuana sports stadium where the local government of Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum have chosen to warehouse the asylum seekers. They walked toward the Mexican side of the Port of San Ysidro, carrying handmade U.S. and Honduran flags, as well as repeatedly chanting, “We are not criminals! We are international workers.” Moving closer to the border, the protest swept past a line of riot police to get up to Mexico’s side of the line.
It is here that reports from the capitalist media say that small groups of protesters spread out on both sides of the port entry. Most groups did nothing more than come up to the border fence and yell or hang banners on it. But one of those small gatherings attempted to pass through a hole in the barbed wire and fencing placed by the Mexican government on the border. In response, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired flash-bang grenades and tear gas — a chemical weapon banned in warfare since 1993 — across the frontier into Mexico to forcibly disperse the protesters, at least 90 percent of whom were women and children that were peaceful, and stayed away from the fences and walls.
In the aftermath of the skirmish along the border, the propaganda machines in both the U.S. and Mexico went into overdrive. The intent was to tar the refugees as dishonest, dangerous, violent and even parasitic, with the goal of building up “public opinion” against their legitimate claims of asylum. The media dutifully lined up, playing up incidents of refugees impotently throwing rocks at CBP agents (incidents that, according to the CBP Commissioner, resulted in no injuries and only involved four agents) and echoing the White House’s lies about “lawlessness” and “tremendous violence.” News outlets in both countries repeated the lie-by-implication told by Mexico’s Interior Ministry that hundreds of refugees were being deported because they sought to “illegally” and “violently” cross the border — even though only 42 were arrested for attempting to enter the U.S. and none of them actually succeeded in crossing.
Nevertheless, the “provocation” (as Mexican authorities called it on Sunday, but buried on Monday) along the border allowed the exploiting classes, especially Trump’s White House, to effectively make the thousands of refugees into criminals. It also allowed Washington to successfully ignore long-standing U.S. law regarding the right of refugees to residency in the country while awaiting the processing of their asylum applications. It also allowed Mexican officials to continue to deny the refugees basic assistance and services.
The Facts Hidden by Propaganda
Since October, the so-called “Migrant Caravan” has been a favorite punching bag of propagandists and politicians alike. From the moment that the first 160 refugees gathered together in Honduras, the group was declared a serious threat by nearly every government in continental North America. At nearly every stop, the caravan was met by riot police or soldiers (or both), participants were removed or arrested, often for no cause, and regularly denied basics services, such as places to sleep or food to eat — all because virtually every official and news outlet along the path declared the people in the caravan to be “dangerous.”
But who was in this caravan? Contrary to the lies of the Trump White House, these were not “criminals and unknown middle easterners.” Quite the contrary. Most of those in the caravan were women and children fleeing gang violence and the epidemic of femicide, the murder of women for misogynistic reasons and in the name of machismo.
Since 1990, thousands of women have been killed by men for such things as talking to another man, refusing the advances of a man, challenging male-dominated authority, and so on. These murders are often accompanied by incidents of rape, assault, mutilation and torture, but tens of thousands more women have been victims of these crimes and have lived to tell their stories. But as many of these women will attest, there are few, if any, political, religious or media institutions in Honduras interested in listening to or doing anything about this wave of misogynistic brutality.
The most well-known incident of femicide in Honduras was the 2014 murder of María José Alvarado, who had recently won Miss Honduras. She and her sister, Sofía Trinidad, were brutally murdered by the sister’s boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz, after he became jealous of her attending a party where other men were present. He shot Sofía after an argument, then turned his gun on the fleeing María, who was shot 12 times in the back. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30-40 years. From reports in local and international media, the only thing that surprised Hondurans about this case was the fact that Ruiz was tried and convicted; reports of femicide are usually not even investigated.
The situation for women only got worse after the reactionary coup d’état in 2009, which restored the conservative wing of capitalism to power. Incidents of femicide spiked; by 2013, an average of 53 women were being killed a month. By 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the average was 32.4 killings a month, with 30.1 percent of all murders being women between the ages of 15 and 40. It was in the wake of the coup that the first caravans of refugees were organized in 2010. As femicide has grown in the region, spilling over into neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala, so have the size and scope of the caravans going north.
This is why we have insisted throughout this article to refer to those fleeing from the region to the U.S. as refugees and not simply migrants. They are mostly women and children fleeing the reactionary and misogynistic violence that has become rampant in that region. As well, most of the men in the refugee caravan are also fleeing from the gangs, looking for opportunities to engage in honest productive labor.
Refugees, Immigrants and Capitalism
However, it is not for nothing that the different exploiting classes along the path of the caravan have relentlessly attacked these refugees. Even if Washington had not made the demands it did or taken the steps to financially punish its client states south of the Rio Grande (e.g., threatening to further slash economic aid, which was already cut by 40 percent when Trump came into office), the ruling classes of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras would have taken it upon themselves to attack and arrest the refugees.
The exploiters of all four countries try to minimize and rationalize the effects of femicide and the gangs on the working class. Thus, when thousands of refugees gather together to escape these conditions, it not only exposes their propaganda as a lie, but also presents a core challenge in a society where the capitalists and their managers use misogyny as a tool to maintain social order. U.S. capitalism also benefits from this misogyny, on two levels: first, by keeping large sections of women from entering the labor force, and, second, by using the threat of deportation back to those countries to keep working women who do make it in the worst conditions.
In our central document, we point out that the exploiting classes take a dual approach toward immigration to keep workers under control: “on the one hand, isolating and marginalizing immigrant workers in their jobs and communities as much as possible; on the other hand, using a strict immigration control regime to make sure there are just enough foreign-born workers to continue production at needed levels.” Again, contrary to the propaganda, the ruling classes don’t oppose immigration — including so-called “illegal” immigration. Fearmongering and repression are key elements of capitalism’s “strict immigration control regime,” designed to keep both native and immigrant workers divided from each others and subject to the whims of the exploiters.
Moreover, there is no liberal or social-democratic “path to citizenship” that will affect this approach, as it is integral to capitalism’s production system. Indeed, for all their talk about it, the liberals and leftists of the Democratic Party have only aided and abetted the continued functioning of this system — this includes the Obama White House giving tacit approval to the 2009 coup in Honduras. Senator Bernie Sanders, the social-democratic darling of the Left, limits his criticism to only the more egregious specifics of Trump’s immigration policy and says nothing about the overall control regime or the effect it has on workers of all backgrounds.
It will take the unity and self-organization of workers of all nationalities, guided by its own communist program, to break apart the rule of the capitalists and their managers, and put an end to the superexploitation of immigrant workers. It is this fight to which we commit ourselves fully.