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Slava the Ukrainian Socialist

Feb 11, 2024

The border problem has long been a divisive issue in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people from various parts of the world are arriving in the heart of the empire that caused their suffering to begin with. Cities like Chicago and New York have declared themselves as "sanctuary cities" and claim to welcome asylum seekers. Yet shelters are overwhelmed, leading many migrants to live in makeshift tent settlements near law enforcement facilities. Inadequate care and resources have resulted in tragic losses, including the deaths of children.

While the movement of people predates the emergence of capitalism, the latter has played a pivotal role in shaping migration because it compels people to sell what Marx called their labor power, forcing people to work far from their places of origin. In the past century, with the rise of imperialism, a stage of capitalism marked by global exploitation, increasing numbers of people have sought opportunities for a better life, especially for their children. As an immigrant myself, I've frequently pondered the contentious issue of Open Borders and considered how it can be analyzed through a Marxist perspective.

How Marxists Approach the Immigration Question

There's a common misconception, especially prevalent in the US, that immigrants come here out of love for America. This notion is as flawed as suggesting that nineteenth-century Irish immigrants harbored affection for England, as Marx observed in his 1870 letter to Kugelmann. The primary driver for most migrants is economic necessity, and the vast majority would prefer improved opportunities in their homeland, surrounded by family and friends.

US capitalism thrives on cheap labor, making immigrants the perfect source. By employing lower-wage migrants, capitalists are able to divide the working class. Instead of directing their frustrations towards the government, American citizens often scapegoat immigrants, and vice versa. Democrats are typically seen as pro-immigrant, while Republicans position themselves as pro-citizen. However, in reality, neither party genuinely prioritizes the people; they merely feign concern.

Marxists don't subscribe to abstract moralism, welcoming migrants in an act of charity and to score cheap political points; instead, seek to they explain the underlying causes of migration. From a Marxist perspective, individuals across nations are collectively oppressed by imperialism. Therefore, the emancipation of people from this condition is critical to addressing mass migration.

Karl Marx argued that the influx of low-paid Irish immigrants into England created detrimental competition with English workers. He saw this as a component of an exploitative system that not only fractured the working class but also extended the reach of the colonial system. Marx's insights on this are articulated in his letter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, found in "Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Selected Correspondence," Progress Publishers, 1975. Let's examine why immigration poses challenges for both migrants and the countries they come from.

Immigration Is Tragic

Despite Trump's disparaging remarks about "shithole countries" that are "not sending their best," in fact the "brain drain" induced by migration negatively impacts developing economies. According to 2018 data from the Pew Research Center, approximately 51 percent of migrants who have relocated to the United States are college educated, and many hold advanced degrees. Developing nations grapple with retaining their skilled and professionally trained citizens, often nurtured at significant public expense.

This struggle arises because dominant and affluent economies in the global market have the resources to attract and absorb them. For example, Mexico ranks among the world's major contributors of educated professionals, leading to a persistent "qualified employment deficit" that adversely affects its economy.

The immigration journey is never simple. It exacts a significant toll on the physical and mental well-being of migrants. Even upon successfully reaching their destination without incident, many challenges await in their new home. Adapting to unfamiliar cultures and customs, and mastering a new language are formidable tasks. Enduring prejudice and stereotyping only compounds the difficulties. It can be a daunting experience to navigate.

What Can We Do? 

In contrast to Trump, advocates of open borders and many mainstream commentators argue that "there is no migrant crisis." However, this simply ignores reality. Mass migration indeed presents significant challenges, and the moralizing by the upper-middle class on this issue is a farce. While the ultra-wealthy might have the means to live in the borderless world they advocate, the majority of people rely on and aspire to a unified, sovereign political entity that protects their rights as citizens.

Being a Marxist and advocating for open borders are two incompatible positions that do not cohere. Open border policies reinforce capitalist exploitation and perpetuate systemic inequalities. Denying entry to immigrants or stripping them of their humanity by categorizing them as "illegal aliens" and withholding their rights only compounds this injustice. But maintaining open borders alone is not a comprehensive solution. Immigrants require assistance with paperwork, housing, and medical care, a prerequisite for which is proper legal documentation.

Furthermore, providing free housing and medical care for immigrants should coincide with equal opportunities for low-income and homeless Americans. It's understandable why economically disadvantaged citizens may feel neglected when immigrants seemingly receive preferential treatment. However, this disparity is often intentional. The occasional assistance immigrants receive may serve as a talking point for Democrats, but it does not address the underlying systemic issues facing working-class immigrants and American citizens alike.


Our main attention should be directed towards tackling the systemic exploitation that underlies mass migration. At the same time, we should fight for all working-class people’s rights to housing, education, and medical care. 

So why is the border issue coming up now, right before the elections? Is it because both parties use and abuse immigrants in their campaigns? We explore this in our next article.

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